For all the quality on display at the MCG on Easter Monday, the clash between Hawthorn and Geelong was a remarkably tough slog, more an arm-wrestle than an exhibition. If you find yourself in an arm-wrestle, though, it must be nice to have Tom Hawkins’ biceps on your side. You probably wouldn’t say no to a bit of Stevie Johnson trickery, either.
Tomahawk will rightly be remembered for his game-breaking fourth quarter, and Johnson, as always, lit up the contest with his guile and speed of thought, but the game was won in Geelong’s coach’s box: in such a tight, attritional contest, it’s remarkable that Chris Scott was able to free up two of his biggest stars.
The game was won in Geelong’s coach’s box.
Both Scott’s and Alastair Clarkson’s game plans boil down to a trust in their players to think through situations and execute their skills – precise movement by foot for Hawthorn, and artful, daring run-and-carry for Geelong.
Such was the mutual respect on show, though, that both coaches were uncharacteristically fixated on nullifying the opposition’s A-listers, leaving the foot-soldiers to win their share of individual contests around the ground. Joel Selwood and Cyril Rioli both wore hard tags from Will Langford and James Kelly respectively, while Messrs Hodge, Bartel and Mitchell were all made to work exceedingly hard for their touches. Steve Johnson, curiously, was spared a close tag, and was clearly best afield for three quarters, continually releasing teammates and initiating attacks.
The pressure in the midfield was suffocating, and the forward 50 entries were far more hit-and-hope than one would expect from such big names. Given the Hawks’ precise foot skills and their multi-pronged forward line, dropping a loose man into the defensive 50 is usually about as useful as dropping blu-tac into a crevasse, but given the sub-standard quality of delivery and the swirling wind, the deployment of Jared Rivers – not so much underrated as mostly unrated – in front of Jarryd Roughead proved a game-changing tactical move.
While Luke Breust and Jack Gunston did well for their three goals apiece, Hawthorn failed to capitalise on many of their forward 50 entries as the game wore on. Their besieged midfield increasingly sought to hit the top of the goal square as fatigue set in, only to find a goalless, frustrated Roughead being smothered by Rivers in tandem with Harry Taylor.
Kyle Cheney was cast as David to Hawkins’ Goliath.
At the other end, Tom Hawkins played a monster of a game, having been given the space to do so by another Scott masterstroke. In sending Hamish McIntosh deep forward for extended periods, Geelong applied unbearable pressure to Hawthorn’s understaffed defence. Not only did McIntosh offer a genuine threat in his own right, he also prevented Josh Gibson from peeling off and assisting the hopelessly undersized Kyle Cheney, who was cast as David to Hawkins’ Goliath.
The end result? 10 marks and five goals to Hawkins, and a reminder that they call it a premiership defence for a reason: every team in the competition has been looking for a chink in Hawthorn’s armour, and Geelong have just found a couple of them.
As for Cats fans, they can thank the strongman, the magician and the wily twin: it sounds like a Bob Dylan song, but it’s actually just a quiet reminder that Geelong are in the mix yet again, and they’re deadly serious.