Hawkology II: Escapology – sailing close to the wind while it’s raining Tacos.
[Rated H – Occasional Hawthorn]
Round 2: Hawthorn v West Coast – MCG (Sunday 3 April)
The Hawks were back on the winner’s list in a rerun of 2015 Grand Final, with an identical 46-point margin.
Josh Gibson kicked his first goal in 127 Hawthorn games and his 44-disposals equaled the most of any Hawk in history, but personally the day was notable for my son’s first game (5 years old).
My lad can be prone to change of mood, so it was going to go one of two ways. Brought a tablet to stave off temporary boredom and had an exit strategy in the event of meltdown. On the contrary, he was engaged in the atmosphere, game to an extent and especially the food; memorably cheering a flashing, digital ‘McDonalds’ sign – I’ve never taken him there.
In gentle autumn sunshine, we walked to the train hand in hand. The boy unselfconsciously chirping on all he had seen, a pleasant afternoon. There was not another like it for the season.
Rounds 3-5: a 3-peat of 3 points.
Over Rounds 3 to 5, Hawthorn had an extraordinary three-peat of three-point victories over the Bulldogs, Saints and Crows. I was at ‘Dogs and Crows live and watched the Saints from a bar with an old friend.
The Bulldogs high-possession, run and carry style caused us some trouble. It looked exhausting – not a sustainable football model. Gradually we broke down the run and, going the other way, we were able to out execute with 7 goals to 3 in the final quarter. James Sicily kicked the winner with seconds left, as Bob Murphy suffered an unfortunate knee injury.
The following week’s win over the Saints had luck in latter stages. A couple of late calls went our way (it may or may not have been origin for a social media campaign that Hawthorn are favored by umpires – which I found hilarious) and Tasmanian-born, Saint Paddy McCartin narrowly missed on the Launceston breeze. Would have put them in front.
The third of the three-pointers was a come-from-behind victory against Adelaide on the MCG. On a night when we played unevenly, conceding sequences of early goals before mounting our own, we found ourselves 3 goals behind with 4 minutes left – normally curtains.
Remarkably, we put up two in 30 seconds and then the reliable and likable Paul Puopolo nailed the winner in the final minute.
It was the first time in history Hawthorn had won 3 consecutive matches by under a goal. 3 in 3 weeks is high anxiety and highly addictive. I concurrently felt we were sailing close to the wind and that it was raining tacos. No arrogance but a lightly crystalizing, We’re the highly functioning, phenomenal finishing team in the world today feeling that objective knowledge had no part in – and nice while it lasted.
Round 6: Greater Western Sydney v Hawthorn – Spotless (Saturday 30 April)
The land of the Giants looked slippery on TV – well, we were slipping. Last year, an orange crush overran us in the final 10-minutes; this year in the first 10-minutes and then we were toyed with like a Happy meal.
Buzz killed, I wandered out into the night garden to clean the Barbecue. Every time I snuck a look, we were 3 goals further behind, so thought it best to remain out there. Ultimately a 75-point loss was our heaviest since July 4, 2009 – Barbeque very clean.
Round 7: Richmond v Hawthorn – MCG (Friday night 6 May).
Back on the MCG against the Tigers, who have had their moments against us in recent seasons. This year we had them with key outs and out of form. I was fidgety when they kicked the first few of the match, but our 9-goal final quarter bust it open for a 46-point win – looks more comfortable than I was.
Round 8: Hawthorn v Fremantle – Launceston (Saturday 14 May).
In Tassie against a winless Freo, it was as stodgy early before we put up eight in the 3rd for a 41-point win – our 17th consecutive in Launceston.
In the week before Round 9, came the devastating news Jarryd Roughead (due to return from a PCL) had been diagnosed with a recurrence of Melanoma and was out of football indefinitely. The game is put into proper perspective against a young man’s health and there was a groundswell of well-wishing for one of football’s favorites to make a full recovery and be well. Bravely fronting the media, Roughy asked everyone to treat him normally and stay positive.
Round 9: Hawthorn v Sydney – MCG (Friday night 20 May).
We started poorly and I could not recall the last time our skills were so off. Early misses were costly, when Sydney opened up a 6-goal lead in the 2nd.
We clawed it back but there would be no escape this time. A couple of late goals from Franklin – including the longest imaginable for the news highlights – were god-awful. Looking on at his celebrations, wore my best sh*t-eating grin.
