Okay, so learned three things out of yesterday’s match:
1. That finals experience still counts for a hell of a lot. Hawthorn were ready to go, the Eagles hesitant, and some players dysfunctional.
2. You gotta take your chances. Even with their finals nerves the Eagles should have been in the game right into the last quarter had they converted their chances. Unfortunately for them they squandered opportunities right from the start. Goals they should have kicked, marks they should have taken. Shuey, Le Cras, Hurn, and especially Darling all culprits. End of day they only had a couple less scoring shots than Hawthorn, but lost comfortably.
3. The start was critical. As predicted, Hawthorn came hard, and the Eagles failed to properly respond – though had they taken some of their aforementioned opportunities the damage might have been halved.
I’ve listed three, but doubtless there are many other things you could take from the game. The heat might have been a factor, should have been a factor – Hawthorn were ratcheting up the interchanges – but the Eagles were never really close enough to make an issue of it.
Otherwise the Eagles failed at the other indicators – they failed to close down the Hawthorn chipping game; Mitchell wasn’t tagged, and was excellent; and Kennedy, such a key player for them, had his worse game of the year.
I guess I’m concentrating on the things the Eagles did wrong. Obviously Hawthorn did a lot right. With few exceptions they’re not a spectacular team, but they’re incredibly efficient. I doubt I’ve ever seen a more efficient team, and now they’ve got three premierships running to show for it.
Where do they rate? Have to be one of the best on paper, but I don’t even think they’re the best Hawthorn team I’ve seen. I’d rate the Hawks of the eighties, playing in a tougher competition, ahead of them. On pure football Geelong of around 2007 would be better, and the Brisbane side that won three straight in the early eighties more dominant. The Essendon team of 2000 – the best season any team has ever had – would go close too.
It’s all subjective, but I tend to think the football of the eighties was more pure – a smaller comp made for more concentrated talent. It made for real rivalries too. One of the things we’ve lost in recent years is that close rivalry. Probably for most of this century there’s been one stand-out team a year, clearly better than the rest.
I think that’s been an unexpected side-effect of equalisation – the best clubs are weakened without really tumbling; the bottom clubs get better, but it takes time to get to the top, if at all. It only takes for one club to be a bit smarter with its list management to stay on top. Unfortunately free agency has greatly assisted them in doing that (now a bit of a farce).
On that basis my best team remains the 1985 Essendon squad. They won back to back flags that year, and absolutely smashed a great Hawthorn team. But then, I am biased.
The Eagles will be much better this year with this experience under their belt.