Birchall aims to make mark as a leader

THERE'S one aspect of Grant Birchall's on-field performance that he's looking to improve in the second half of 2014 - his leadership.

Grant Birchall

Grant Birchall

It is a situation that Devonport's two-time premiership player has been forced into by Hawthorn's lack of senior numbers this season.

In last weekend's loss to Port Adelaide, Josh Gibson, Jarryd Roughead, Sam Mitchell and Cyril Rioli were all absent, with Brad Sewell and captain Luke Hodge returning to the side after injury breaks.

The team had youngsters such as Billy Hartung, Jonathan Ceglar, Will Langford and Mitch Hallahan in a team well short of its best 22.

It's an issue which has spread off-field this week with senior coach Alastair Clarkson sidelined due to Guillain-Barraacé syndrome, with Birchall's fellow Tasmanian, Brendon Bolton, taking over.

The word from Bolton this week has been that the strength of the leadership group at the club, both on and off-field, would see the Hawks through this storm.

``I've been focusing a lot on the past couple of weeks on the leadership side of things as we've had a lot of our leaders out, so it has been my responsibility to step up, which I have been enjoying,'' Birchall told  The Examiner  this week.

``It does make me feel a little bit older, but you have to set an example and lead the way without those key guys there.

``When you are a young kid first getting to the club, all you are worried about is getting a game and your own performance, but as you get older it is more about the team and the leadership stuff tends to grow on you more and I've really enjoyed trying to improve myself there.

``I've always been pretty vocal on-field, so for me it is more about the off-field stuff, taking control of meetings, giving feedback to younger guys about their performances after going through their tapes, all that sort of stuff.''

While the 26-year-old running defender is not part of the team's official leadership group, he is part of its emerging leaders group and has aspirations of an official role.

On-field, Birchall has described his 2014 as consistent, and keeping his output that way is what pleases him most.

He is averaging 26 touches from nine outings, up from his career numbers of 22, with a best of 34 in round 7 against St Kilda and 31 in round 1 against Brisbane in his home state.

Save for a 16-disposal outing against Essendon in round 2, he hasn't dipped below 22 a game, and is 20th in the league for total disposals, fourth for effective disposals, total uncontested disposals and uncontested disposals and fifth in effective disposals.

But these are just numbers to him.

``I tend to look more at the impact and value of my possessions, with things like scoring involvements, than total numbers.

``I am probably having more possessions on average this year because Brent Guerra is not there anymore to take the kick-ins, so there are a couple of easy ones there. So I think I am on par to last year and the year before.''

Birchall said neither his knee problems, which started when he hurt his right PCL last year, nor a tight tag presented issues.

``I've had guys mindful of me, but not a tight tag with someone that scrags at you. But that could come.

``Different sides have different philosophies, so you can't really guess why it hasn't happened.''

The 2012 All Australian believes the reigning premier, fourth on the ladder with a 6-3 record after back-to-back losses to Sydney and Port Adelaide, was in a strong position.

``We were disappointed with our effort against Sydney, and felt we got dominated right across the ground.

``Apart from that game we're happy how we are tracking. 

``We have lost some key guys, but we will get a couple back soon and our percentage is really good, which is always a good sign, so hopefully we can get a win this week (against GWS) and get the ball rolling again.''


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