The dour Don who's making Hurley 'look good'
Marc McGowan June 11, 2017 1:33 PM
TRIVIA question: name the former Collingwood rookie with wonky shoulders leading the AFL in spoils this year.
You will be forgiven if Essendon defender Michael Hartley's name escaped you.
Dour backmen from yesteryear, such as Mick Martyn and Simon Prestigiacomo, would once have treasured that knockabout status, priding themselves on having more spoils than disposals.
Hartley, made aware of the statistic after keeping Port Adelaide forward beast Charlie Dixon goalless on Saturday night, also thought it was "pretty cool".
His second AFL coming arrived with the third-last pick of the 2015 NAB AFL Draft, after making the VFL Team of the Year and winning Coburg's best and fairest while working odds and ends jobs.
The under-strength Bombers let Hartley, 24, loose on the competition's best forwards last year and he thrived to the point that he re-signed until the end of next season.
"I used to love Presti from Collingwood. He'd have two touches a game, but he'd defend with everything he had," Hartley told AFL.com.au.
"But it's more of an attacking game now, with a team defence, so everyone pushes up outside 50 and everyone's trying to get a touch, so it's a bit different now.
"You've got to go with it. You can't be playing in the past, you've got to play in the future and play up the ground a bit and get a kick."
A teammate with the same initials – Michael Hurley – generally gets all the headlines at Bomberland, but even he concedes his free-roaming role down back would not be possible without Hartley.
"He's coming along in leaps and bounds," Hurley said on Channel 9 of Hartley.
"He's been doing the No.1 role for us, which is fantastic for me, because it lets me get off the chain a little bit."
That is not lost on Hartley, who joked he was making Hurley "look good".
"He's All Australian and I've got the giants," Hartley said with a grin.
"Nah, nah, it's been good – I love it. I'm not a speedster or aerobic beast myself, so I don't mind playing on the big, sort of slow types. I'll play wherever Woosh (coach John Worsfold) wants me, as long as I'm out there having a kick."
Where Hurley thrives with the new-age expectations of defenders taking intercept marks and providing rebound, Hartley still has a way to go. He even found himself back in state league ranks for a couple of weeks this season.
"Obviously, being a key defender, I probably defend first and attack second," Hartley said.
"I just have to work on my offensive game a bit more and getting up the ground a bit – not just defending first, then chilling deep in the 50.
"The coaches reckon I've got a half-decent kick, so hopefully I'll try and get it in my hands and then see how we go from there. It's slowly getting better, but … I'm still pretty nervous leaving the big forwards deep."
Worsfold was among those to praise Hartley's shutdown job on Dixon, whose 2017 form had put him in the Virgin Australia AFL All Australian discussion.
Hartley's football story could have been so different, after operations on both of his shoulders and a woe-is-me attitude saw him exit the Magpies in two years without going close to an AFL game.
He contemplated heading home to Sydney and quitting football, but his decision to rededicate himself proved a masterstroke.
"I don't think about it too often, but it's pretty cool where I've been and come from," Hartley said.
"All the family's in New South Wales, but I stayed here (after being delisted in 2013), got a job, got somewhere to live and toughed it out in the VFL.
"I ended up getting drafted two years later, so it ended up working out pretty well."