Grand Finals are like no other games. They do not start at selection on Thursday night and finish at the final siren.
Where they start is hard to define but for us it may well have been 12 months earlier when the Swans raised an unexpected flag from the more fancied Hawthorn in 2012. It was a lost opportunity but also exposed some realities of why the Hawks had come up short.
That loss had set several factors in place which was to greatly affect the outcome of 2013. Clarkson had mentioned at the time that changes were needed, but only in so far as tweaking the system rather than a complete overhaul. Brian Lake was recruited to bolster what was considered an honest but undersized defence and player management became imperative to lasting the distance.
Forward to the 2013 finals and Hawthorn had again finished minor premiers, this time with a club record equalling 19-3 H&A season and a fairly fit list. By any normal measure that should breed some confidence but recent history had many in the media waiting for the Hawks to again stumble so they could trot out “under achievers”, “over-rated” and “chokers” which had filled so much space in newspaper columns over the last 5 seasons. Were we to again lose this would become unbearable.
To win a Grand Final we would not only have to stand up when it counted but also face our demons. Our unexpected win in 2008 had brought with it a fanatical hatred from Geelong players who had willed themselves to an incredible 11 game winning streak.
The 2013 Grand Final for Hawthorn had really started with the Preliminary Final against Geelong. This game should have been the Grand Final in many ways. The relief of finally ending the Kennett Curse was so big that having qualified for the big day was almost secondary. It wasn’t until Freo beat the Swans a day later that it sunk in that we were indeed headed for a Grand Final.
This was to be a Grand Final where, for me, the fear of losing was a stronger force than the thrill of winning. Much of the media had jumped on to the purple haze bandwagon. The week itself went fairly quickly from the time Gazza won another Brownlow until the Grand Final parade on the Friday with the exception being the nervous moments ensuring you were online at the right time to get your tickets. Secured a ticket for what the AFL must assume is a reasonable $380, but they were good seats right behind the city end goals and the Hawthorn cheer squad.
Grand Final Day itself is absorbed more than just experienced. The warm sunny spring days and the smell of mowed lawns was not yet prevalent as winter had decided to hang around a bit longer. Nevertheless the feeling is the same. Getting to the G at 11am on GF day requires a few laps to take in all the action. Everyone appears to be walking around with smiles on their faces. Club colours appear at every turn. Radio stations do outside broadcasts. Wallets open easily for over-priced merchandise. The senses are on edge. If you could capture a moment and bottle it then this would have to come under consideration. If you could experience a Groundhog Day moment and relive the same period of time over and over you would not mind if this was it.
Pre-game the whole crowd sings along with Mike Brady’s Up The Cazaly and One Day In September. They are timeless songs that so perfectly encapsulate what the finals mean to me. The minute before the opening bounce has the pulsating heartbeat thumping countdown clock operating which has to be experienced to be appreciated.
After the big build up, the game starts in an intense style but the ball seems to spend too much time between the arcs. The Dockers look threatening in the first term until they were faced with the big sticks and failed to slot home anything more damaging than a few behinds and often involved the boundary umpire in the score decision making. Freo have a habit of employing a brand of defensive football which results in many one-percenters but few 6 pointers. Fyfe and Mundy were particularly hard to rein in while Gunston looks headed for a Norm Smith by half time, but highlights are few and far between in what has generally been an ugly game. Hawthorn worked their way to a comfortable 23 point lead showing they could also tackle and restrict.
The second half got more lively as Freo made a charge and it required late goals by Roughead and Gunston to hang on to a 10 point lead going into the last. The Docker’s effort seemed to have taken its toll as it was all Hawthorn for the first half of the final term. A 55 metre bomb from Smith was followed by a great crumbing goal from Breust which finally brought about the belief that we could do this. This year there was to be no choking, no under achieving. It was time to hug strangers and high five people if they just happened to glance your way. Virtually the entire quarter was spent standing up, it was just an involuntary reaction to the events out on the ground. When young Hill ran into the open goal it was just about game over and the disappointment of the last 5 years was forgotten. Freo again rallied but kept running into a wall of Hawk defenders led by a brilliant Brian Lake.
The final margin was 15 points and ultimately it wasn’t the sort of game that will be replayed often in Grand Final Marathons. But it is a Grand Final and to get there you have to deserve your place and to win it means greatness however it is achieved.
This Grand Final was more about the individual stories involved in making the patchwork quilt that is a team of footballers moulded together and achieving the ultimate prize. In 2008 it had been on the back of drafting kids, in 2013 it was filling holes from wherever the answers lay. Brian Lake who wanted a premiership before he retired was rolling around in confetti with his kids. The selective recruiting of experienced players such as Gibson, Burgoyne, Hale, Gunston to fill needs. Simpkin playing in 2 Premierships in a week. Brad Hill playing opposite his brother. Every player was a story and together they were now immortals of the Hawthorn Football Club. There will be retirements and departures but this team will forever be united by this one moment.
The aftermath of a Grand Final is euphoric celebration. It is all clapping, cheering and elation but most of all it was relief. This was the Grand Final that Hawthorn just couldn’t afford to lose. A loss would have meant this period of time in the clubs’ history would have been viewed as a massive missed opportunity. To win a 2nd flag in 6 years now cements the team as one of the modern eras great sides. After the cup was presented it was just a matter of slumping back in my seat – happy beyond words and the relief of having won. It is about buying 5 WEG (sorry Knight) posters when one would do.
The reality of the Premiership sinks in on the Sunday with Brown and Gold plastered all over the newspapers. The traditional post Grand Final Day at Glenferrie is bathed in sunshine and a feeling that all is well in the universe. Buddy may leave but he has done his job. Nothing matters. The flag is ours.
It is time to reflect on the period we have just lived through. Won 60 of our last 75 games and got to 3 Prelims in a row. Equalled a club record 12 successive wins during the year. 6 decades of flags. Seniors and Reserves both won the flag in the same season for the first time ever. McClelland Trophy, Coleman Medal, Norm Smith Medal, Jock McHale Medal, Liston Trophy, Norm Goss Medal. These are achievements that all Hawks fans will carry around as a badge of pride for the rest of their lives. These are moments to live through and experience, to cherish and to savour. Even though it is the 8th flag I have watched them win since 1978 the feeling is never any less. These are great days.
Best Hawthorn: Lake, Gunston, Lewis, Hill, Hodge, Gibson, Birchall, Smith
Fremantle: Fyfe, Mundy, Crowley, Barlow, Johnson