Defeated Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson sensationally declared Sydney’s match-winner Tom Papley is among the AFL’s best at milking free kicks, dragging an incredulous John Longmire into another stoush.
The Swans snapped a four-game losing streak and compounded Clarkson’s woes on Saturday afternoon, recording an upset seven-point win at a slippery SCG.
A fired-up Papley booted four goals to grab best-on-ground honours and top spot on the Coleman medal leaderboard, helping his team to come from behind and triumph 9.6 (60) to 7.11 (53).
But the match-winning performance was overshadowed by a candid critique from four-time premiership mentor Clarkson.
Papley produced a rare 12-point play late in the second term which proved decisive in the low-scoring scrap, taking full advantage of a costly free kick from Hawks veteran James Frawley.
The small forward soccered a goal, outmanoeuvring 2018 Brownlow medallist Tom Mitchell before getting in the face of his former teammate and letting him know all about it.
Frawley ran in to remonstrate but instead made it back-to-back goals for Sydney, bowling over the pint-sized Swan as Clarkson cringed in the coaches’ box.
“He milks a free kick as good as anyone in the competition and he did so again,” Clarkson told reporters.
“You just wish they were consistently paid to everyone who is knocked off the ball like that. There were five on either side tonight and they paid one.”
Footy world divided
A seething Longmire, who earlier this month slammed Richmond coach Damien Hardwick for his post-match analysis of the Swans’ tactics after a low-scoring clash, bristled on hearing Clarkson’s remarks.
“Alastair said that about Papley!?” Longmire said, struggling to find words and hide his disappointment.
“I don’t talk about opposition players. I’m not here to comment on that (decision). And I don’t think I will be commenting on opposition players.”
Longmire, whose friendship with Clarkson dated back to their time as North Melbourne teammates, added he had little interest in calling his mate to debrief.
“No, I’ll just worry about us,” he said.
The pair clashed in 2018, when Clarkson had accused Sydney’s players of “getting away with blue murder”, but this bust-up might strain the friendship much further given it is a personal attack on Papley and will take the shine off the Swans’ hard-fought victory.
Papley shed some light on the incident during a post-match interview with broadcasters, suggesting Mitchell “might have had a word to me 20 seconds before that”.
Responding to 7AFL’s Instagram post of Clarkson’s comments, Papley commented ‘LOL’ – a reply that has garnered 5000 likes.
Now on a four-game losing streak as he fails to maintain Hawthorn’s ageing list as a contender, the Papley remarks were not the first time this year Clarkson has taken the heat off his side.
A month ago he railed against umpiring and the state of the game, criticism that was followed by an AFL rules interpretation change quickly derided.
The under-pressure coach has already faced pressure from president Jeff Kennett, but he chose to defend Clarkson’s comments on Saturday night.
“I guess Clarko was frustrated!” Kennett wrote to a fan on Twitter.
7NEWS reporter Tom Browne called the manoeuvres ‘distraction 101’.
“Clarko is very smart. He knows mentioning Papley will create headlines. It’s distraction 101,” Browne wrote.
“Clarkson and Graeme Wright privately will be acutely aware of Hawthorn’s issues – they don’t miss a beat.”
Former Collingwood player Brodie Holland suggested Clarkson was simply upset to watch Papley kick eight goals on Hawthorn in their past three meetings.
“He dominates the Hawks better than anyone also. Great game Tom Papley,” Holland wrote on Instagram.
Former Port Adelaide player Kane Cornes said Clarkson should be taking his frustration out on his own side.
“Since he made those ridiculous comments that the state of the game was in a ‘dreadful’ space, how has his side gone? Well, it’s been deplorable,” Cornes said on the AFL website.
“Alastair Clarkson has a lot more issues on his plate than Tom Papley getting knocked over by a much bigger man after a goal was kicked.
“I would’ve thought the frustration would have been directed and his experienced player in Frawley and not at the hottest player in the competition right now, Tom Papley.”
Clarkson also lamented the overall free-kick count of 22-13 which favoured the hosts.
“It’s like an extra player on the ground. That’s the way it goes – there will be games when we’re in front,” he said.
“Swings and roundabouts.”
Longmire heaped praise on Papley, suggesting his competitive streak and will to win rubbed off on teammates, but also co-captains Luke Parker and Dane Rampe.
Rampe’s desperate defending and incisive kicking was all the more impressive given he suffered a hand injury in the opening half.
“He’s tough,” Longmire said, adding he was unsure whether Rampe would miss games because of the setback.
– with Rob Forsaith, AAP