There are … so many things we could go in-depth with today. So many. But if we do that, this post will end up looking like the blog version of War and Peace.
So in the interest of hitting all those things in a manageable size, this post will look a little different to normal. I’d like to take you through the tale of how a game evolves, and touch on ball use, adjustments, and list holes along the way. Let’s see how it goes.
What was North’s plan to start?
North opted to take what we saw in the first quarter against Brisbane to another level, heavily favouring a kick-mark style which was a world apart from the season opener against Fremantle. Which was only two weeks ago, mind you. If they weren’t wearing the same jumpers you could have sworn the Round 1 and Round 3 teams were playing different sports.
Why was this the plan?
In theory, the plan was to use possession both defensively – making sure there were no turnovers in dangerous areas – and then offensively, picking a gap in Hawthorn’s defence when it opened up.
When used defensively, it covers the flaws of North’s defensive setup being, shall we say, ‘not very good’ right now. Understatement of the year, I’m aware. When used offensively, it takes advantage of an opposition breakdown. All sounded good on paper, and all looked good in practice for the first quarter.
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Can an opposition adjust?
Sometimes teams either don’t – or can’t – adjust. For instance, Collingwood took approximately 5,624 marks against Richmond in Round 2 and little changed structurally all night. But because Alastair Clarkson is a god amongst men and perhaps an actual genius, he was able to have Hawthorn ready to counter from early in the second quarter. A lot of teams wouldn’t have.
Does North stick to its process?
Initially, North did, and started the second quarter much like it played most of the first. But because one of Confucius’ little-known sayings states ‘Kangaroo shall not win second quarter of AFL match’, of course the tide turned.
The thing was, most of the second quarter turnaround wasn’t from system failure. It was from player error. Free kicks against, skill error, failure to carry out the basics, you name it. Then once Hawthorn had momentum from those North errors, it gave them the confidence to continue to press higher.
What did Hawthorn’s adjustment mean for North?
To answer it in the simplest form; more handballs, less kicks. And the result of that, also in its simplest form: not good. Here’s how the kick to handball ratio changed from the first to second quarter:
Q1: 75 kicks, 39 handballs; 4.3.27 to 1.2.8
Q2: 39 kicks, 58 handballs; 2.3.15 to 4.1.25
Call this part a lengthy aside if you will, but I wanted to address the reaction to Brad Scott’s ‘performance’, if you will, in his press conference.
Let me start by being clear that I completely understand the frustration in the outer. 0-3, only two quarters won – and none after quarter time – a few players out of form and a couple more toiling away in the VFL. I get it, things don’t look good.
The natural reaction is wanting a head on a plate. But expecting the coach to deliver that is the absolute height of foolishness. If Brad Scott went into that press conference and started naming the players down on form and on the cusp of being dropped, it would be akin to signing his own termination papers.
Think of it this way. You’ve had a bad day at work, you’re down and low on confidence. Suddenly your boss proclaims to hundreds of thousands of people you’re not performing well at your job and you could be demoted.
Some will be reading this and thinking those players should grow up, handle public criticism, part of the job, etc. And there’s nothing wrong with that thought process either; some personality types are cut out to handle that kind of criticism. But increasingly, a lot aren’t cut out for that style of management.
And if Scott was to sit behind the microphone and start listing players, a divide grows between players and coach. He’s distancing himself from us, players will think when they see the quotes. He’s not in it with us, the quiet chat will be about in a corner of the change rooms. By sticking behind the players and refusing to hang them out there publicly, he then gives himself more cachet to use privately.
Besides, this way everyone wins. Media outlets get their clicks from his quotes, fans who don’t like Brad get to keep sharpening their pitchforks, and hopefully I’m able to provide a different perspective. How’s that for a cynical view?
Anyway. Back to business.
Did North adjust to Hawthorn’s adjustment?
Call it the counter-counter, if you will. At this stage, North knew Hawthorn’s higher press meant it was next to impossible to play the same way as the first quarter. But there’s a large enough sample size to know heavy handball is both not ideal and also a good way to give people heart attacks.
North was able to get the kicking ratio back on track, but by necessity it had to be longer, and frequently to big numbers. While I obviously don’t have access to behind the goals vision to illustrate the difference between the first and third quarters, this is one of those times where stats tell the story perfectly:
Q1: 75 kicks; 47 short, 10 long, 51 uncontested marks
Q3: 53 kicks; 19 short, 14 long, 26 uncontested marks
*Please note the short & long totals don’t include ineffective and clanger kicks*
But why didn’t this work on the scoreboard?
Aside from inaccuracy – 1.5 – at the top I mentioned ‘list holes’. And here’s where one of the main two reared its ugly head; specifically, the lack of a genuine second tall forward in the side.
While Tom Campbell is playing as hard as he can – and please don’t let this be interpreted as an attack on him – you can’t bank on him being a sustainable second tall forward. Because he’s a ruckman.
Without the pure tall forward in that role, it’s just a talent deficiency at this stage. Nick Larkey should be next in line for a crack at the position; judging purely by VFL numbers he seemed to be playing a similar second tall/second ruck role on Saturday night.
Was North’s counter sustainable?
Here’s where opinions will differ. My opinion is that it would have been sustainable with the correct personnel. Others will say I’m completely wrong. I suspect the answer is somewhere in the middle, like most things.
But the problem with the third quarter was an intangible. When your confidence is low, you can only keep repeating the same thing for so long until you get frustrated with the lack of results. North had five of the last six scoring shots for the term and dominated the last 10-15 minutes. End result: 1.4 to 1.0. That’s going to mess with your head.
Can an intangible really affect something so much?
Yes. Next question.
How did Hawthorn recapture momentum?
Two reasons. One of them is groundhog day; defending from the middle. Centre clearances were 6-2 Hawthorn’s way in the final term and again it’s because the midfield mix in there wasn’t right.
For what feels like the 50th time, I’m linking back to a post I did at the start of last year talking about roles at a centre bounce. The short version of it as it applies to this game is that without Jed Anderson and Ben Jacobs available, there is no one who can consistently stop an opposition midfielder from waltzing out of the centre.
The remaining midfielders are either ball winners/accumulators and/or players without the physical capabilities to chase down players at speed. And once again, it’s not intended as a negative, it’s just how it is.
What about the other reason though?
Right, sorry. Marley Williams not being available forced the selected defenders into tough roles, and Jarryd Roughead’s late withdrawal meant Hawthorn’s forward line was even smaller than normal.
Eventually the pressure told and the defence cracked. Chad Wingard and Luke Breust combined for four of Hawthorn’s five-quarter goals, and it just doesn’t happen with Williams around.
What does North do now?
For starters, pray and hope that Anderson’s one game in the VFL is enough match fitness to put him straight back at AFL level. Then, whatever the strategy decided for a second tall forward works. And finally, someone fly to Blundstone Arena, capture whatever led to that 10 goal first quarter against Adelaide, and bottle it to use on Saturday night.
Sounds simple enough.