McGuane: how Hawks can conquer the Cattery
Forget about the Great Wall of China.
For teams making the trip to fort Cattery, they have to conquer a team defence I've dubbed The Great Wall of Geelong.
How you find a way to penetrate it is challenging, but if you want to win a game of footy against the Cats you have got to do it, especially at GMHBA Stadium.
The Cats are almost unbeatable at home. It's a fortress and "as one" they fiercely protect their turf.
They know every inch of grass on their home deck and their defensive game is unmatched there.
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It's a unique ground. The width of the oval is only 112m compared to the 139m MCG and the Cats know how to play it like no other.
Geelong has mastered its team defence at home. The Cats only conceded 58.2 points per game on average last season. They are just so hard to score against there.
You win a lot of games of footy when you allow the opposition to score only under 10 goals, even more so when your offence is in good shape as well.
Scoring at home is not a problem for the Cats. In fact, they averaged 100 points a game last year down the highway, compared with 80 points at the MCG at Marvel Stadium.
It's difficult, but not impossible, to win at the Cattery. Just ask Greater Western Sydney. In 2019, the Giants were the only team out of nine visiting clubs to beat the Cats at the old Kardinia Park.
They beat them in and around the contest, winning stoppages and clearances to gain territory, which is paramount for the Hawks tonight.
HOW THE HAWKS CAN DO IT
The Hawks haven't played a game at the Cattery since 2006, but Alastair Clarkson has always held an "anywhere, anytime" mantra with his team.
Without question, he would have gone to school watching how GWS succeeded in beating the Cats last year at Geelong. The Giants simply beat them at their own game - hard and tough around the ball.
Winning the "contest" cannot be compromised against Geelong at home. Historically under Clarko, the Hawks haven't been a great stoppage team. In 2019, they were ranked 18th in the competition for clearance differential, something that must change tonight. It will provide growth in their game.
There needs to be a clearance win, or at least break even. With Tom Mitchell back from injury and a fitter Chad Wingard, who was sensational in Round 1, this will certainly help. I would be challenging the Hawks players at centre bounces and at all stoppages in general play - Mitchell, James Worpel, Wingard and Liam Shiels - to win the clearances and get the ball forward at all costs. It's time to get dirty.
Gaining and holding territory is imperative for the Hawks tonight. Geelong's defenders in Harry Taylor, Zach Tuohy, Tom Stewart and Mark Blicavs must be placed under pressure through constant inside 50s.
But, of equal importance, when they win the ball back, Geelong's controlled kick-mark style out of D50 must be challenged through an aggressive, organised, pressing Hawthorn team defence. This will help generate turnover.
Good width and length is what Hawthorn likes to get into their game in offence after intercepting the ball in defence. Players like Isaac Smith, Ricky Henderson and Tom Scully like to get width so they can become an option and kick start the Hawks attack. I'm not convinced Hawthorn can lose clearance and just rely on winning the ball back in their backline and endeavour to go coast-to-coast to score.
The space, however wide, is just not there tonight. It's up to the tough and committed around the stoppage that can deliver the Hawks victory.
In this abbreviated season, a ballistic brand of attacking football is what many pundits are predicting.
I certainly hope that's the case. Allowing players and teams and to play on instinct, flair, and intuition will help the look of the game aesthetically and that's really important.
But as much as we would like to see that in every match, the logic in me says it's just too fanciful to suggest coaches will relinquish the importance of defence, which has gone through the roof in the last five or six years.
Tonight's clash between the Cats and Hawks will be a testament to that thinking because both coaches, Clarkson and Chris Scott, place a high emphasis on defence before attack.
Both teams have strong defensive structures and mindsets.
The Cats last year were the best team at defending opposition ball movement when playing at home. They have no equal. For the teams that played at Geelong last year, only 13 per cent of their chains got inside forward 50.
That's why tonight's game is intriguing. Can the Hawks' ball movement, challenge and penetrate the Geelong wall?
Initially, we might witness a bit of a Mexican stand-off. Which team will throw the first punch?
Will Clarko attack the corridor out of D50 when space is limited on the outside? Who wants to attack and challenge the opposition defensively? Both teams will be guarded and possibly more concerned when their opponent will strike.
At quarter-time it's the reason why we think we might see a score line that resembles soccer.
Originally published as McGuane: How Hawks can conquer the Cattery