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Who will kick the first goal in Hawks vs. Crows AFL Semi Final?

Ladder position

Hawthorn Hawks: Third

Adelaide Crows: Seventh

Season record

Hawthorn Hawks: 16-6-0

Adelaide Crows: 13-8-0

Last five matches

Hawthorn Hawks: WLWWL

Adelaide Crows: WWWLW

COULD the once mighty Hawks be booted out of the AFL finals in straight sets?

That’s the cold hard reality reigning back to back premiers Hawthorn ($1.33 with CrownBet.com.au) faces as it goes into a do or die semi final clash with a fired up Adelaide ($3.40 with CrownBet.com.au) on Friday night.

The Hawks have not been knocked out in straight sets after finishing a regular season in the top four since 1977.

That’s 38 long years.

But they will need to put out a better effort than they did against the rabid West Coast Eagles in last week’s qualifying final if they want to avoid the dubious honour.

The Hawks were out hustled, out pressured and out classed by a West Coast side that has firmed into the favourite to win the premiership, falling 14.12 (96) to 9.10 (64).

Despite winning the clearances, the Hawks just couldn’t handle the heat – something that has rarely been said about a side that has won the past two AFL flags.

They butchered the footy and turned it over too often.

Dynamic midfielder Sam Mitchell, ever the accumulator, was dominant for the Hawks with 35 disposals and 10 clearances, while captain courageous Luke Hodge bounced back from a sub par nine possession first half to collect 20 disposals after the main break.

Cyril Rioli found plenty of it by his standards, with 21 possessions, but could only manage one goal, while Jarryd Roughead and Shaun Burgoyne were the Hawks’ only multiple goal kickers.

Out of form spear head Roughead reckons his boys can bounce back against the Crows, despite their first finals loss since 2012.

“I don’t want to have to be dealing with Mad Monday next week,” Roughead said.

“We’re playing finals footy and every year there’s the hunger within the group to win, because some blokes haven’t won one.

“I know what it’s like to win a couple, so you want that every year and for as long as you can, because you never know if we’re ever going to be back here again.

“West Coast to their credit were very, very good, but that’s why we got top four.

“You get that double chance and now we get to play on our home deck on Friday night against a good side that were very good on Saturday night.

“We’ve only lost two finals in the past four years, so we definitely know how to win in September and we give ourselves every chance Friday night.”

But he admits he is worried about the fired up Crows, who won a thrilling elimination final against the Western Bulldogs, 16.13 (109) to 14.18 (102).

“If they get clean ball like they did on Saturday night then they can score heavily, as we saw, so making sure the pressure on the mids and the blokes kicking it inside 50 is full on,” Roughead said.

And the Hawks will have a massive out, with key forward Jack Gunston ruled out with an ankle injury.

The Hawks general manager of football operations said Gunston – a former Crow – had been “making steady progress with the injury, but not fast enough to be available to play on Friday night.”

“Hopefully if we can get a win on Friday night, he’ll be back in calculations for the following week,” Fagan said.

It’s a massive blow for the Hawks, Gunston’s 53 majors the most at the Hawks in 2015, especially with the failed experiment of James Frawley – and then Brian Lake – up forward.

Key Box Hill men James Sicily or Tim O’Brien could come into calculations, but it’s likely cult figure and 2014 finals hero Matt Spangher steps in to fill the breach – another defender masquerading as a forward.

It’s lucky the Hawks don’t rely on one man to boot all their goals.

Speaking of a nice spread of goal kickers, the Crows will be brimming with confidence after their explosive come from behind performance against the Doggies on the weekend.

That man Eddie Betts had a blinder, booting five goals, but it was the inspirational captain Taylor Walker who stood up when the game was there to be won, using skill and precision in key moments, booting three goals and snaring 10 marks for the match.

Patrick Dangerfield was his usual self with 26 disposals, while the roaming Ricky Henderson led the way with 29 possessions.

It was a win that honoured slain coach Phil Walsh and ear marked the Crows as a team to watch heading deeper into the finals.

But the Crows are on a five match losing streak against the Hawks and the last time they made a preliminary final was in 2012 – when the Hawks knocked them over by five points.

History is against them, but defender Brodie Smith reckons the rivalry is closer than the win loss ledger suggests.

Three of the clashes have been decided by two goals or less.

