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The midfield battle

Coaches View with Scott Burns Hear from Scott Burns as he breaks down some plays and looks at them from a coaches perspective.
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 07: Tom Mitchell of the Hawks in action during the 2017 AFL round 07 match between the Melbourne Demons and the Hawthorn Hawks at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on May 07, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media)
Tom Mitchell will have his hands full against one of the best midfields in the competition.

With Melbourne up against the likes of Dangerfield, Selwood and Ablett in last week’s elimination final against Geelong, many would have suggested that it was the two best midfields in the competition going head-to-head in the do-or-die clash.

The on-ball battle figured as a pivotal factor in deciding the game’s outcome and it proved just that as the victorious Demons enjoyed dominance throughout contested possessions, clearances and tackles.

This week it seems the Hawks will have a similar task on their hands.

Boasting their own clear midfield strengths, Hawthorn will have to curb a Demons midfield that rank first in the competition for contested possessions and tackles and third for clearances per game.

Spearheaded by two-time All Australian ruckman Max Gawn, the Demons on-ball brigade then has three players in Clayton Oliver, Jack Viney and Angus Brayshaw who are all averaging over 10 contested possessions per game.

But Hawks fans can take much confidence out of the two clubs’ last meeting in which Alastair Clarkson’s side took it up to the Demons.

In that Round 4 clash Hawthorn were winners by 67 points, dominating the clearance numbers (56-38) whilst still laying almost 40 more tackles than the losing side as well (113-74).

It was arguably the Hawks’ most impressive performance of their 2018 campaign and one that Clarkson has no doubt watched the replay of a few times this week in the lead-up to Friday night.

The most notable individual performances from that afternoon were those from All Australian midfielders Tom Mitchell and Gawn.

With Demons captain Nathan Jones for company for most of the day, Mitchell was restricted to his third-lowest disposal tally of the year with “only” 24 touches.

But, interestingly, that same day he recorded his highest clearance numbers of the year with 14.

On the other side of the coin, Gawn also had one of his best games of his season in Round 4 with a season-high 66 hit-outs to go with his 16 touches and three contested marks.

Both midfields undeniably possess extreme talent.

Also consider that, between the Hawks pair of Mitchell and Jaeger O’Meara and the Dees trio of Oliver, Viney and Brayshaw, no player is older than 25.

So, this enticing midfield battle we have ahead of us might simply be an introduction with many more to follow.

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs