Birchall revels in new AFL role - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Birchall revels in new AFL role

Roger Vaughan 07/09/2011 12:16:31 PM Comments (0)

Hawthorn lost two key defenders earlier this AFL season, but found another dimension to Grant Birchall's game.

The 23-year-old backman with the raking left-foot kick has enjoyed an outstanding year and will be a key player in Friday night's qualifying final against Geelong.

He was named in the initial All-Australian squad this week -- Birchall has never made an All-Australian team -- and surely will finish among the top three or four in Hawthorn's best and fairest count.

Earlier this season the Hawks lost Ben Stratton and Stephen Gilham with long-term knee injuries, leading to renewed queries about the strength of their defence.

But they will go into the finals with the third-least points scored against them this year.

One significant reason was that once Gilham and Stratton were injured, Birchall "played tall" as more of a key defender.

He is not short at 193cm, but previously Birchall was known more for his role as a play maker across half-back.

Birchall said the different role "without a doubt" had made him develop his own game.

"I suppose I've had to play on those (bigger) forwards and more ball goes through them," he said.

"I've been in a lot more contests and it's certainly helped my game, I've enjoyed the challenge.

"It's obviously not great, losing those two guys, but in saying that, personally it's great for me to (help) develop."

Stratton has also made a speedy recovery from his knee injury, giving the Hawks potentially another defensive option for the finals.

Birchall's importance to Hawthorn was also underlined when he was among eight key players left out of the side for the narrow round-24 win over Gold Coast.

While the selection move generated plenty of media discussion, the rested players worked hard through their short break.

"We did a bit of work, on the Friday we had a good hitout and on the Saturday we had a good running session (at Waverley)," Birchall said.

"A couple of good, solid hitouts should be cherry-ripe for us come next week.

"Just to get the run in the legs, that's perfect preparation for us, we'll go in fresh."

The Hawks will need every advantage they can find for Friday's clash against their fierce rivals.

Since Hawthorn's upset win over Geelong in the 2008 grand final, Geelong have won their last six matches.

But the margin has never been greater than 19 points.

This, their first final since the 2008 premiership decider, should be another cliffhanger.

"It's about having the best preparation possible, so we'll go in there fresh and a big game against the Cats," Birchall said.

"I can't wait. Friday night footy, she's on.

"We owe one back on them and hopefully we can (win) on Friday night, but we expect a hot contest.

"They're in good form and their confidence is going to be up from their win over the `Pies (last week's 96-point thrashing of Collingwood).

"We're going to have to play some good footy."

AAP rhv/gab

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