Hawthorn AFL coach Alastair Clarkson says his senior players must lead the way if the Hawks are to beat Geelong for the first time since 2008.
The Hawks will go into Friday night’s MCG clash without their star forward Lance Franklin, who will miss a fourth consecutive game with a hamstring injury.
While Clarkson’s men are on an eight-game winning streak, the Hawthorn coach admits the Cats have had an edge over his side in terms of on-field leadership and it’s an area in which the Hawks need to lift.
Skipper and Norm Smith Medallist Luke Hodge, who has played only three games this season and made his comeback last week from a knee injury with a five-goal display, is a key element to Clarkson’s plans to end Geelong’s domination of the Hawks.
When Geelong came from behind to win by two points in round two against the Hawks on Easter Monday, Clarkson paid tribute to the influence of the Cats’ senior players such as Norm Smith Medallist Jimmy Bartel and skipper Joel Selwood.
Hawks’ defender Shaun Burgoyne admitted the Cats’ senior players seem to stand up in tight situations, and it’s something the Hawks haven’t always been able to match.
Second-placed Hawthorn (13-4) are four places higher on the ladder than Geelong (11-6) but the Cats flexed their muscles last week as they disposed of top-eight rivals Adelaide by 27 points.
Clarkson remains in awe of the 2007-09-11 premiers.
“Many are saying and probably rightly so that it is probably the best era of a football club that has ever played the game,” Clarkson told reporters on Thursday.
“When you have that type of dominance over that stretch of time, it’s usually because they’ve been led in an outstanding fashion.
“All those guys you’ve mentioned, it’s no surprise to us that they’ve been influential players in big games.
“We think we’ve made some ground in that regard but a big test like tomorrow night will really be how we can measure (it).”
In Franklin’s absence, the Hawks have found plenty of goalkickers including Jack Gunston, Jarryd Roughead and small forward Cyril Rioli.
“This year we’re wanting to test whether or not we’ve actually made up some ground,” Clarkson said.
“The ladder positions at the current time would suggest we have but our clashes with Geelong haven’t suggested that yet.
“So we need to get a scalp in that regard and hopefully that’s tomorrow night, but we know it’s going to be a great battle.
“We’ve been able to cope really well without Hodge for the bulk of the year and ‘Buddy’ (Franklin) over the last three or four weeks.”
Clarkson says 21-year-old key defender Ryan Schoenmakers is undergoing a tough learning curve and faces another stiff test against the Cats, with in-form power forward Tom Hawkins his likely opponent.