This game started with all the gentle civility of David Leyjonhelm’s Twitter activity. Both teams were into each other before the first bounce. I am not a real fan of niggle behind play. Firstly it relies on the “What happens on the field stays on the field,” argument, which implies that one standard of behaviour is acceptable on the field that would be unacceptable elsewhere. Aside from completely rejecting this argument, I am yet to be convinced that it makes the players play any better, and would suggest it can have the opposite effect. Perhaps it was a coincidence but neither team played particularly well tonight and Port had given away two free kicks before they even touched the ball.
The Hawks pushed hard in the opening minutes with Ceglar dominating the ruck. However Port kicked the opening goal against the run of play when they were able to use overlapping runners to bring the ball from half back and kick long to Schulz on the lead. Hawthorn continued to look stronger though and kicked two very similar goals in succession on the back of their pressure. Port’s kicking all over the field was often as ugly as Katie Hopkins’ opinion pieces and two kicks from defence were intercepted and fired back inside 50 to be marked by Rioli and Gunston with neither missing their shot.
Hawthorn were looking the most dangerous when they had the ball in space, but the Power were pretty successful at limiting this. Port on the other hand often gave the ball up when they did find space and a lot of their goals and best attacks came from surging running play, with Gray particularly prominent for his strength and skill. Some really strong tackling on the wing won the ball back for Port again and some quick movement by hand got it to Krakouer who kicked long for Schulz to mark and give off to Wingard running into an open goal.
Port got on top for the second half of the quarter winning a lot of important contests and playing high tempo football. Their pressure around the ball was impressive but their kicking into forward 50 really let them down. They only managed one more goal for the quarter on the back of Rioli giving away 50m for encroaching on the mark and bringing Wines within range to kick the goal. Rioli made amends soon enough, winning a free for illegal disposal and kicking a goal just before quarter time.
The second quarter started with Port already down a player after Ebert hit his head in a marking contest and looking less likely to recover quickly than the UK stock market. When Hartlett went off with what looked for all the world like concussion, you had to assume that made two, but the Power player was surprisingly cleared to continue playing later in the quarter.
Wingard snapped the first goal after intercepting a handpass in forward 50 and kicking off a step. Ceglar was continuing to cause problems both in the ruck and when he went forward. He was awarded a free kick for interference in a marking contest and converted the set shot, with Breust doing the same soon after. Port looked in danger of slipping off the pace at this point but they managed to scramble another brute force goal through Gray. Just before half time, Puopolo provided the highlight of the night with a huge hanger before going back to kick the goal.
The start of the third quarter was when Hawthorn made their winning move. Port seemed to lose a bit of their manic intensity and suddenly Hawthorn were getting the ball in space and cutting Power apart with their kicking (bit of a mixed metaphor but let it go). It is not usually appropriate to comment on umpiring (are you listening, Brad Scott), but I think I need to this time as the ‘Free Kick Hawthorn’ meme will be probably doing the rounds again this week. It wasn’t that the free kick count would have been massively imbalanced, but the nature of some of the kicks paid (and some that weren’t paid especially involving Sam Mitchell) and where they occurred that would have angered Power fans and players. Umpires are fallible and there is no suggestion of bias, but as a supporter of neither team I thought Hawthorn were pretty lucky with the umpiring tonight. A few decisions made less sense than Margot Robbie’s Vanity Fair article.
But the Power also have to look at why they gave away so many free kicks in important areas. As I said at the start, they came into the game as angry as angry and confrontational as the Westboro Baptist Church. Just as their kicking was off, perhaps their actual decision making could have been affected too. A lot of frees were for incorrect disposal when players picked up the ball and tried to kick or handpass whilst being tackled. For the most part they could have just let themselves be taken to ground and it would have been thrown up as there was no prior opportunity most of the time. Instead players panicked and tried to kick or handpass whilst being slung and this cost three or four goals from memory.
Consecutive free kicks to Hawthorn gave them the perfect start with Ceglar converting another close range set shot before the Power had touched the ball. As the Hawks began to control possession more they looked dangerous and could have kicked several more goals before Hill found Rioli on the lead. Port really looked under siege and were struggling to get the ball out of their defensive half, often switching the ball left and right repeatedly without leaving defensive 50 and looking more uncertain than Malcolm Turnbull on tax reform.
It took courageous play from Gray and then a strong mark by Dixon and bit of luck for Westhoff to finally get a goal back for the Power. It was such a contrast to the clean, almost effortless way in which Hawthorn seemed to score. The Hawks missed a couple more shots (including two more free kicks inside 50) a quick reply but kept the ball pinned in their forward half as they peppered the goal. Eventually the Power recovered the ball after losing it at half back and broke out getting the ball to Wingard to kick his third goal.
The Hawks replied quicker than Andrew Bolt could call for Turnbull’s resignation on election day, with Ceglar kicking long from the centre square (guess why he was kicking it?) and Burgoyne receiving a knock-on from Rioli and squeezing it through on an angle. Sicily roved another spillage inside forward 50 to snap a goal and take the lead out to 5 goals at three quarter time.
The game looked pretty safe for the Hawks by the last quarter and it felt like a bit of intensity dropped off form both teams resulting in the scoring opening up at both ends. Gray caught Sicily holding the ball close to goal and converted the opportunity. At the other end a clever tap by Ceglar allowed Gunston time and space to kick a pretty easy goal. Port received their first free kick inside 50 for the game shortly after and Amon kicked accurately, before Gunston won another illegal disposal free kick and did the same. From my perspective this was pretty much the sealer. A flurry of goals in the final minutes saw Puopolo, Schulz, Amon, Wines and Hill add to their season tallies but had as much impact on the game as the Palmer United Party is likely to have on the future of Australian politics (I hope).
Best Player was a tough one really. Hawthorn had a pretty even performance with a lot of their players putting in solid efforts. The usual suspects of Hodge, Mitchell and Burgoyne all were noticeable, while the entire defence was pretty strong, but I felt Ceglar was probably their most important player. The Power’s part time ruckmen could barely compete with him at centre bounces, giving the Hawks a pronounced advantage all game. He also kicked a couple of goals and was involved in several more. Despite being in a losing side, best on ground was Gray who won a lot of the ball and was one of the few Port players who didn’t regularly burn the ball with poor disposal. Despite someone regularly hanging onto a part of Gray's anatomy (see what i did there), he broke tackles and burst out of congestion repeatedly, as well as kicking a couple of goals. If he wasn’t playing the result would have been more one-sided than Walter Palmer hunting Cecil the Lion.
The Power defence obviously struggled this game, turning the ball over repeatedly and giving away a ton of free kicks (most of which were there) within scoring range. However they have some very young and inexperienced players back there so it is not entirely surprising that they might panic a little playing against Hawthorn’s superstar forward line so I am going to give them a pass. Port really needed more from Jake Neade (accidental pun but I will take it). Not only did he struggle to touch the ball, he also barely laid a tackle and was beaten several times in important contests. Have a snickers, Jake.