In the presser, Clarkson said both teams weren’t flash on the night. We were least flash.
Round 10: Brisbane v Hawthorn – Gabba (Saturday 28 May).
In the first minute, chasing his first ball, Matt Spangher badly tore his hamstring and I wonder if we will see him again. It was his 5th game in two seasons.
Later, I’m on edge of couch when a fluent goal in the opening seconds of the final quarter had the Lions within 6-points.
And then we piled on a response – 9 goals! – to vamoose by 48-points.
Still, something in the past month wasn’t sitting right. Games grindingly in the balance until late, before our discordant surges. Even wins of 40+ points felt like escapes. I may be nitpicking.
10 rounds in Hawthorn are 7-3. Only two teams have better records. We sit 7th on the ladder, on account of poor percentage, but otherwise equal 3rd. We are better placed than last year (when 6-4) and exactly the same as in 2014. Still, difficult to know what to make of it. Roughead’s indefinite absence compounds Hale’s retirement and asks more of Sicily and O’Brien. Both show promise, but are young.
Round 11: Hawthorn v Melbourne – MCG (Saturday 4 June)
The Hawks have been pretty tough on Melbourne over a decade, winning the past 13 by an average margin of 52 points, going back to 2007. Today was 7th (7-3) versus 10th (5-5). The status had changed.
An early game was a family outing. This year, my daughter studiously scores in her football record, and would have had time to sketch a Unicorn here as the Hawks took 5 minutes to venture inside-50. Dawes had the first after 9 minutes. No such wait for the second, Petracca in 30 seconds. Clearances were 9-3 against, before consecutive goals from Gunston hit the spot.
As the rain and temperature fell, Hawthorn took control with O’Brien’s first, followed by Cyril scything through a pack – 5.5 (35) to 2.0 (12) – But Melbourne were better from here, 5 of the next 6, Vandenberg and Tyson prominent and a point the difference at half time.
When Melbourne kicked the first couple of the 3rd (Kent and Watts) the Hawks needed a lift. Brad Hill running into open goal was it. Nathan Jones replied and it is 7 sodden minutes before Breust leveled it up. At three-quarter-time, some room for doubt.
In the final quarter, debutant Kade Stewart drew a free kick and missed. Several Demons got stuck into him. Moments later, Breust gave Stewart another opportunity and this time the young West Australian converted. With 6 minutes remaining, the exponentially likable and reliable Paul Puopolo saw us home and then a classy O’Brien finish made it a 19-point win.
Round 12: Essendon v Hawthorn – Etihad (Friday night 10 June)
In Mildura over Queen’s Birthday weekend, watch as we concede 2 of the first 3 goals and wonder if the Auskickers would get off to a flier against us this year? We finish okay, for a 109-point win.
Round 13: North Melbourne v Hawthorn – Etihad (Friday night 17 June)
Back in Melbourne to see this live, the opening statements were Ziebell crashing into Mitchell, and then the Hawks’ champ bouncing up and giving to Smith who scorched the turf on way to goal. Spicy start.
After 9-straight, North had dropped 2 of their last 3. Determined to stem a slide, they put up 3 early goals and had a good mix of unsociable and easy listening.
But it’s easy to cross that line, like FM radio straying into Nickelback, and in the 2nd their playlist was misses, misdemeanors and misguided machismo. 1.8 (!) for the quarter and goals gifted away; Harvey pulling Duryea to the turf, ‘abuse’ from Thomas and another bump on Mitchell. They had let us back in.
In the second half, James Sicily starred with 5 goals, earning a Rising Star nom, as we edged them by 9-points. Jordan Lewis terrific with 31 and a goal.
In a hotel with a friend after the game, we chatted with an Irishwoman who noticed our scarves and inquired about the result. A follower of Gaelic at home, she had not yet fallen in with a team. I asked what qualities she looks for? She replied, ‘underdog’ and asked if we were one? ‘Absolutely,’ I replied, ‘Up until 1957. In our first 35 years we lived in the foothills of the ladder, finishing bottom-two 20 times. That made our arrival as a force in football palatable to all Australians’. I gift her my scarf. Missionary man.
In a mid-season review on Fox, David King identified the Bulldogs are +28 a week in contested ball, which he called a ‘frightening number’, while Hawthorn don’t need to win contested ball, but hurt you with ball use and are best on forcing turnovers in forward half and scoring from those turnovers.
