AFL 3 years ago

Michael Hurley and the Thrill of the Contest

  • Michael Hurley and the Thrill of the Contest

Profiling the great players is fun. They all had their own personas that made them memorable and unique. Hird was silky. Lloyd would toss the grass in the air after clamping on a speeding ball. Long was an evasive grasshopper.

In the current side, Watson is known for his prescience and the monumental ability to extract the ball from a horde of players. Heppell is that mop of hair with the wiry body reminiscent of a 400-game Hawk.

When I think of Michael Hurley, it’s always about gritted teeth. His greatest attribute is the never-ending willingness to win the contest, grapple for a mark and then to hoof the ball from either foot. From his first game when pitted against the waning Warren Tredrea, the desire to not lose against his direct opponent was evident, holding the Port forward goalless. Even against his Bizarro opposite, St. Riewoldt, he plays with that inner will and uses his strengths to win contests.

This desire to win the ball was misused during 2011-2013 when applied in the forward fifty. He lacked the suppleness of hand to be a great mark on the lead and Hurley tends to work best running in straight lines. Forward work in the current game is far more about imagining a way through the defensive netting woven by coaches whose primary goal is not to lose.

Hurley as a forward wasn’t helped by an Essendon midfield looking to find perfect passes rather than play the percentages. In his wisdom, Thompson knew that Hurley was a backman and so it came to pass.

The data shows that Hurley’s effectiveness as a defender has far outweighed his small accomplishments as a forward.

The Hurley of 2015 has become Atlas carrying the Essendon defence on his ample shoulders. The mantle of defensive ruler has quietly but definitively passed from Fletch. Hurley is now Fletcher 2.0 with the added bulk upgrade, straight-line rampaging attack on the ball but with the same prodigious kicking. Hurley not only takes on the opposition’s best forward but is also the best relieving kick in the Essendon defence.

With the amount of ball sweeping into the Essendon defensive area in 2015, Hurley is seeing a lot of traffic. For the most part, he has been the most consistent performer in the team. While Heppell can occasionally be negated, Hurley’s metronomic consistency will probably reward him with the Best and Fairest medal at the end of the season.

The statistics show that his disposal rate is at a career high and yet the number of contested possessions remains constant. Forward or back, Hurley still fights for the ball. As a defender, he just gets more of it.

If he hadn’t missed those three games to injury, he would be my best bet for the Crichton. As it stands, I still think he’s favoured because there hasn’t been a more consistent performer. That would be a nice reward for a difficult year.

If Heppell wasn’t the ordained one, I actually wouldn’t mind Hurley as captain. His personality is perhaps less suited to that vaunted leadership role but wouldn’t his deeds on the field be a great pillar to draw your teammates to?

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