Hawks win AFL grand final tactical battle

To a long list of tactical triumphs, Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson can now add finding a way to unpick the ‘Weagles web’.

West Coast’s defensive set-up this year has been a revelation, with the undersized back six brilliant at guarding space and denying their opponents scoring opportunities.

It is a system ideally suited to the long, narrow dimensions of their home ground at Domain Stadium.

But on the wider expanses of the MCG – a venue the Eagles were playing at for only the second time this year – it unravelled.

No one capitalised better on the defensive breakdown than Cyril Rioli, who ended the 46-point victory with two goals, four score assists and a thoroughly deserved Norm Smith Medal.

“We’ve been performing really well throughout the year at beating forward lines that have really good talent,” said Eagles coach Adam Simpson.

“We tried a couple of things but he’s just a bloody good player.

“He’s a competitor, he can compete with any tall and he’s probably the best in the competition at ground level.

“Hawthorn play in a way where they look for him and there’s a connection with their ball use which I’m sure you all saw today.”

Jack Gunston was another notable beneficiary, his four-goal haul giving him a total of 12 in the past four grand finals – the most of any current AFL player.

The Eagles were also hampered by a poor goalkicking display, with skipper Shannon Hurn and the experienced Sam Butler missing easy shots in the second term.

Midfielder Jack Darling and Luke Shuey also butchered gilt-edged scoring opportunities early in the third term when the match was still up for grabs, only for the Hawks to rush the ball down the other end and kick vital goals.

“It was a combination of their pressure and getting exposed by turnovers,” said Simpson.

“Sometimes you can fumble and you can not quite handle situations, but you don’t get punished like you do when you play Hawthorn.”

Former Demon James Frawley was another key figure for the winners, keeping Coleman medallist Josh Kennedy scoreless.

“I thought our forward line was a bit off today as a whole unit, but the Hawks’ defence was a really solid back seven and our supply wasn’t great,” said Simpson.

“We had 40 inside 50s and we average 55.

To say it was our midfield that was disappointing, I think the collective, the whole way we played today, was one of our poorer games.”

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