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The Ubiquitous Loose Man in Defence

From the Members Wednesday MAR 31

By Joe De Petro

It’s a Blundstones and chinos afternoon. A pale blue collared shirt is required to gain entry. Because this is Melbourne, a black fluffy jacket is de rigueur. It does not matter that it is not even that cold today. Rules is rules.

A double take is needed to identify who is wearing which club colours on the crowded train. Is that person wearing “Yellow and Black” or “Brown and Gold?” Families of mixed allegiance are particularly difficult to distinguish. These two teams have won six of the last eight premierships between them and this is evident in the large number of school-age fans accompanying their parents. Both clubs are represented in many of these family units.

Like all traditional team sports across the globe, AFL Football is tribal and clannish. But in a uniquely Australian way, inter-mingling of the clans is both tolerated and encouraged. The ribbing is good-natured, the rivalry is fierce but benign. Twelve year old brothers in clashing colours play a game together on their Dad’s phone.

We stroll towards the MCG, bathed in bright sunlight. Some patience is required to enter the arena as our phones are loaded with electronic tickets and QR Code readers. What we would have said ten years ago if someone suggested that entry to the football would one day involve security checks, body scans and contact tracing!

In this age of Covid-19, Victorians are compliant with the restrictions placed upon them but they are also determined to enjoy life. Everyone is cheerful and unflappable.

By the time the first siren blares, we have grazed on fast food and have our beers firmly in hand. We settle in for the afternoon’s entertainment. The Tigers begin briskly and have three majors on the board in the blink of an eye. Daniel Rioli, misses his first shot at goal, his inaccuracy will plague him repeatedly as the game unfolds. Riewoldt is dangerous early and Captain Cotchin sets the tone, crashing into packs. Mr Norm Smith Medals, along with the young and impressive Shai Bolton, his emerging Mini-Me, are both clean and exciting.

Ten minutes in and the Tigers have three quick goals. Hawthorn’s master coach decides he has seen enough, thank you very much. It is time for the ubiquitous Loose Man in Defence to make a rather belated appearance. An extra player is deployed into his backline, where he will set up camp until the final siren. This game is too open for his liking and he will have something to say about that. His counterpart in the Richmond coaching box is of the same mindset and responds with the exact same tactic. The war of attrition has begun!

Nick Vlastuin, the leader of Hardwick’s defence, is missing through injury. Vlastuin is held in such high regard at Richmond that Shane Edwards, with his dancing feet, quick hands and nimble mind, is taken out of the midfield and deployed into the backline as his replacement today. Now that an extra man is added, Edwards is free to run loose and control the game, using his creative handball to slice and dice through the opposition lines.

The cat-and-mouse tactics continue and it is not long before both ruckmen are also stationed behind the ball. As expected, intercept marks abound and the contest closes down. At regular intervals, goals are exchanged, bartered between the two defences like second-hand treasures unearthed enthusiastically at a suburban garage sale. How much do you want for that Art Deco lamp? Let’s talk about your Edwardian cigarette case.

The AFL executive in their wisdom, have introduced many new interpretations to try to open up the game and encourage more scoring. Both of these coaches are disciples of the Defence-First Academy of Football. Today they are searching for ways to shut scoring down, not facilitate it. The footy rebounds between their two back-lines like the bouncing ball in a 1950s Doris Day movie singalong.

Noah Balta is exciting to watch at one end as he leaps athletically into packs and Changkuoth Jiath is just as impressive at the other end, continually taking risks to move the ball towards his goal. Both are fearless, possessing the reckless confidence of youth, their minds and bodies yet to be wearied by years of bashing and crashing.

The midfields break even. Tom Mitchell accumulates his weekly cricket score of possessions. Many of them are pressured an ineffective. His younger team-mates rise to the challenge but they find that combatting the much vaunted Richmond pressure game is demanding and laborious. As usual, the much-vaunted Richmond pressure game is ever-present. There will be no shoot-outs today.

The Tigers keep the Hawks at bay and preserve their lead until the final break. By this stage, Hawthorn have stationed two ruckmen together in defence and both forward lines resemble the crowded train that took us here, a mass of “Yellow and Black” and “Brown and Gold.” It appears that the most reliable avenue to goal is to wait for the eventual handpass which, in a moment of confusion, will inexplicably be given directly to an opponent. The order of the day is to pounce and take advantage of the good fortune when the opportunity presents. Edwards gives Hawthorn an easy goal in this manner.

Finally, Dusty flexes his muscles early in the last quarter and the game is over. Ever unselfish, he gives two goals away to his veteran spearhead Riewoldt and it is all put to rest. Bolton’s last quarter is sublime. Jiath grows in confidence and fights hard to hold back the tide.

The Tigers enjoy another solid win and their 2021 campaign will continue here in another week against Buddy Franklin and his resurgent Swans.

HAWTHORN 1.1 - 5.2 - 6.3 - 7.7 (49)
RICHMOND 4.4 - 8.7 - 9.8 - 11.12 (78)

Hawthorn: Breust 2, Brockman 2, Koschitzke, Morrison, O'Brien
Richmond: Riewoldt 4, Lynch 2, Castagna 2, Balta, Aarts, Martin

Hawthorn: Mitchell, Jiath, Hardwick, Impey, Phillips
Richmond: Martin, Cotchin, Riewoldt, Short, Bolton, Prestia

Hawthorn: Day (ankle)
Richmond: Nil

Hawthorn: Scrimshaw (replaced Day)
Richmond: Ross (Unused)

Crowd: 41,051 at the MCG

De Petro family
Joe De Petro’s favourite period in history began with the Summer of Love and continued until 1980. What was not to like in those days? The music was wonderful and the Tigers won Premierships every other year, just like they do now.

The new Summer of Love began in 2017. Long may it last!