One to Savour
Hawthorn versus Fremantle
2.30pm, Saturday 28 September
Melbourne Cricket Ground
We’d waited patiently for this day to arrive. From the moment twelve months prior when Ned Kelly lookalike Nick Malaceski confronted Hawthorn’s authority and snapped truly to secure the Swans an unlikely victory, we looked forward to this day. The very fabric of the Hawthorn Football Club was at stake. Another failed tilt at the flag and this team’s legacy was more or less set in stone – two Grand Finals for two losses. Not the Hawthorn way.
On that cold and windy Saturday afternoon of September 2012, slumped in my seat – shocked, deflated and in awe of Sydney’s remarkable resolve to win against the odds – I was shattered. We were supposed to win it – for Dad. For every fairy-tale realised, dozens go unfulfilled.
Twelve months on from that Sydney train wreck, as I took my seat in the Olympic Stand with Hawky, his Mum Desley and Caradi, we absorbed the peculiar mix of collective anxiety and quiet confidence, which seemed to permeate the Hawthorn faithful. In contrast, what sounded like half of Western Australia, dazzling in a haze of jubilant purple, the Dockers fans were chanting that hypnotic Freeeooooo…Freeeooooo!
We had to win this.
With the opening bounce Hawthorn looked the more composed side, controlling the centre clearances despite the dominance of a monolithic Aaron Sandilands. After a week of media hype concerning Fremantle’s unrivalled defensive pressure, it was Hawthorn which took the early ascendancy, trapping the ball in its forward half with far greater purpose than the shaky Dockers.
Still the tension was palpable as we rode every bump with a grin, soon enough, as Hawthorn’s sharp-shooter Jack Gunston put the first score on the board. His opponent and former Hawk Zac Dawson would be in for a long afternoon.
We were away.
When Freo did get the ball forward, Nat Fyfe, who was bouncing about the 50-metre arc with unbridled enthusiasm, was high in the air to receive it. Hopeful, I told Hawky he’d miss it. He did. Then he missed it again! Two out of bounds on the full were indicative of the pressure being applied by the more experienced Hawks. Luke Hodge, Josh Gibson and Brian Lake were solid while Grant Birchall continued to clear the ball out of defensive 50 as if participating in a Waverley Park training drill.
While Hawthorn was winning the clearances, a pesky Ryan Crowley was doing enough to keep Sammy Mitchell quiet by his standards. In aid of his former captain, Lance Franklin was making his presence known, lumbering up and down the field and throwing himself into every contest he could get to. After a 50-metre penalty was awarded for Luke McPharlin overstepping the mark, Buddy was gifted what would be his only goal for the match and his last in Hawthorn colours.
At the first break, Hawky was impressed by Hawthorn’s pressure game, happy to take the 12-point lead and a goalless Fremantle quarter, taking Ross Lyon’s defensive game to a new extreme. The fact Fremantle’s captain Matthew Pavlich didn’t touch the ball let alone threaten the scoreboard suggested Brian Lake was in for a big game.
As the second term got underway, Hawthorn began to stamp some authority while Fremantle, despite getting more of the pill, continued to deliver shockers in front of goal, Danyle Pearce putting yet another attempt out on the full.
Hodge patrolled the half-back line, directing the likes of Gibson, Birchall and Guerra, who repeatedly cleared the ball out of defence with great effect.
Cyril was everywhere. When the omnipresent Buddy took charge of the ball and of the play, he delivered a delicate handpass to a lightning-fast Rioli who in turn flipped it over to the running Gunston, who booted his second goal of the match. Two minutes later, after being awarded a free kick against Lee Spurr for holding the ball, Cyril followed-up with a goal of his own.
A new chant rose above the purple haze.
Despite the margin growing in Hawthorn’s favour and without a goal on the board, the Dockers continued to work hard, their perseverance eventually being rewarded with a goal to Tendai Mzungu, one of Fremantle’s more composed contributors.
But the Hawks had answers. Gunston (I was pencilling in for man of the match) steadied the Hawks after outplaying and out-marking Dawson, allowing the number 19 to slot through his third goal of the match.
Pavlich, who was beginning to find his feet and the ball, took a soaring mark over the pack to finally have some influence. His set shot sprayed wide and the Hawks were let off the hook. The rushed Dockers were continuing to be being wasteful, the close attention of every Hawthorn player a factor.
