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


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)



Hawthorn face off against Sydney this weekend as part of a big round 16 CHECK OUT THE LADBROKES MARKETS  as two of the main premiership fancies face off in the Harbour City.


Check out Ladbrokes prices for this round

Check out Ladbrokes prices for this round






About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has passed his 40th year as a Carlton member.


  1. Grant Fraser says

    “Harris” – lest we forget.

  2. daniel flesch says

    Well analyzed and beautifully written John. Sydney this Saturday and Weagles in three weeks will tell us much more about Hawthorn. Both away games in contrast to the home game against Freo. It’s also been pointed out Swans and West Coast have some good big dangerous forwards while Freo has only Pavlich. In between those two opponents the Hawks face your Old Dark navy Blues. Anything could happen then , especially to a team that lost to GWS like Hawthorn did.

  3. Nice article John, really enjoyed the read, but I’m not sure why a two-time premiership player and Norm Smith winner is named inaccurately?

  4. John Butler says

    My apologies to Mr Lake.

    Late night Freudian reversion is my only (lame) excuse.


  5. Les Everett says

    Very clear John.

    I listened to the first half on the ABC while driving home from Corrigin – Nathan Burke’s is a good analyst.

    Third quarter I hid behind the couch.

    Last quarter went for a walk.

    Seemed a bit too much like the 2013 GF but without the bit-of-a-comeback. Nice challenge ahead for Lyon. Freo will be in big trouble if the AFL decides to play finals in Lonnie.

  6. John Butler says

    Don’t give them ideas Les.

  7. Todd Allison says

    It is one of the great tragedies of football that the Swans won the comp in 2005. Not because they were the Swans, but because Paul Roos was coach. Roos never once thought of the legacy of the game. He was only interested in preserving his job. He made football boring and what followed was the two worst seasons of football ever (three really, except that Geelong made life slightly bearable in 2007) and the two worst (despite the closeness of the games) grand finals in living memory.

    Roos taught Lyons everything he knows and Lyons has taken that football-hating mentality to heart. For the sake of all that is holy, I hope he never wins a premiership with his current attitude to the game. The problem is, he and Roos have given weaker teams an exemplar of how to compete with weaker lists. Other teams have followed suit. The game is poorer for their involvement.

    Thank God for the free scoring Hawks and Eagles and Richmond. Now two of those three in the grannie would be a grand final worth watching (whereas a Swans v Freo one would suck).

  8. John Butler says

    G’day Todd

    Your view is a widely held one. I have to say I think it relies on a very selective reading of history and events.

    What Roos and Lyon developed at Sydney was really an tension of the defensive flood, which pre-dates Roos by at least 5 years. Ideas of defensive zones have been widely shared through different sports for a long time. I think history shows that the more coaching resources you provide to a sport, generally defense is the main winner. Just in the last 15 years there’s been the flood, the cluster, the press, and all the variations thereof. Now we’ve returned to a modern variation of stacks on the ball, which has happened in various ways for more than a century. Today, the players are just fitter and more mobile.

    Lyon has certainly had his hand in a lot of pretty ordinary games, but he hasn’t been alone. People tend to forget those Hawks v Saints games when Lyon and Clarkson were in their early senior coaching years. They were terribly dull keeping-off in defense snooze-fests for a few years. Then Buddy and Roughy matured, Cyril came along, and Clarkson had a whole new world of possibilities on offer. Lyon’s never had that luxury.

    Besides, I don’t mind the odd team winning ugly. Too much of any style can get monotonous – even free flowing end to end stuff (people start calling it basketball). The less talented are entitled to seek a way to compete.


  9. CaballoViejo says

    “Thank God for the free scoring Hawks and Eagles and Richmond.” Richmond? Erm, Todd, are you looking at the same ladder I’m looking at, the one that has Richmond ranked 11th in Points For?

  10. Todd Allison says

    Maybe Richmond don’t score as freely as some, but they sure as hell try to. Their unpredictability makes them eminently watchable.

    As for the horrible Hawks v Saints game John speaks of, it is had nothing to do with Lyon v Clarkson. In Lyons first season at the helm, yes, the Saints were the worst offence, but the Hawks had the fifth best offence. The lowish scoring games that season owed more to Lyons cynicism and the Hawks youth than anything Clarkson was trying to instil in his side.

    Lyons had a terrific attack at St Kilda – Riewoldt, Milne, Kozzi, etc – but he was never interested in allowing them to score. He reduced his side from the 6th highest scorer to the lowest scorer in just his first season. It was always save my job defence first, score only if there is absolutely no chance the other side could cause a turnover and score themselves.

    When compared to the other defensive tactics that are used (flooding, etc), the tactics used by Roos and Lyon are much more cynical. They don’t use defence as an attacking weapon, which things like the cluster did, they use ball up after ball up after ball up ad nauseum to reduce the game to a rugby maul. It sucks and the game is poorer for their involvement.

    Just hearing Roos on his TV gigs gives the impression he hates the game and would prefer a nil-all draw to the 1989 GF (that’s what happens when the two best attacks of a generation play each other – the second best game of all time – the best was their round 6 clash the same year).

  11. Seriously good analysis JB. Made me wonder about the merits of the Almanac commissioning some match reports from fans who DON’T have skin in the game. The mad passionate stuff has its limits. How many ways can we say that “we really love our boys” or “the team is giving me the shits and we ought to sack the coach/board etc etc”?
    A shift of perspective is always valuable.
    Thanks JB.

  12. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    Great piece, John. Loved it. Great account of game, teams, the footy landscape of 2015 … and flowed like that half back Hawthorn drive.
    Hmm … us Swans are next. Nervous week.

  13. DBalassone says

    Brilliant writing!

  14. E.regnans says

    JB – I’m with Peter_B, MdeH and DBalassone.
    Funny, contextual, insightful… Hats off.
    As for the content – of course no one knows what’s ahead.
    Long may we dream, wonder and hope.

  15. John Butler says

    Thanks for the kind words folks.

    Mathilda, the Hawks will want to make it all about Buddy. The Swans challenge is ti make it about them.

    Should be a cracker.

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