Credit where it’s due
Despite the 27-point loss, Ross Lyon’s men showed there’s still a place for defensively-minded football and a well executed game with a negative focus can still beat Hawthorn. Despite Hawthorn’s whopping 141 uncontested marks – the most the Hawks have had in a game since 2011 – a lot of it was circle work.
They were held back and forced to manoeuvre the ball around on the wing, recording only 40.8% of possession in the forward half – their second-lowest all season – and only 34 possessions in their forward 50 – their lowest. 42 inside 50s was their second lowest figure all season, and eight marks inside 50 was their equal lowest. The numbers stack up and tell a convincing story: by all rights the game could have, if not should have, been a lot closer than the final scoreline suggests.
If West Coast in the qualifying final was acid, eroding Hawthorn’s ability to move before it even started, Ross Lyon’s Fremantle was quicksand, waiting to swallow them whole. And Hawthorn, for large parts of the game, was bogged.
The game for the most part was stuck between the arcs, with both sides only recording a combined 83 inside 50s, the equal fourth lowest tally in any game this season. Offensively speaking, Hawthorn was stuck trying to duck and weave their way through a well-drilled and committed Fremantle backline; Fremantle was just plain stuck.
This meant a mountain of ball for each side’s defenders. Duryea (26 disposals), Gibson (25), Lake (21) and Frawley (18) were kings of the back and forth for Hawthorn, likewise Spurr (27), Ibbotson (24), Mzungu (23) and Sheridan (20) for Fremantle.
Riding the momentum
Fremantle as a side has often operated in fits and spurts, and Hawthorn certainly copped one hell of a spurt in the opening minutes. Fremantle played uncharacteristically suave football, working off their men, looking to hit kicks on 45-degree angles – in doing so switching the ball from side to side but also pushing forward, and forcing Hawthorn to work hard defensively. They had the Hawks completely covered in the opening minutes, kicked the first two goals and, with the crowd roaring, talk of an upset ensued.
There were two key moments in the first quarter in which the Dockers failed to ride the whirlwind.
The first was Chris Mayne’s set shot in the opening quarter. 25 metres out, more or less straight in front, from just about the best set shot in the business. Walk in the park, right?
It is intriguing – as polished a kick as Mayne is in front of goal, the jitters aren’t foreign. Under Ross Lyon’s reign Mayne has now kicked 110.39 in the home and away season but just 7.8 in eight finals. Given an oft-desperate need for options in the forward line Mayne’s record in moments like these isn’t good enough.
The second is the all too conservative nature too often obvious in a Lyon game plan, as shown by Michael Johnson, who has the ball in defensive midfield. Hawthorn has had the edge in general play in this situation, kicking the last two goals – in dubious circumstances, mind you – and the momentum is being sucked out of the Dockers. Johnson here has two options in the corridor, both only really capable of being impeded by one Hawk. A good kick here and Fremantle can create some overlap, utilise the acres of space around centre half forward and put Hawthorn’s backline under serious pressure.
Complete miskick aside, worst case scenario they force a stoppage. Best case, it revisits what they executed so well in the early stages: a bit of dare, a willingness to find a target forward of the ball carrier whenever possible and open up passages of play in the centre of the ground. Fremantle do this and they can once again put Hawthorn on the back foot with a potential quarter time lead.
The Dockers went back into their shell. Johnson switched back into defensive 50, the ball scarcely left Hawthorn’s forward half for the remainder of the quarter and the Hawks led by 19 points at the first break with their tails up. And despite threats of a resurgence, Fremantle never really kicked on again. It’s all too familiar – as impressive as they were defensively, they were imperfect the other way.
Good kicking is still good footy
The Hawks are known for their exquisite skill in all areas of the ground. Their scything kicking . It’s like a game of pinball, such is their pace and direction in moving the ball around the ground. But on Friday night, Hawthorn were stuck around the flippers.
Despite the difficulties the Fremantle defence presented, Hawthorn was still able to take control, even without the smooth ball movement. They did it through being opportunistic.
15.4 (94) is almost too accurate – indeed, it is the most accurate Hawthorn has ever been in a final. Jarryd Roughead’s set shot late in the second quarter, Matt Suckling’s long, piercing goal after the three quarter time siren – both never looked like missing and it was the story of all Hawthorn forwards. Only three behinds were registered by Hawthorn players – Luke Hodge’s first quarter set shot, Shaun Burgoyne from outside 50 on the opposite flank in the third quarter and a late one – from a tougher angle still – by Jarryd Roughead.
Is there an element of luck to this? Perhaps. The Hawks won’t kick 15.4 next week and it’ll be a while before they do it again. On another day, they kick 10.9 and the football world is abuzz with the ‘Hawthorn scrape through prelim again‘ storyline. Champion Data’s scores based on expected accuracy from each shot on goal, given position, player and pressure suggested Fremantle should have won by five points. Nonetheless, good kicking can’t be denied. Hawthorn deserved to win this game. Any team so lethal in front of goal, despite the reduced opportunity, always does.
So, how good were Freo?
Not just on Friday night, but as a whole. This is a team that coasted to a McClelland Trophy as minor premiers, who for nine weeks were untouchable in all facets. But for the rest of the year only untouchable on top, and seemingly content with themselves. Were they taking the foot off the accelerator? Or were they simply a finals side who had a barnstorming start to the year and never completely crashed back down to earth?
The preliminary final loss to Hawthorn arguably swings it back towards the former. They certainly played Fremantle football, a dour contest in which they were able to engulf the opposition in most aspects of the game – except the one that counts, of course. Maybe a performance like this again a side less dangerous in front of goal they keep them to 10 goals or less and win with ease.
But against a Hawthorn or West Coast, it just isn’t enough.
3: Sam Mitchell (Haw)
2: Taylor Duryea (Haw)
1: Lee Spurr (Fre)