At the main break Hawky and I took stock as our team went into the rooms with a 28-point lead. Five goals would be difficult for the Dockers to claw back, particularly if Hawthorn continued to play tight, contested footy – something many of the punters had conveniently chosen to forget they were good at during the week building up to this match.
In the third, the Dockers came out firing, as we expected. We knew they would as we continued to ride each bump, now with more of a grimace. The Hawks, led by a tenacious Jordan Lewis, continued to strangle Fremantle, but to the surprise of many, the Dockers were beginning to cut loose and dominate the clearances. Crowley was keeping Mitchell in check and David Mundy and Michael Barlow were both good for the Dockers. Pavlich was being sighted more often.
But while Fremantle charged forward with some reward for their efforts, it never felt like Hawthorn’s command of the match was being truly threatened. Even when Chris Mayne narrowed the gap to just three points, it still felt like Hawthorn’s game. In the stands we all agreed, we needed to hold on to even a slight lead, any lead at three-quarter time and we’d go on to win this. No Sydney train wreck this year.
Hawthorn scored when it really mattered. Roughead started getting a bit of the ball and his second goal. Birchall continued his hard work, sweeping the ball out of the backline and, after Matthew Pavlich began to really rise to the occasion with two goals, it was Gunston again who steadied the Hawthorn ship with a hurried major from inside the goalsquare to help the Hawks to a 10-point lead at the final change.
After challenging Hawthorn for a quarter, the Dockers looked spent. Hawthorn looked composed. I felt like we could win this. This would be different to last year.
Nevertheless, as the final term began and I thought of what could be, I decided to ease the nerves by taking refuge in the queue for a calming ale. Waiting, I heard a mighty roar. I couldn’t see it but I knew it was a goal to the Hawks. Every Grand Final has that moment, and this felt like it was the one. It was Isaac Smith with that booming set shot from outside 50 which made the statement we were waiting for – Hawthorn was here to win this! This would be our Grand Final.
The Dockers wouldn’t lie down. They tried to emulate their third quarter foray forward only to be denied by the enigmatic Brian Lake, who continued to mark incoming Fremantle bombs and then rebound with precision with the aid of Hodge, Lewis, Birchall and Gibson, who were always there to assist.
When Luke Breust snapped and then young Bradley Hill tapped it through the big sticks, the resulting 30-point lead effectively put the nail in Fremantle’s coffin.
The Dockers persisted gallantly but Hawthorn would not be denied. Fyfe faded as Lewis shut him out of the game. Pavlich did his best, adding another goal as Freo continued to chase the Hawks to the death. A few missed shots from Hayden Ballantyne didn’t help.
Brian Lake was brilliant. I scratched out Gunston’s name and replaced it with that of the former Western Bulldog. We’d have our fairy-tales today.
Sensing victory the Hawks held on, their intensity relentless to the last and in the end, it would be Hawthorn’s pressure on the man and its precision with the ball which would get the better of the Dockers.
With the clock ticking over to 28 minutes we sensed this was ours. We waited with baited breath. When the siren sounded, in unison we jumped to our feet, our fists clenched, the air pumped and the sense of relief immeasurable.
With tears in my eyes I high-fived strangers and hugged friends before calling my daughter Molly. Like her late Grandad who bestowed the brown and gold upon this family, she spent much of the game locked away in her room, the hope and expectation too much for her to bear. Like the rest of us, she knew what was at stake.
When she answered the phone, Molly told me what she’d been waiting to say all year.
“I knew we’d win it Dad!”
That we did. It’s one to savour.
Hawthorn 2.3 5.5 8.8 11.11 (77)
Fremantle 0.3 1.6 6.10 8.14 (62)
Hawthorn: Gunston 4, Roughead 2, Franklin, Rioli, Breust, Smith, Hill
Fremantle: Pavlich 3, Walters 2, Mayne, Pearce, Mzungu
Hawthorn: Lake, Gunston, Hodge, Gibson, Lewis, Birchall
Fremantle: Sandilands, Fyfe, Mundy, Crowley, Barlow, Johnson
Umpires: Meredith, Nicholls, Rosebury
Official Crowd: 100,007 at MCG
Our Votes: Lake (Haw) 3, Gunston (Haw) 2, Hodge (Haw) 1