Hawthorn’s new breed must pick up the leadership baton, writes James Hird
JAMES HIRD, Herald Sun
April 16, 2017 6:00pm
BEWARE the fallen champ. The obituaries have been written, a dynasty declared dead.
All that is left is for the vultures to tear the decaying meat and the new champs to be vaunted and feted.
Alistair Clarkson’s Hawks have been picked apart all week.
It has been suggested by two ex-premiership coaches that he should ply his trade elsewhere.
His soldiers, Isaac Smith, Cyril Rioli, Luke Breust, Jack Gunston and Liam Shiels, all premiership heroes, have been challenged.
Jaeger O’Meara, one of the duo that caused the Sam Mitchell-Jordan Lewis trades, is out injured.
Surely the brown and gold army should avoid the MCG on Monday?
Geelong v Hawthorn on Easter Monday has become the match-up of a generation.
For Cats and Hawks supporters, purists and those looking to see the direction of the game, Easter Monday has been compulsive viewing.
As a senior coach I demanded my team of coaches and as many players as possible to get to the ground.
This contest has always been an early season indication of the intensity, combativeness and skill required to be a top-four contender.
Geelong come into this game in winning form. A powerful midfield led by Patrick Dangerfield and Joel Selwood, they are capable of scoring quickly and heavily.
Team defence is their mantra and they have options if the game goes in the wrong direction.
Yes, form says they should continue the Hawks’ pain, but history suggests this game will be anything but a walk over.
Much has been said about why the Hawthorn dynasty is over: lack of speed and complacent premiership players.
Time will tell if Alastair Clarkson has pulled the right reigns by moving two legends of the club on and investing in Tom Mitchell and O’Meara.
Yet that will not be his concern at 3.20pm.
An important job is to convince his younger players there is hope. That if they play with energy, compete, run and stick to the game plan then they can win.
I suggest that is the easier part of his many jobs and something he has been doing for years.
Another role would have continued all week. How to stir up the pride in his older players and mid-range premiership stars.
Clarkson has an incredible record, has taken the game to new places with tactics and training methods but most of all he is a competitor who hates losing.
He reminds me of Kevin Sheedy in this respect.
Moreover, if he is anything like my old coach, the past seven days would have been very uncomfortable for his band of premiership stars.
Physically I am sure he has let them prepare themselves as they always do. But inside the clubrooms and away from the training ground I would not be surprised if he has challenged the pride of his loyal three and four-time premiership heroes.
We hear every day that football is more and more about tactics, game plans and playing the game the way you have trained.
But as Ross Lyon said after the Dockers won on Saturday, energy, hard work and a thirst for the contest can cover up some cracks and form the foundation for a good performance.
Against the Suns last week those attributes were missing for Hawthorn.
Even the best tacticians cannot play a game without a team hungry for the contest. Hawthorn lost the contested possession count by 62 last week and the clearances by 25.
The Hawks are fully aware that if those numbers are repeated against a team that includes Dangerfield and Selwood then it will be another long week at the bottom of the AFL ladder.
Hawthorn has been admired for its ability to dominate teams over the past decade.
You knew they would bring an aggressive edge, led by Luke Hodge.
You knew that any ball kicked into your forward line that was high or predictable was likely to be cut off by one of their floating backs.
Luke Hodge is a great leader at Hawthorn but his teammates must now assume that responsibility. Picture: Wayne Ludbey
You knew their kicking ability meant that once they had control of the footy, it was almost impossible to stop them slicing you to pieces.
Then came the individual match-ups. Who was most dangerous? Hodge, Mitchell, Rioli, Burgoyne? Would Buddy kick a bag? Roughead, Breust or Gunston?
It was always a nightmare.
They had an presence that took your mind from your own team. But that invincibility has gone.
And now the Hawks are left with a new group that needs to rebuild.
I have no doubt that within the next 18 months the Hawks will be climbing back up the ladder, but for them to be successful Breust, Rioli, Gunston, Smith, Shiels, Paul Puopolo and Will Langford must make the transition from being excellent soldiers to leaders and creators.
The drive and fury that Hodge, Lewis and Mitchell gave the Hawks must now come from the new breed.
Geelong will be aware that Hawthorn is a proud club. The first 20 minutes will be played at a furious pace.
It will be combative, mentally and physically challenging. It is the perfect stage for the new breed of Hawks to leave their mark.