Finals Weeks 1 – Geelong v Hawthorn: Finally Unsociable (and seeking answers to shepherding on the mark)

GEEvHAW

 

LOCKING HORNS

Unsociable skies torment in the lead up to Friday night’s qualifying mega alpha stoush between the Cats and Hawks, but forecasted Armageddon doesn’t eventuate.

 

The pre-match beer, wine and pizza is very sociable and, after which, so is the weather – calm and mild, if humid.

 

The jam-packed South Yarra train offers opportunity for camaraderie, but little in the way of elbow room. I opt for the half-empty one following a minute behind, being separated from mates in the process. Unsociable me.

 

The long queues exiting Richmond station, and entering the ‘G, mean constant shoulder rubbing, but mostly prove that what technology offers with one hand it whacks you over the head with the other.

 

Terror threats made via ‘social’ media weren’t very polite either, but achieve a disruption aim. Neither that, nor rude weather predictions, keep the hardy away, though. A huge horde has descended.

 

The game has started by the time I navigate recalcitrant scanners and squeeze inside. I dart up the wrong flight of stairs. A roar draws attention to a Motlop goal – observed by fleeting glimpse of TV screen.

 

Eventually, I make way to level three and join the others. We’re on the centre-wing – no more agreeable possie than that!

 

Adding insult to home ground disadvantage – Geelong wears its away strip. Unsociable AFL? Or accommodating Cats?

 

The footy, meanwhile, is brilliantly fierce.

 

Contested with a capital ‘C’. Pressure with a capital ‘P’. Scrappy, but enthralling. Finals footy. With capital ‘F’s in italics.

 

The Hawks invented unsociable-ism. Tonight, finally, we return those pleasantries. The Selwoods and their band lock horns with Hodge and Co, and none relent. Players nudge and bump; push and grapple.

 

Blood will be spilt, but more by accidental head clashes than untoward aggression.

 

Smith has Hawthorn’s first set-shot at goal, but his kick drifts affably wide – a pointed point?

 

The Cats gain discourteous ascendency in the first quarter, though.

 

The Hawks never give an inch, but if you allow them an inch of space they take a mile – or at least a good part of the ‘G – Gunston receives that latitude to kick a long-bomb pass to the running Rioli, and a stunning second quarter goal that imposes their will.

 

They own the middle part of the match and have us on the back foot – it’s not looking good. That’s the general consensus among us fans anyway. Their lead is less than three goals, though seems out of reach.

 

But in these Cat/Hawk games, the team behind is always a good chance to claw back. We just need someone to provide a spark. On cue, Hawkins lays a strong tackle, followed by a powerful leaping mark and goal to Menzel.

 

Among local skirmishes in our tier, a Hawk supporter snaps at a Cat fan complaining about the umpires: “Open your eyes!”

 

“Go back to your private school!” responds Cat fan.

 

That’s about as abusive as it gets in this still night of pleasant war. The stadium generally though, is boisterous. Geelong fans are more vocal this year and have honed their booing.

 

The Hawks often look the better side tonight. They’re cleaner; we’re a bit fumbly, perhaps becoming reaccustomed to finals intensity – some should be better for the experience. We leverage our way back into the game by winning contests: the best way to beat Hawthorn because they use the ball so well. Your weight of numbers versus their precision.

 

At times, we allow them space to run free as if planning to win the backline contest and rebound from there.

 

During the nerve-wracking final quarter, a female Hawk supporter beside me briefly rests her head on my shoulder as if to emphasise the tension. Very social. Peace, sister.

 

The teams exchange goals and the lead, crash and bash, but neither can lay a killer blow.

 

A Motlop snap misses, giving the Hawks possession in the dying moments, but increases our advantage to two points.

 

Shortly after, he forces the ball near the boundary, but instead of quelling the Sherrin he attempts a speculative shot at goal. Another point. He’s given them possession again! How generous of Steve.

 

Without a thank you, Hawthorn move the ball forward uncontested. How do they do it? If you haven’t already seen it ….Breust marks on the fifty. Enright smothers his kick, but Breust recovers to gather the ball, leaving Corey in his wake, and passes to Smith, on his own, 35 metres out. Take two for Smith.

 

The siren sounds to end hostilities. Unbelievable! Only a 27 minute last stanza!

 

Geelong players form a barrier behind the mark, attempting distraction. 80,000 plus spectators are on their feet. Many are booing, being unsociable. Maybe the force of their will can prevail.

 

Smith smiles, he kicks. The ball, for us, follows another agreeable drift wide of the goal.

 

Sometimes you’re unlucky to lose, other times you’re lucky to win.

 

They play the Toreador song!

 

THE AFTERMATH

On talkback radio, a Hawthorn supporter complains about Geelong players being physical. Is he auditioning for the Comedy Festival?

 

That’s not to criticise Hawthorn, though – great sides win premierships by pushing the envelope, being uncompromising.

 

Some question Bartel’s place in the team. He wasn’t great but played a role and had some telling moments. He’s being judged by the beard? When champions have a flat-patch late in their career, no matter how briefly, it’s customary to prematurely write them off – I’d cut him some slack.

