Hawthorn coach Sam Mitchell described his team’s 59-point pummelling at the hands of Essendon as a performance that was “a long way” from what he expected of them.
It comes as dual All-Australian Leigh Montagna took aim at the Hawks’ poor performance, which suggested the club’s rebuild would be a “long burn” and that ample patience would be needed from the club’s fans.
The Hawks were seen as a wooden spoon contender heading into the year, but serious questions hovered over the Bombers’ ability to kick a winning score on Sunday with their top two goalkickers from last year, Peter Wright (shoulder) and Jake Stringer (hamstring), missing due to injury.
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However, Essendon had no issues finding avenues to goal, finishing with 13 individual goalkickers on the way to steamrolling the Hawks and scoring their biggest win over their arch rivals since the infamous “line in the sand” game 19 years ago.
“Essendon, credit to them but it was really poor by the Hawks,” Montagna told Fox Footy’s First Crack.
“We know they’re a young side, we know it’s going to be a long burn, but gee you want to be patient as a Hawthorn fan from what we saw today and what they dished up.
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“When you’re playing like types, there are only so many winnable games when you’re going to be a bottom-four team – and they would’ve been expecting to perform much better than they did.
“Their system was poor, their effort was poor and their execution was poor.”
Montagna pointed out the Hawks’ pressure rating was the lowest of the round – and lower than what any team produced throughout the entire 2022 season.
“They’ve gone from five wins, seven wins, eight wins. They’re going to go backwards with wins this year. It’s a long, long time to do this rebuild.”
Mitchell hoped that his team’s first-up performance in season 2023 would prove to be an aberration.
“I look at our performances over the summer and everyone trained well and had a great pre-season,” Mitchell said.
“I’m sure every team is saying that, but I look at how we’ve trained, how we’ve gone about it, how our attitude has been and I look at the performance today and it’s certainly not what we expected as a group.
“I think we would’ve expected to be much better for much longer … we’re not going to get it right every week but I’d expect we’re going to be better than that.
“We were all disappointed with the way it panned out and how quickly the scoreboard got out of hand … once it fell apart, it fell apart badly.
“We weren’t able to maintain or get any sort of momentum for, really, two-and-a-half quarters which is a long time.”
The Hawks badly lost the inside-50 count 65-49, but even when they did get the ball up forward, their attacking entries were poor, and late in the game, the Bombers were tripling the Hawks for marks inside 50 (15-5).
Despite that, Mitchell decided to sub out his only recognised key forward Jacob Koschitzke early in the third quarter.
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“We just thought the way we were moving the ball forward hadn’t been effective and having him there, he gave us a pretty good contest for the majority of the time that he was out there, but we decided to go a little bit smaller and try something a little bit different,” Mitchell said.
“We could’ve kept doing what we were doing but it clearly wasn’t working and it didn’t look like a way out.
“Being able to make change, I didn’t want to get to the end of the game and say, ‘We should’ve tried something’. It didn’t work but we’ll live and learn.”
Meanwhile, Mitchell was hopeful that forward Chad Wingard’s lower leg injury was nothing more than cramp.
— NCA Newswire