Whilst tonight’s game between the Hawks and the Swans promises to be a cracker, the Hawks cannot be properly judged until the completion of 2014.
The Hawks are unquestionably one of the best teams in the competition, and barring a catastrophe with injury will definitely feature at the pointy end of the season. The Hawks narrowly missing the flag last year, but Alistair Clarkson will realise that no team stands still and the Hawks will have to improve to lift the Cup this year.
Against the Swans tonight, we will see how much improvement they have made as the Swans are one of the best defensive teams in the competition and clearly a benchmark side of the competition.
There are those that will argue that the only pass mark for the Hawks is a Premiership this year. Whilst this may be true, all those that have coached and been involved in AFL football will understand there are many, many factors that will determine the Premiership team.
I have long considered Alistair Clarkson as one of the top coaches in the AFL. We should never judge coaches over their first one or two seasons, but over a longer period of time. Clarko has taken a young, bottom of the ladder team, turned them into a Premiership outfit in 2008 and has continually challenged himself and the players to get better. He has never been afraid to change his game style and is always at the forefront of innovation. Great coaches have an ability to have a set game style but also can take away the oppositions strengths. This he has done with great effectiveness over a long period of time.
The Hawks have many stars – Franklin, Hodge, Mitchell, Burgoyne, Rioli, Roughhead, Sewell, Lewis, Gibson and potentially in 2014 Brian Lake. It is very difficult as an opposition coach to combat. The reason these stars are so effective, is many of them are great decision makers. If the ball is in the hands of Hodge, Mitchell, Burgoyne and Rioli, you know they are going to make a smart decision and won’t turn the ball over. Burgoyne in particular, has become a match winner. Somewhat under the radar early in his time at Hawthorn, he now steps up on a regular basis to turn the game.
The Hawks seem to have a great will and desire to compete. They are a team that very rarely gets badly beaten. As skilful as many of their players are, they have leaders that stand up under pressure. How many times have we seen Hodge, Mitchell, Sewell win a critical contest at an important time of the game and bring the Hawks back into the contest.
Hawks Potential Threats
Their three best forwards are Franklin, Roughead and Rioli and arguably the greatest strengths. However, there are times as we saw in last year’s Grand Final, when Roughead in in the ruck, Rioli is in the mid-field and Franklin is pushing up outside 50. At this point, their most dangerous target are Gunston, Bruest and Hale. Compare this with Geelong and you know that no matter how bad a day the pod and Hawkins are having, they will always be a target inside 50 and eventually will kick a critical goal. I feel the Hawks must be more predictable to each other and this can be remedied simply by making sure their three best scoring options are inside forward 50 for the duration of the game.
Like the forward structure this can easily become a strength. Clearly in last year’s Grand Final it was the Swans 15 to 22nd players that won the game for the Bloods. The Hawks cannot rely purely on their stars to win the Premiership. Players such as Gunston, Bruest, Puopulo and Smith must have clearly defined roles and must carry them out. In this area there has been some very good signed early in 2013. If there lesser lights can deliver consistently and deliver in Finals, the Hawks will be very, very to beat.
There is enormous expectation from the football world. As difficult as it is, they must put this expectation aside. Football is a high pressure industry and can make coaches and players make irrational decisions. There has been enormous talk about Buddy and his behaviour this week. Is this a result of expectation? Who knows. But the message to the Hawks is simple – control what you can control and be confident in your plan.