Every AFL club recruiter would hold up Hawthorn’s Grant Birchall as their benchmark for a half-back.
The pacey, hard-nosed left footer was rewarded for two seasons of consistent form with his first All-Australian selection.
Teammates and fellow All-Australians Lance Franklin and Cyril Rioli are flashier, but Birchall is just as valuable.
“He’s such a big, imposing half-back,” said Hawks assistant coach Adam Simpson.
“He’d be 94kg, can run like the wind and competes really hard and he uses it well.
“There are no surprises from anyone he made the side.
“He would have been in the first couple picked, I reckon – just behind `Junior’ (Rioli) and `Buddy’ (Franklin), probably.”
One of 15 to earn their first All-Australian selection this year, Birchall is a cheerful, unfussed individual who turns deadly serious once it’s game time.
“All I wanted to do is play footy, play AFL, and just to get a game,” he said of his upbringing in Tasmania.
“To achieve this award is a fantastic honour and it’s something I will look back on and be very proud of.”
Another reason Birchall is so important for the Hawks defence is his height – at 193cm, he can play on a tall or short forward.
He will no doubt have a role as they try to counter Adelaide forwards Taylor Walker and Kurt Tippett in Saturday’s preliminary final.
Birchall has heard all the talk that Tippett is out of form – and says it counts for nothing.
He noted that Collingwood key forward Travis Cloke also had looked out of sorts before kicking five goals against Essendon and then six in the qualifying final against the Hawks.
“They’re two key forwards who are very dangerous,” Birchall said of Walker and Tippett.
“Obviously there was a bit of talk with Cloke not being in form.
“It doesn’t matter how they’re going, they’re very dangerous players and we have to be right on the ball.”
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