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Hawthorn's clearance conundrum

Written by Brandon Marlow (@SauceMarlow) on 13 April 2017

Much has been made of Hawthorn's lack of leg speed, but what if I suggested that wasn't their biggest problem?

What if I said that Hawthorn's major problem is that their players just aren't getting the job done inside?

Trading away Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis were necessary moves and helped inject more speed into the Hawks' midfield, however, Hawthorn's midfield has still struggled to start the season

Last season Hawthorn were ranked 10th in the league for average clearances per game with 36.4

This put them slightly under the competition average of 36.6, but they were still dead last out of all eight teams that played finals last year.

2017 has seen their average fall to a dire number in the first three rounds.

The Hawks are averaging just 33.7 a game, which ranks them 17th, just ahead of the Western Bulldogs who average 32 and are having serious clearance problems of their own.

Alarmingly, they were smashed 51-26 in clearances by the Gold Coast Suns, recording 10 fewer clearances than the league average.

At first glance, it would seem like the replacements for Mitchell and Lewis, Jaeger O'Meara and Tom Mitchell, are doing a poor job of filling such gigantic shoes.

However, it has been hard to fault Mitchell and O'Meara around stoppages so far.

Mitchell and O'Meara have actually racked up quite a few clearances so far, with Mitchell averaging 5 per game and O'Meara 4.7.

This places both men inside the top 50 in the competition for clearances per game.

They're also performing better than the men they replaced, as Mitchell is averaging 3.7 per game this year and Lewis just 3.

Even looking at their 2016 stats for Hawthorn, Tom Mitchell and O'Meara are performing about as well as you could ask.

In 2016 Sam Mitchell averaged 5.6 clearances per game and Lewis slightly less at 5 per game.

So if the Hawks' new recruits are mostly getting the job done at stoppages, why are the Hawks seemingly struggling to get on top in the clearance battle?

It's an issue that seems to have multiple causes.

One of the biggest issues is that Hawthorn's midfielders aren't putting enough pressure on at stoppages.

Of the players who spend most of their time in the midfield, it seems that Liam Shiels, Will Langford, and Tom Mitchell are the only ones consistently laying more than a couple of tackles per game.

O'Meara's defensive pressure, in particular, has been quite poor.

Against Essendon, he laid just one tackle.

In their round 2 clash with the Crows, he again had a single tackle to his name.

His efforts against the Suns were slightly better, registering three tackles.

He's averaging 24.6 pressure acts per game to start the season, however applying pressure isn't enough when you've only laid five tackles for the season.

A major reason why the Hawks were smashed so badly in the clearances against the Suns is that they were sorely missing the efforts of Will Langford.

Alistair Clarkson sent Langford to tag Gary Ablett after his hot start to the game, which meant the bulk of the heavy lifting was left to just Shiels, Mitchell and O'Meara.

Langford finished the game with 15 disposals and one clearance, while his tagging efforts had no impact as Ablett picked up 36 disposals and 10 clearances.

Langford averaged 5 clearances per game over the first two rounds and him not having a purely defensive role at stoppages would have helped the team immensely.

The final reason the Hawks are struggling is that Ben McEvoy is getting smashed this season.

Against the Bombers McEvoy tied part-time ruckman Shaun McKernan with 27 hit-outs, while he was smashed by Sam Jacobs and Jarrod Witts in the following weeks.

He ranks 15th in hit-outs, averaging just 27.3 a game.

Having such a huge discrepancy means opposition sides are getting the best chance to get their hands on the ball first, which subsequently means they have a far easier time trying to get away a clearance.

The Hawks' Easter Monday clash against Geelong has the potential to be a blood bath if these trends continue.

While the Cats only average 31.7 hit-outs per game, they rank equal 7th for total clearances (37.7) per game. 

They also possess Patrick Dangerfield who is 3rd for clearances per game (8) and Joel Selwood who is 13th (7.3).

If Hawthorn hasn't made some serious adjustments to address this clearance problem we could be looking at another huge defeat and a 0-4 start to 2017.