“We’ve had a few tough games against Hawthorn but I don’t think they’ve beaten us heavily – we’ve always been involved in the game,” Smith said.

“Go back to the game we played half way through the year – we probably didn’t play four quarters of footy and that’s what cost us.

“The last month that’s what we’ve been focusing on – just playing consistent four quarters of footy and we know if we do that on the weekend and play our best we can get over the line.”

The Crows not only won, they got through unscathed, with no new injuries to report.

And it could be that they enter the clash with the Hawks unchanged, which will be a boon for their consistency, despite the fact they lost many of the key indicators against the Dogs.

“We probably thought going in to the game against the Bulldogs it was going to be a battle of ground ball, contested possession, clearance – we obviously didn’t get the job done there which we’re disappointed with and we’ll have to make sure that’s at a better level going into Hawthorn obviously,“ coach Scott Camporeale said.

Predictions

Match result: Hawthorn Hawks win ($1.33 with CrownBet.com.au)

Line: Adelaide Crows +21.5 ($1.92 with CrownBet.com.au)

Despite the fairy tale story of the Crows rising for their fallen coach Phil Walsh, we say beware the wounded Hawk. Nothing went right for them against the Eagles and you’d have to say they were beaten by a better team on the night. But the Crows, for all their efforts, are not a better team than the Hawks. Big Tex, Betts and Dangerfield are the stars and they have a nice spread of mid range contributors, but the Hawks have champions across all lines, even if they are missing their number one goal kicker. The big issue for the Crows is the end to end stuff. They’re great at scoring freely, but the Hawks are just as good at shutting down free scoring sides and killing them on the counter attack. The Hawks have the ability to blow most sides away, but we can’t see that happening against the Crows and there in lies the beauty of this battle. Strap yourselves in for a classic.

First goal scorer tips

Hawthorn Hawks

Jarryd Roughead ($8 with sportsbet.com.au) or Luke Breust ($9 with sportsbet.com.au)

With no Jack Gunston, one of the Hawks’ three pronged forward line who was ruled out of the match with an ankle injury, The onus falls even more heavily on two blokes who would not have been happy with how they performed against the West Coast. Gunston has kicked more goal than any other Hawk this season, so it will be on that pair to step up in his absence. Roughead was once one of the best forwards in the game, but his role at the Hawks has changed significantly, often playing further up the ground and even spending time in the midfield and in the ruck. Hawks coach Alistair Clarkson will have to shuffle the decks here and we reckon the likely move is to put Rough in the square and look for a big bag out of him. He is still the Hawks most imposing forward and therefore the midfielders biggest and brightest target. If they get it out of the guts, the big fella will be a prime candidate to bang the first goal through.

It’s hard to believe that Luke Breust has kicked 45 goals for the season, but not a single one in the last three weeks. Donuts against Port Adelaide and the Brisbane Lions preceded a poor performance in last week’s semi final that had the critics knocking him for lack of effort. He will want to bounce back and show that he’s still hungry for premiership success and his nose for goal, coupled with his skill in the air and on the ground should hold him in good stead to boot the first goal of the match.

Adelaide Crows

Eddie Betts ($9 with sportsbet.com.au) or Taylor Walker ($9 with sportsbet.com.au)

What Carlton wouldn’t do to have Eddie Betts in their line up still. Fast Eddie reminds the Blues’ faithful every day of their club’s terrible decision making and his five goal tour de force last week was stark. Betts was the man against the Doggies, doing a little bit of everything and using the vast expanses of the MCG to his advantage. Whether he was getting out the back, hitting up on the lead or crumbing of the pack, Betts might have cause to nick the Eddie Everywhere tag from Collingwood president Eddie McGuire. A little like ex St Kilda goal machine Stevie Milne in that the little fella is one of the most dangerous small men in the game and has a serious penchant for kicking the first goal in contests to get the party started.

While Betts booted the most goals, the Crows would not have won without the supreme efforts of captain Taylor Walker. This guys has reinvigorated himself, from knock about larrikin to a leader of men. You feel like there’s a bit of Jonathan Brown about the Crows’ superstar. He’s big, he’s mobile, he’s a beautiful kick for goal and his team mates look to him to lead the way. This bloke is as good as it gets in the game at the moment and you simply must have him in your first goal scorer calculations. Get on and watch him dominate.