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Five to watch: Hawks v Cats

David Hale of the Hawks celebrates a goal during the 2014 AFL Round 22 match between the Hawthorn Hawks and the Geelong Cats at the MCG, Melbourne on August 23, 2014. (Photo: Sean Garnsworthy/AFL Media)
David Hale is a key player for the Hawks tonight.

With the Hawks ready to take on Geelong in a Qualifying Final tonight, looks at the five key players who could impact the result.

1. David Hale (Hawthorn)
After finding himself playing for Box Hill in rounds 17 and 18 as the Hawks opted for a ruck combination of Ben McEvoy and Jonathon Ceglar, Hale has returned to the senior side reinvigorated and back to his damaging best.

In the past three weeks Hale has kicked seven goals and taken 17 marks (eight inside 50), while performing admirably in the ruck to contribute an average of 15 hitouts and 11 disposals per game.

When he lined up against the Cats in Round 22 he played his most damaging game of the season and was pivotal to the Hawks’ comeback.

He finished with three goals and five marks (three contested and three inside 50), including a courageous grab running back with the flight of the ball followed by a clutch goal.

His versatility, work rate and knack for performing on the big stage will be pivotal to the Hawks overcoming the Cats on Friday night.

2. Joel Selwood (Geelong)
He might be the obvious choice but the reality is Selwood can drag his team across the line such is the outstanding level in which he plays his footy.

A courageous player who leads by both his actions and his words, Selwood is easily Geelong’s most damaging midfielder both in racking up possessions and impacting the scoreboard.

Selwood is ranked number one at Geelong for total disposals (averaging 25.4 per game), while he’s their most dangerous players at the clearances (6.0) and centre clearances (2.7).

What demonstrates his hardness though is his tackle count, ranked number one for average tackles across the year (5.9).

Couple that with a return of 21 goals – equal fourth at Geelong – and you see just how much of an impact the Geelong skipper has on games and on his teammates.

He seems to produce some of his best footy against the Hawks, averaging 27.3 disposals, 6.0 tackles and 5.0 clearances.

There is little doubt he will get a Hawk for company on Friday night and probably in the mould of Liam Shiels.

Joel Selwood in action for the Cats.

3. Liam Shiels (Hawthorn)
After injuring his shoulder and missing rounds 5-9, Shiels has gradually built up form and looms as a weapon in the Hawks artillery that can at times, slip under the radar.

Shiels may not receive the public plaudits of names such as Mitchell, Lewis and Hodge, but his ability to play his role and contribute in key indicators makes him a vital part of the Hawks midfield.

His tackling pressure and ability to play on and shut down some of the game’s elite midfielders is first class and that’s where his biggest value may lie on Friday night.

The young Hawk could be given the task of stopping Selwood, a player in which the Hawks have chosen to target defensively in the past but he could also make his way onto Steve Johnson like he did in the Preliminary Final.

In Hawthorn’s win over Geelong in Round 22, Shiels was one of many players that stood up when required.

He recorded eight tackles and four inside 50s and even kicked a classy goal from a stoppage before setting up another, as has come to be expected from the emerging leader.

With the Hawks and Cats each boasting a host of experienced and highly acclaimed players, Shiels’s ability to get the job done when called upon could be the difference between the two sides on Friday night.

Liam Shiels of Hawthorn.

4. Mitch Duncan (Geelong)
An unsung player outside Simonds Stadium, Duncan is a hard-working midfielder who often slips under the radar of opposition teams.

He is a quick midfielder with elite skills but it is his ability to push forward and kick goals that really adds value to the Cats.

Duncan has kicked 22.9 for the year to be ranked third overall at Geelong for goals kicked this season.

He got off the chain in the Round 22 meeting between the two sides with 25 disposals and a goal to half time before his impact, along with the rest of his team’s was nullified in the second half.

He still finished with a game high 37 disposals and was easily Geelong’s best player, with his ability to work into space causing a constant headache for the Hawks.

Duncan, a premiership player in 2011, has been a consistent performer all year for the Cats, averaging 23 disposals (ranked fourth at the club) and 3.8 inside 50s (ranked fifth).

Mitch Duncan celebrates a goal for Geelong.

5. Harry Taylor (Geelong)
The big defender will be tasked with stopping Jarryd Roughead tonight, who has again kicked the most goals of any Hawk this season with 62.

Taylor is more than capable of stopping Roughead in a duel that is equally as important as the Hawkins-Lake match-up down the other end.

Roughead is a key player for the Hawks, with his ability to split packs just as valuable as getting separation on his man and marking on the lead.

But Taylor is more than capable of doing the job and given he is one of the best readers of the play in the league, Hawthorn will need to make sure they hit Roughead on the lead.

Taylor leads the Cats for marks, averaging 6.8 per game, while he's also ranked equal second for defensive 50 rebounds per game with James Kelly.

He could also be used as a key forward at times, if the situation requires him to be moved forward but it is more his ability to sneak forward when playing down back that catches the opposition of guard.