 

THE RULE

Should the shepherd on the mark go the way of the deliberate handball point? Hawthorn aren’t the first, or only, team to employ it, though.

 

Questions are asked about the tactic, and if there should be a rule change. I commented on a FA post earlier in the week that it’s illegal to shepherd unless the ball is within 5 metres – why isn’t that rule implemented?

 

I rang the AFL seeking clarification, and was fortunate enough to speak to umpires boss, Hayden Kennedy. Apparently, the interpretation grey area (apart from distance) is that players have the right to occupy space and engage in contact during general play, and it’s difficult to adjudicate between that and a shepherd/block. The rules have already been modified since Collingwood introduced the tactic under Mick Malthouse (play-on now must be called before contact can be initiated etc). Kennedy thinks the rules will probably be further modified though, in light of its current exploitation.

 

Interestingly, he observed that Geelong players often stood a few metres back from the mark to circumvent the Hawk tactic. I felt that was sometimes lack of concentration and application of pressure. But as mentioned earlier, it did seem we were deliberately allowing the Hawks space at times.

Comments

  1. Interesting piece, and clarification on the rule at the end there Paul. My understanding (which is often incorrect) is that the umpires in telling the Hawthorn players to not stand next to the man on the mark are enforcing the exclusion zone until play on is called. The issue is that there is no penalty in the laws of the game for a teammate of the player with the ball entering the protected area – only a 50 metre penalty against players on the opposing team. So the umpires can tell them to move but there is no penalty if they do not unless the umpire considered they were deliberately wasting time. Like you I expect that will change in some way at the end of this season. It is one of the more frustrating elements of watching Hawthorn play (that and them winning all of the bloody time).

  2. Good work Paul taking the initiative to clarify the motm rule, with the umpires boss no less. You’ve drawn attention to a basic but often overlooked aspect of the game.

    I reckon the disparate way both teams managed kicking over the mark and the way it was umpired in the final quarter almost cost the Cats the game.

    For one, on at least two occasions Geelong players kicked into the man, which is an unforgiveable mistake at any level. Although it is possible opponents (Hodge from memory was one) were either cribbing or duping their opponents on where the mark was. Good play them I s’pose.

    On the flipside it appeared to me that besides using the shepherding tactic, a few times Hawthorn players were allowed to move right around and choose their own mark and not be called to play on. Which is weird because increasingly, especially in the latter stages of games, umpires are calling play on after a few seconds, often it seems when the player hasn’t moved an inch off their line.

  3. Hodge was clearly over the mark when he smothered Blitz. He was out of bounds so he had to be over the mark.
    50 metre penalty. Cats free from goal square. Smith’s risible shank not a factor.

  4. Thanks Paul.

    The shepherding on the mark rule is a huge bugbear of mine at present. Someone unsuspecting will be seriously injured if the AFL does not move to clean up this blight on the game.

  5. Always said the Hawks were a mob of (time) wasters.
    Grand report Paul. I saw Hayden Kennedy explaining the “rule” on the AFL app earlier in the week. Watched it twice to try and understand. After 10 minutes I was none the wiser. Defies common sense, which is reason en enough to clear out the area around the mark of all except one opposition player to the man with the ball. That is what the umpires did 40 years ago.
    2 umpires please. How often does the one furthest away pay a free and get it wrong! Saw it a couple of times last week. Too many cooks………………….

  6. The other thing I reckon is in questionable spirit that was on display on Friday night is Geelong’s use of Blicavs as third-up ruckman. He is effectively the ruckman in that contest while the other ruckman is there to initiate contact once the umpire has released the ball and sufficiently impede his opponent, giving the third up a free hit. The trouble of course is that no opposing player can initiate contact with Blicavs without giving away a free. I reckon the rules committee should give it some consideration and/or opponents should start making Blicavs accountable at stoppages by standing their more mobile ruckman/another mobile tall on him at those contests.

  7. Thanks Paul for your topical insights.

    Doubtless others have commented here, but at which point was elite football supposed to be sociable? It’s a maddening metaphor.

    Tonight we watch with interest!

  8. Paul Spinks says:

    Thanks everyone for your comments. I think the rules are probably already in place to deal with most anomalies – it comes down to a case of interpretation/judgement. But It’s an ongoing process – the nature of the game – grey areas that will always be exploited by players and coaches.

    Might be even more cooks, Peter B, if a fourth ump is introduced.

    Another aspect of an opposing team engaging the man on the mark is that it should mean you have a loose player somewhere and that it could be exploitable to some extent. I don’t recall any team employing the tactic in a grand final.

    You’re right, Mickey.The ‘unsociable’ term was used by the Hawks to describe themselves, and how they had to be, and they used it in specific ways more than any other team. It was a way of focusing their minds as much as anything – still had to be a great side, skilful etc. And you need uncompromising types in your side to win a GF etc.

    While I was rapt for the bulldogs last night there was a tinge of disappointment that there’s no opportunity to meet the Hawks again if the Cats can advance. That rivalry will recommence next Easter, and hopefully continues regardless of where the teams are on the ladder.

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