Terry Wallace. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
FORMER Hawthorn champion Terry Wallace is urging the Hawks to follow the example set by Collingwood and use the next three weeks to fix the deficiencies exposed in recent losses.
Wallace, a dual best-and-fairest winner at Hawthorn, said the most pressing issue was the midfield balance and whether the club could continue playing four tall defenders in the one team.
But he said winnable games against North Melbourne, Port Adelaide and the Brisbane Lions in the next three rounds presented the perfect opportunity for the Hawks to iron out those problems and restart their premiership challenge, stalled after Saturday's 62-point loss to the Tigers, and a 37-point defeat to Sydney in round five.
Collingwood had been in the same situation as Hawthorn earlier in the year when its performance did not match external expectations. But the Pies have rebounded since their 60-point loss to Carlton in round three, winning the next six games to rocket from 13th to fourth.
''If there is one good thing about losing games early in the year, it's that it exposes deficiencies, it exposes what's not working,'' said Wallace, who played 174 games for Hawthorn between 1978 and 1986.
''I thought Collingwood did it really well … They really tightened the screws in the Port Adelaide game … it was their defensive actions, their tackling, their pressure skills that came back that week. I think it's the same opportunity for Hawthorn.''
Wallace said the Hawks should not hide from any critical analysis after the shock loss to Richmond, which has left them in eighth spot with a 5-4 record, yet still in the top three flag favourites with betting agencies. ''When you've got a good side, I think you would always forgive a bad loss,'' he said.
''But when you've had two (losses) in nearly a month, you've got to pull it apart, as I suspect they probably have, and find out what is going wrong.
''The losses are not diabolical and in the next three games they should get over the line … They should (then) be tracking close enough to have a real, solid strike at a top-four finish.''
There was no panic at Hawthorn as the club went through its review yesterday, but defender Josh Gibson admitted there was one point of concern - the gap between the Hawks' best and worst has widened this year. ''I can't put a finger on it. The personnel is not a whole lot different, we've had some really good wins over the last few weeks, but on the weekend we took a step back,'' he said.
Wallace, also a former Richmond player and coach, was an interested onlooker during Saturday's clash at the MCG, which the Tigers won by kicking 13 goals to six in the second half - the same type of second-half surge that the Swans used to steamroll Hawthorn a month earlier.
He said Hawks stars Brad Sewell, Jordan Lewis and Sam Mitchell were beaten, but that supporters should be forgiving, given Mitchell (22 disposals) is super consistent and Sewell (21) and Lewis (20) were in ''almost career-best form''.
The major concern, Wallace said, was the ''outside'' players who weren't prepared to ''win their own footy'' when the key ball-winners were kept quiet.
''Four weeks ago, people were suggesting they were a bit slow and didn't have that run in the side,'' he said. ''So all of sudden they put in some blokes that added to their run and carry and you thought, well, is this combination now better?
''But when it counted, and the key ball-winners didn't win the footy, that's where you would hope your running players would win their own football, instead of relying on others to do it for them. I just didn't think that happened on Saturday.''
That Hawthorn had not had the services of injured captain Luke Hodge for all but two games this season and had other players in and out of the side with injury had also been a factor in the club's patchy start, Wallace said.
Still, the Hawks' midfield was beaten by the Tigers, with players such as Shane Savage (eight disposals), Liam Shiels (11), Luke Breust (11), Clinton Young (12) and Isaac Smith (15) struggling to make an impact through the middle, although Breust did hit the scoreboard with three goals.
Richmond won the contested possession count 166-137 and the uncontested count by 57.
Another structural issue, Wallace said, was whether Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson could afford to go with tall defenders Ben Stratton, Stephen Gilham, Ryan Schoenmakers and Gibson all in the same back six.
''Gibson plays and Stratton plays. But I think most expected they would make a decision out of Gilham or Schoenmakers - which way they wanted to go to keep the run in the back line,'' Wallace said.