In the early 1990s, after the Americans launched ‘Operation Desert Storm’ against Iraq, the US Government convinced much of the western world that its ‘smart-bomb’ technology would win the Gulf War with only minor ‘collateral damage’ to the civilian population, so accurate was its new-age weaponry.
Almost a quarter of a century later, on a typically undecided autumn day at the ‘G’, Hawthorn’s well-drilled infantry, led by its indomitable general in Luke Hodge, reminded anyone interested in the fate of the 2013 season why Hawthorn should be rightful premiership contenders.
As I read the match previews at a café in Hardware Lane, “seize the midfield” was the reported war-cry of Hawthorn’s commander-in-chief. Alistair Clarkson knew that without Brad Sewell, who was out with an injured hamstring, on-field leaders Sam Mitchell and Hodge would need to win the centre clearances before launching forward attacks with pin-point accuracy.
From the café’s menu I selected the ‘Morning Glory’, a delightful mix of bacon, eggs, grilled mushroom and tomato, accompanied by a strong latte, the likes of which can only be found in these alley-ways of Marvellous Melbourne.
I was a little pensive. Clarko was spot-on. The Hawks would need to take the ascendancy early if my breakfast was to be matched with some afternoon glory courtesy of the brown and gold.
Later, I took my position high in the Olympic Stand to watch the battle take place. The rain began to fall. “Close the roof,” yelled someone behind me. He eased the tension just a little.
The Hawks looked imposing in their new away-strip but it was Collingwood that took control of proceedings, handling the wet conditions with aplomb.
While Dane Swan and company controlled the midfield, Jamie Elliott, with regulation sleeve tattoo, was impressive up-forward for the Pies, kicking two first quarter majors before Hawthorn got going.
Emerging talent Bradley Hill gave the Hawks some much-needed spark while Shaun Burgoyne, Grant Birchall and Cyril Rioli kept busy. But at quarter-time it was Collingwood who had clearly won the opening battle to lead the Hawks by 11 points.
As the sun broke through the clouds early in the second term, the Hawks began to shine with goals to David Hale and Jarryd Roughead. Buddy rumbled too but at the other end of the ground it was Travis Cloke who had an impact, his two goals putting the Pies up by a handy 22 points.
Sam Mitchell aided Hawthorn’s cause, using stealth to appear from nowhere when needed to wrest the ascendancy from Collingwood’s grasp while Hodge threw mind and body into harm’s way, reminding all and sundry why he’s so important to Hawthorn’s fortunes.
And just as Collingwood looked like they might run away with it, the general did what battle-hardened veterans do best, single-handedly grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck and dragging it Hawthorn’s way. As the half-time siren threatened to sound, Hodge threw boot to ball from a near standing start from 50 metres out, the resulting goal putting the Hawks just one point shy of their opponents at the main break. Hawthorn had lifted a gear.
In the third term the Hawks began to unleash their big guns and after goals to Franklin and Breust, the signs were ominous. The Pies fought hard to stay in the contest but Hawthorn appeared to be wearing them down with repeated thrusts forward and the luxury of multiple scoring targets.
Then, late in the third quarter, it came. Brent Guerra, the ever-reliable full-back, unleashed his smart bomb. Spotting an opportunity in the middle of the park, Guerra launched an old-school torpedo-punt which hit Ben Stratton, just metres from the centre circle. Stratton in turn, managed to handpass it off to a running Franklin as he fell to ground under pressure from his opponent Sam Dwyer. With his foot to the floor, Buddy had no time, nor the inclination to swerve, instead hurdling Stratton and Dwyer like a modern-day Timmy Watson before propelling the bomb almost 80 metres to watch it slide through the big sticks to the roar of the Hawthorn faithful.
Before it was over the battle was won. From that moment, watching from high in the stands, we knew the Hawks would have victory, and so it came to pass, the final term seeing a more organised Hawthorn kicking six of the last seven goals to finish with an impressive 55-point win over the shell-shocked Magpies.
COLLINGWOOD 3.6 7.6 11.9 13.12 (90)
HAWTHORN 2.1 7.5 15.9 22.13 (145)
Collingwood: Cloke 5, Elliott 3, Blair, Hudson, Fasolo, Brown, Lynch
Hawthorn: Franklin 4, Breust 3, Roughead 3, Burgoyne 3, Hodge 2, Hill 2, Hale, Anderson, Birchall, Puopolo, Lewis
Collingwood: Cloke, Swan, Elliott, Blair, Hudson, Johnson
Hawthorn: Hodge, Franklin, Shiels, Birchall, Stratton, Gibson, Roughead, Burgoyne
My Votes: Hodge (Haw) 3, Birchall (Haw) 2, Burgoyne (Haw) 1
Umpires: Donlon, Stevic, Ryan
Crowd: 72,254 at the MCG