Sport AFL Heavy Hawthorn defeat raises alarm bells

Heavy Hawthorn defeat raises alarm bells

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This result was coming.

Hawthorn, with several players out of form, had used up all their get-out-of-jail free cards.

They’d won all of their last three matches by three points, stealing it at the death against the Western Bulldogs in Round 3 and then benefitting from some umpire help to do so against St Kilda and Adelaide.

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In all of those nail-biting wins, Hawthorn were beaten around the contest and were far too reliant on individual brilliance from Sam Mitchell and, against the Crows, Paul Puopolo.

So for the Hawks to lose on the road to an in-form GWS bursting at the seams with young talent was not a massive surprise. The three-time defending premiers were favourites, but only just.

What was startling was the way they lost.

The game was over at quarter time, perhaps even earlier, as the Giants romped to a thumping 75-point victory, in which they kicked 24 goals.

Steve Johnson starred up forward for GWS. Photo: Getty
Steve Johnson starred up forward for GWS. Photo: Getty

Hawthorn were smashed in contested possession (153-114) and clearances (47-29).

And, despite having 99 fewer disposals, the Hawks were also way off in the tackle count (63-41).

Finally, Mitchell was tagged, with Stephen Coniglio reducing the champion’s effectiveness, and no Hawk picked up the slack in midfield.

Jordan Lewis and Liam Shiels are in poor form and it showed. So did the hunger, desire and speed of the Giants.

Grant Birchall has enjoyed a relatively error-free career, but he couldn’t stop fumbling and making mistakes. Astute judges say they haven’t seen him so shaky.

Of course, all three have a stack of credits in the bank, and they are allowed to have a bad day.

Lewis and Birchall have won four premierships each at the club and are Hawthorn champions. Shiels has won three, plays crucial tagging roles and yet remains under-rated.

They weren’t the only ones to struggle, either: the Giants were even running around Cyril Rioli.

It would be foolish to write any of them off and the Hawks haven’t been fast starters in recent seasons. But the signs aren’t great.

Hawthorn’s injury myth

One of the great myths in football at the moment is that Hawthorn have an overflowing injury list.

Yes, Jarryd Roughead is a significant loss, but no other player on the sidelines is a walk-up starter into Hawthorn’s first-choice senior side.

The Hawks are choosing to give games to the likes of Kieran Lovell, who made his debut at Spotless Stadium, talls James Sicily and Tim O’Brien and utility Daniel Howe.

The quartet, who have played 24 games between them, are keeping the likes of Matt Spangher, Brendan Whitecross, Billy Hartung, Jack Fitzpatrick and Angus Litherland out. They’re all playing at Box Hill on Sunday.

Alastair Clarkson is trying to push some youth through, realising that the likes of Mitchell, Luke Hodge and Shaun Burgoyne won’t be around forever.

Doing that while trying to keep the Hawks at the top of the tree shapes as one of the biggest challenges of his coaching career.

The Giants make a statement

Lobb was outstanding in the air. Photo: Getty
Lobb was outstanding in the air. Photo: Getty

For the winners, Coniglio not only kept Mitchell quiet, but had 30 disposals, and Dylan Shiel and Callan Ward were terrific.

Heath Shaw was outstanding across half-back and Steve Johnson, a regular tormentor of the Hawks when at Geelong, kicked five first-half goals.

And how about Rory Lobb?

Much of the talk on the GWS forward line surrounds young hopes Jeremy Cameron and Jonathon Patton, or Johnson.

But Lobb is an emerging star as well, and took 10 marks, of which eight were contested, and kicked four goals.

He also had 16 disposals and spent time in the ruck.

Alastair Lynch revealed on Fox Sports that his ex-Brisbane team-mate Luke Power – who he won three premierships with – was a huge fan of Lobb, so much so that the GWS midfield coach said the big man will end his career as the best contested mark in the history of the game.

It’s a massive call, but will have serious merit if Lobb can turn in similar performances.

The Giants, coached by another Clarkson protégé in Leon Cameron, have talent on every line.

If they can avoid an injury crisis, which dogged them last season, a first finals campaign seems a certainty.

And they’ll be quietly confident if they meet the Hawks in September, having won the last two meetings between the sides.

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