Courtney Walsh (17th September 2018)
When Mitch Hannan starred in an amateur grand final for St Bernard’s in 2015, former North Melbourne premiership rover Anthony Rock made a startling comparison between the high-flyer and an AFL great.
According to the Moonee Valley Leader, Rock declared Hannan was “a jet” boasting “Nathan Fyfe qualities”.
Rock subsequently joined Fremantle’s coaching staff while Hannan moved to Footscray in what turned out to be another premiership season as the “sons of the west” swept the AFL and VFL flags.
While Hannan is not a dominant footballer in the mode of the 2015 Brownlow Medallist, the Demon does boast some similarities with the Fremantle champion as he seeks a third premiership in three different leagues in four years.
Unable to secure a spot on the roster of his junior TAC Cup side, Hannan matured in terms of his physique far later than his junior peers, with a 14cm growth spurt and a prodigious leap making him a sought-after commodity at amateur, VFL and finally AFL level. The 24-year-old, who was selected by the Demons with pick 46 in the 2016 draft, has become a valuable cog in Melbourne’s forward line.
And he has shown in the Demons’ run of success since a round 22 victory over West Coast that he is capable of reeling in an important mark at a critical time, as he displayed against Hawthorn on Friday night.
With West Coast coach Adam Simpson watching from the stands at the MCG, Hannan was able to work off an opponent to mark and then kick an important goal late in the third term.
Combined with an effort from Alex Neal-Bullen and a mistake from Jack Gunston moments earlier, the passage gave the Demons a buffer at the final break.
“You just try to make sure you focus on the set shot. I was just glad I was able to hang on to the mark and get rid of my opponent at the time,” he said. “I am just glad it went through the middle. There was a bit of a relief out of that.
“It is pretty amazing. It is the second week in a row we have had a crowd about 90,000, so that alone is enough to get the spirits high but to be able to get the win as well is amazing.” Hannan has now kicked 21 goals in 14 matches this year for Melbourne after averaging just over a goal per game in his debut year in 2017.
After jarring a knee against the Bulldogs in round 17, he resumed in the Demons’ critical win against West Coast a month ago.
Melbourne booked a spot in September for the first time since 2006 by defeating the Eagles by 17 points, with Hannan a key contributor with three goals.
He failed to come up a week later against the Giants but has since added a goal in both sudden-death finals for the Demons.
In the win against the Eagles, who headed Melbourne with seven minutes remaining only for the Demons to respond in style, Jake Melksham, Tom McDonald and Sam Weideman were also impressive and Hannan believes it is a well-balanced attack.
“The pressure was on (against West Coast). That was the game that secured our finals spot but we have got multiple guys up forward that can play a role in hitting the scoreboard,” he said.
“It doesn’t have to be Tom McDonald or Sam Weideman or myself. We have been pretty good at spreading the load and when anyone gets their opportunity in front of goal, they tend to take it. I think it is, as a forward line, we work pretty well.”
The Demon believes the resilience Melbourne showed when challenged by Hawthorn through the third term and early in the last quarter on Friday night is indicative of their growing maturity and believes the momentum garnered by beating four finalists in succession holds them in good stead for Saturday’s preliminary final.
“To have four on the trot shows we are up to the standard and that the brand of footy we are playing at the back end of the year is capable of playing good finals footy,” he told The Australian.
“Hopefully we can take that up to West Coast next week and bring the heat again.”
The Eagles will be strengthened from that clash given the return of Josh Kennedy, though they will need to replace Brad Sheppard in defence.
“It is definitely very hostile over there. Four hours across to the other side of the country with a stadium full of supporters who are pretty much against you. But personally, I enjoy playing in those sort of conditions,” Hannan said.