In the first quarter on Sunday, both topics came together in a masterclass of coaching and preparation, exploiting Hawthorn’s centre bounce tendencies when Tom Mitchell is there.
Mitchell attended six centre bounces in the first term with Todd Goldstein as the ruckman and someone other than Ben Jacobs as his opponent. On five occasions, Mitchell’s direct opponent at least got hands on the ball in the centre.
How and why did it happen? Watch all five instances in the video, and then read on below for the explanation.
A reminder you can subscribe to The Shinboner via email on your right (on desktop) or below this post (on mobile). If you’re on Twitter you can follow me @rickm18 and to share this post on social media, you can use any of the buttons at the bottom of this post.
While Jacobs had the negating role on Mitchell around the ground for the afternoon, it was infrequent at centre bounces as North looked to hurt the Hawk going the other way.
Teams at centre bounces normally designate one player to hunt the ball and be the target for the ruckman. Understandably this is Mitchell’s role when he’s in there, playing to his strengths – it’s one of the many reasons Hawthorn has been so good for the last decade; everyone is put in the best position to succeed.
But what happens when North attempts to turn Mitchell’s aggressive role into a weakness?
Phase 1: Todd Goldstein
It starts with the ruckman. Brad Scott was full of praise for Goldstein after the match, calling the performance ‘Goldy of old’ and stating, ‘he was the one that gave us the impetus’.
Goldstein being able to win clean hit-outs was crucial for North’s centre square setup. You can dictate proceedings when your ruckman is on top, as Max Gawn painfully demonstrated in Round 3.
But on Sunday, Goldstein getting on top of McEvoy allowed phase two of the plan to be carried out.
Phase 2: Get the ball in the hands of Mitchell’s opponent
North knew Mitchell would be focused on winning the ball, and not so much on whoever was his direct opponent. By taking advantage of Goldstein’s edge over McEvoy, there was now the ability to exploit this.
As mentioned at the top, in five out of six centre bounces with Goldstein as the ruckman and someone other than Jacobs on Mitchell, the Hawk’s opponent got hands on the ball. It bears repeating because rarely does a plan work that well and that smoothly.
Watch this play in particular. Mitchell pushes off Shaun Higgins to get in position to receive the ball, but Higgins knows Goldstein has the hit-out coming and runs to space to receive. While there wasn’t a clean possession from it, the process was working. Results will come if the process is sound.
Here’s another example of exploiting Mitchell’s instructions, this time towards the end of the first quarter, again involving Higgins.
In the previous gif, Goldstein tapped it into space for Higgins to run onto. Perhaps anticipating something similar, Mitchell is shading into the same area at this centre bounce attempting to shark the tap.
Instead Goldstein taps in the other direction to Ben Cunnington, and Higgins has moved into plenty of space to create a two-on-one, receive the handball and go long inside 50.
Play it back a couple of times and figure out any way Hawthorn could have won the centre clearance from Goldstein’s tap without a North turnover. It’s an excellent setup, coached and planned to perfection and then most importantly carried out by the playing group.
Obviously plans won’t work this perfectly every week, and there’ll be weeks when the tables are turned on North. That’s football, and it happens. But take note of when it all comes together, and you can see it all unfold. It’s those positives which helps maintain confidence in what you’re trying to do.