Round 15 – Hawthorn v Fremantle: Message received loud and clear



Round 15, 2015

Hawthorn v Fremantle

Aurora Stadium, Launceston

12th July, 3:20pm

by John Butler


When Fremantle surreptitiously secured Ross Lyon as coach after the 2011 season, they committed an egregious breach of their appointed role in the football universe. The cuddly, unthreatening Western Australian little brother had made a serious play to enter the big time. Just how serious could be reasonably measured by the righteous howls from the Geelong and West Coast contingents on this very website.


Given the grief that Lyon’s Dockers have subsequently visited on both Cats and Eagles, those howls seem prescient. They were also considerably over the top. Looking back at the uproar, one might be forgiven for imagining duplicity had paid its first visit to the virgin purity of our fair competition.


In reality, Freo’s offence was not to know its place. There can be no greater Australian sin than upsetting preconceptions. That Freo disdained to remain the object of others’ condescension was most inconsiderate. That Ross Lyon was central to the upset was fuel to the fire.


Few figures divide the football community like Mr Lyon. Some find the playing styles his teams have employed offensive to their aesthetic sense. Others dislike his public persona. Many find him guilty on both counts. This has led to some extraordinary proclamations. Prior to the 2013 Grand Final, one mainstream paper saw fit to publish an article declaring the game under threat should Fremantle win. Many confidently proclaim to this day that Lyon is incapable of coaching a team to a flag. Given that but for a toe-poke here, and an errant bounce there, he could well have had two in the bag already, this seems a challenging argument to sustain.


For the first nine rounds of this season it seemed Lyon might have found the perfect answer to his critics. The Dockers were still strangling their opponents, but scoring more freely than ever before. They’d swept all before them.  But since their round 10 upset loss to Richmond, the Freo juggernaut had struggled to find top gear. Now, in round 15,  they faced the one club that had remained a bridge too far.


Hawthorn had suffered narrow loses in four of their opening eight games, inviting speculation about the health of their premiership defence. The coach had been embroiled in some gratuitous off-field distractions. A couple of star players had crossed the line from ‘unsociable’ to something rather less savoury. Their subsequent string of wins had been achieved against middling opponents. It was still hard to gauge exactly how they were travelling.


They clarified that on Sunday.


There have been few more clinical executions of a quality opponent in recent seasons than Hawthorn’s eclipse of Fremantle. The Hawks obviously came with a point to prove and they made it emphatically. It was a masterclass in negating an opponent’s strength whilst playing to your own.


What do you do about Nat Fyfe? Well, making him accountable for Luke Hodge is a pretty good start. And collectively ensuring that he can barely take a step in possession before being gang tackled will ice the deal.


Identify Michael Walters as a scoring threat? Make sure you get in his face and provoke him to waste his energies grappling with a succession of opponents. Having studied him, you know he’ll oblige.


Want to negate Sandilands’s dominance of hit outs? Get Mitchell and Hodge in the centre at the first bounce so you smash them in clearances. And make sure your ruckmen work forward into scoring positions. Their collective return of three goals is worth a lot of taps.


The Dockers made an uncharacteristically poor fist of negating Hawk strengths. Why would  you allow Sam Mitchell to wander free and collect 39 possessions without an obvious opponent? Ever noticed that  Birchall (31 possessions) and Suckling (24) provide a lot of drive from defence? Or that if you bomb it in high this plays into the hands of Harris and Gibson (22 marks between them)?


The Hawks got this contest on their terms very early on and never looked like relenting. And in doing so, they highlighted all the existing doubts about Fremantle’s scoring capacity. As Hawthorn’s last two grand final opponents will attest, they can play the pressure game with the best. But they alone can do that while scoring with brutal efficiency. When you consider that Hawthorn can add Roughead and Frawley to Sunday’s line up, the task awaiting challengers is daunting.


If Lyon can be accused of a clear failing, it might be his inability to build a complete list. His affection for role players of limited ability may yet prove a fatal Achilles heel. He’s remained loyal to battlers when superior talent might have been pursued. And when talent has been pursued, it has often backfired: think Andrew Lovett, Colin Sylvia and Scott Gumbleton.


By contrast, when Hawthorn need tall defenders they recruit Harris and Frawley. They engineer to add Gunston, Burgoyne and McEvoy to an already stellar list. Fremantle could not have shrugged off the loss of Pavlich like Hawthorn dealt with Buddy’s departure. Alastair Clarkson may be the current coaching benchmark, but he’s achieved that with a tremendous organisation behind him.


Having said all this, no flag is won at round 15. No matter your depth, injuries to the wrong players still hurt. And a little luck at the right time can go a long way. It would greatly surprise if Fremantle couldn’t regroup from this loss. They do, by the way, still sit atop the ladder. The scoring power of Sydney and West Coast also shouldn’t be discounted. But the Hawks made it very clear on Sunday that they won’t beat themselves. You’ll have to take it from them this year.


Ross Lyon already knew that. Has he played all his cards yet? That could still prove the season’s central intrigue.



HAWTHORN  4.3    7.6   13.8   17.13  (115)

FREMANTLE  1.2   1.4    3.7      6.7      (43)








  1. J Butler produced a belter with this one.

    Will Hawthorn be better for the run at Subiaco last fortnight?
    Will they take comfort from their Launceston game?
    No doubt.
    Will Freo gain from the week off and home conditions?

    Game on.

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