Birchall remains grounded for Hawks in AFL

Hawthorn AFL defender Grant Birchall remains hobbled by an ankle complaint and won’t play on Thursday night against Adelaide.

The Hawks flew out for Adelaide on Wednesday morning and coach Alastair Clarkson said Birchall was still recovering from the ankle injury he suffered in round eight against Sydney.

“We’ve been saying for three weeks that he thought he was (going to play) next week but he’s been really slow from what we thought initially,” Clarkson said from Melbourne Airport.

“He’s getting there, he’s making progress, but just not as quick as we thought.”

Small forward Paul Puopolo has recovered from a foot injury, suffered against Gold Coast in Launceston two weeks ago, and will play.

Birchall and untried key defender Kaiden Brand are the only players unavailable to Clarkson at the halfway point of the season.

“We’re probably one or two wins beneath where we’d like to be,” Clarkson said of his review of the first half of Hawthorn’s campaign.

“We’ve played some good footy throughout the course of the year but we’re just been poor in a couple of significant patches of games.

“We’re going to have to play a little bit of catch up in the second half of the season – we’re aware of that.

“We’re going to have to work hard. There are some good sides in it and the competition does seem to be a little bit more even than what it’s been in the past.”

The Hawks sit in sixth spot on the ladder just ahead of the Crows, with both clubs having won six of their first 10 games before enjoying a bye last week. Adelaide are using Thursday night’s match to commemorate the club’s 25th anniversary in the AFL with Clarkson unsure what effect, if any, that will have on proceedings.

“It’s a little bit like a (player) milestone game, isn’t it?” he said.

“There’s a lot of emotion and noise outside of the footy club but you’ve still got to get in there and do the job.”

The influence that Patrick Dangerfield is able to have will be a key factor in the outcome.

Clarkson played his cards close to his chest when quizzed about his strategy for the star Crow.

The Hawks’ coach will return to Adelaide for the first time since being involved in a physical altercation with a Port Adelaide fan as he walked back to the team hotel following their round-four loss to the Power.

He was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing but won’t be taking any chances this time around.

“If I’m going to walk back from the hotel, I might put a bicycle helmet on this time,” he joked.

“No, we’ll be taking the bus.”

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