- from afl.com.au
HAWTHORN coach Alastair Clarkson has defended vice-captain Isaac Smith for the late miss that resulted in a thrilling Geelong victory, insisting his team should have converted more of their scoring chances earlier in the game.
In scenes reminiscent of last year's qualifying final against the Cats when Smith's shot after the siren faded right for a behind, the left-footer marked inside 50 with just five seconds left before playing on and again hooking his kick.
The Hawks' resultant three-point loss has all but extinguished its finals hopes, but Clarkson refused to blame Smith.
"There's hundreds of moments in a game and that's just unfortunate," Clarkson said at his post-match media conference.
"We had plenty of opportunities earlier in the game to try and do better than what we did. It shouldn't really come down to the last seconds of a game to determine whether you win or lose.
"If we'd have played better in the earlier part of the game, we should have been able to put a (bigger) margin on the Geelong side. But they hung in there, they found a way to score and deserved victory on the day."
Clarkson rued defeat after heading the Cats in key statistical categories including inside 50s (55-46), clearances (36-26), possessions (400-359) and contested possessions (140-131).
He said the Hawks had played with great spirit but conceded that "the difference in the game" had been his team's lack of polish and composure at crucial stages.
Another difference was Cats champion Patrick Dangerfield, who bagged 5.6 from full-forward after suffering a leg injury.
Clarkson admitted Dangerfield had been an awkward match-up that had thrown out his team's planning.
"Part of the unique part about it was he was lame so he was playing unbelievably deep," he said.
"Most defences play in a manner where they stay connected with one another and that's what hurt us because we couldn't stay connected with our defenders.
"They never usually play that way – no side does – so it was an unusual set of circumstances that gave him an opportunity."
Asked whether he felt the Hawks could still make the finals, a curt Clarkson replied: "Don't care, mate."
He cares much more about the development of his team, which has improved markedly since their previous meeting with Geelong when they suffered an 86-point hiding in round four.
Clarkson highlighted the fact that in three of their past four games the Hawks had performed strongly against top sides Adelaide (a 14-point win in Adelaide), Greater Western Sydney (draw in Launceston) and now Geelong.
"We've been in every game. We're thereabouts," he said.
With several senior players sidelined, including Cyril Rioli, Grant Birchall, Josh Gibson, Ben Stratton and James Frawley, youngsters such as Ryan Burton, Blake Hardwick, Daniel Howe and James Sicily have gained valuable experience that Clarkson says will hold the club in good stead.
"We're pleased with what we're seeing, but obviously we want to win games as well because that's good for their learning, too," he said.
"We'll get better. We're a young group finding their way and we've (made) some inroads against some good sides in the last four weeks.
"We're pleased with how we're tracking, but we just know we've got a lot of work to do to get ourselves back into that top part of the ladder again …
"If the worst thing that happens to us is that we find five or six players and (give them) some exposure, that's superb for us.
"You see what's happened at Essendon and Fremantle, for instance, this year. Last year, for various reasons, they didn't have all their personnel available and a lot of (young players) get to play 12, 15, 20 games and then they become bona fide, consolidated senior players, and it improves your depth and gives you some excitement to your path forward."