New Western Bulldogs recruit Tim O'Brien. (Photo: Hawthorn Football Club)

Where does the Bulldogs newest recruit Tim O'Brien fit in the side? The versatile defender joins the grand finalists capable of playing either end of the ground.

The Western Bulldogs have made their first deal of the trade period, signing unrestricted free agent Tim O’Brien from Hawthorn.

Having struggled to break into the Hawks dynasty side during the early part of his career, playing just 18 games in his first four seasons of AFL football from 2013-2017, O’Brien has emerged as a valuable player who play either ends of the ground as a key position player.

Out of contract, O’Brien has come to the Bulldogs on the cheap and will start the next chapter of his career under his new coach and former assistant coach at the Hawks Luke Beveridge.

Can O’Brien play down back?

Though predominantly used as a key forward in his 97 games with the Hawks, O’Brien spent periods of his career in defence including in the back end of 2021.

O’Brien broke into the Hawks side in 2019 as a defender with Jack Gunston and Mitch Lewis the preferred forward options. It was a decision which paid off for the Hawks, as O’Brien showed he was comfortable playing either side of the ground and possessed a good ability to create a contest.

Though he eventually finished 2019 back in the forward line, he was trialled again as a defender last season, where he performed admirably in an intercepting role.

Western Bulldogs General Manager of List Management and Football Projects Sam Power believes that while his ability to play either end is handy, he’s more valuable as a defender.

The Bulldogs have been excited by O’Brien’s ability to read the play and influence a contest through his intercept marking, while also being impressed with the speed for a player of his size.

And with defender Lewis Young off to Carlton, O’Brien will be his likely replacement playing alongside Alex Keath as a tall defender.

Additionally with veteran premiership defender Easton Wood now 33 and in the back end of his career, there will be more opportunities for O’Brien to fit into the Bulldogs best 22 as a defender in the long run.

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Is there a spot for him as a forward?

The Bulldogs key forward ranks are fully stocked, with Aaron Naughton and Josh Bruce the Dogs preferred key forward options. Number one pick, Jamarra Ugle-Hagan played just five games in 2021, with Josh Schache also being in and out of the side since 2018.

Having been drafted to the Hawks in 2012, O’Brien struggled for opportunities being behind Lance Franklin, Jarryd Roughead and Jack Gunston in the pecking order.

He was limited to just 18 games in his first four seasons of football at the Hawks due to depth in that position at the time. It remains unlikely that O’Brien will want to be back in that position again, and will look to be playing senior football on a regular basis.

Another factor against O’Brien playing in the forward line is his output of goals. While he’s a reliable kick for goal, he’s not prolific, having never kick over 20 goals in a season.

Where does O’Brien fit into the Western Bulldogs side?

Tim O’Brien most likely looks like he will be establishing himself as a defender as a third tall alongside Alex Keath and Zaine Cordy.

Others competing for the same sport are tall defenders Buku Khamis and Ryan Gardner, the former being inexperienced and having played his first and only game of AFL football this year in Round 8 against Carlton.

Gardner played just 10 games in 2021 and was ultimately dropped for the grand final despite solid performances in the finals.

Aged 27 and still yet to play a full season of AFL football settled in just one position, 2022 could be the year O’Brien finally proves himself with consistent football.

Though he was brought in due to his ability to intercept mark, an issue which has plagued O’Brien during his career is his marking which came under fire at times in 2021 despite ironically being nominated for mark of the year.

O’Brien playing in defence will play to his strengths, being in a position on the ground where there isn’t an emphasis to mark but rather create contests and lockdown an opponent.

An athletic versatile player, he adds depth to the position for the Bulldogs and is a like-for-like replacement for Lewis Young.

His athleticism also allows him to be able to pinch-hit in the ruck, hence can also be a replacement for ruckman Stefan Martin who turns 35 next year with 2022 possibly his final season.

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