The season progressed with increasing media on contested possession differential and how the Hawks are ranked dead last in it. Of course, I was cognizant this had never been a particular strength of ours (even in premiership years), and so only lightly obsess on the point.
Before the Round 17 clash with Sydney in Sydney, Alistair Clarkson described contested ball as a “fancy term” and added, “We don’t give a toss about it”. His team went on to lose contested possession to Sydney by 37 and yet win the game.
Fancy, brand new thing or same as it ever was? While deferring to the coach and the balance sheet, I’ll concede to some jitters on the evidence. I think they are losing possession for a little longer and scoring on turnover a little lesser – easy for me to type.
Sydney v Hawthorn: Round 17, SCG (Thursday night 14 July) – Best win of the season.
Up there, it began with the close in combat and little room to move. Rohan had a first as they spent more time in their forward half than we did, but we responded with usual efficiency. Lewis and Hill had us in front before Kennedy’s brilliant effort, in a something from a nothing stoppage.
Goals to the congenial Puopolo and then Rioli, roving Naismith, were a good start to the 2nd. As it continued, we were ascendant without a payoff until Gunston, hooking from a pocket, shot the lights out.
The 3rd quarter was in a holding pattern, neither team able to score for nearly half of it, until Papley and Rohan did and then we were the only ones not scoring. O’Rourke left it late, his after-the-siren goal had us within 5-points at three-quarter time.
Terrific defensive pressure from Puopolo created a goal for Burgoynne. Parker responded and then a second Sydney 50-metre penalty let Ceglar in. Papley won a one-on-one against Hodge and when Franklin marked in the pocket I felt creeping dread. He hooked out on the full and was followed by Hanneberry and Jack missing. Still, they led by 7-points, with under 4-minutes left.
Burgoyne, as cool as the other side of the pillow, made it a one-point game and then the big play; Mitchell’s innovative soccer from a boundary throw in, Gunston to Smith and long to the incomparable one. With 87 seconds left, Cyril nailed the winner from 50 and on his 27th Birthday – How we love him.
Melbourne v Hawthorn: Round 20 MCG (Saturday 6 August)
Hawthorn went into Round 20 on top of the ladder, 2 games clear. But this was a banana skin game.
Having given us a good run 9 rounds ago, Melbourne nodded they were up for the challenge at 1:55, with Hunt’s gather and goal from beyond 50. Weideman, Watts (twice) and Pedersen got on the board and when Harmes brushed off two Hawthorn tacklers to find the loose Dean Kent, there shined a shiny demon. They had a bit of coast-to-coast and when our hellish defensive flub let Petracca in we were 3-goals down in the 2nd.
Rioli’s mark of the day, Smith on the run, Gunston from a Rioli assist and then Cyril again put us back in front by 8-points. However, when Stratton went off with a shoulder injury (Frawley was already out of the team) the Dees rebooted through Bugg and Gawn (who starred with 11 marks).
In the final quarter, Rioli kicked his 4th but that was all we had today. The Demons ran away with the final 5 of the match and a 29-point win. The loss was the first my daughter had seen live (since started attending in 2013), a charmed run of 15 or so wins.
I think Melbourne played as well as anyone against us in the home and away.
West Coast v Hawthorn: Round 22 – Perth (Friday night 19 August)
A Friday night drag on television. Committing blunder after blunder, we could not limit the early damage. When the Eagles put on 5 unanswered, late in the first and then a deadlock breaker midway in the second, there was no way back.
Without width we pitched it in high… to McGovern. Done in the air, ground and all at sea. A ground ball fumble between Frawley’s legs was met with a punitive show of appreciation from Kennedy. The next morning, I did the same thing at Auskick and spared him a thought. Nobody was watching me.
Serious injuries to Ceglar and Natinui were also a downer. In the presser, Clarkson said we didn’t turn up our toes and the final margin was oddly 25-points on a night when we couldn’t get anything going and had no chance of winning – 5 more minutes and we would have won it.
Hawthorn –v- Collingwood: Round 23 – MCG (Sunday 28 August)
The Hawks have won their last 9 against Collingwood, but this one had a sense of changing lanes. We needed form on eve of finals and a top four finish was on the line. Meanwhile, ‘Pies were looking at nothing more than building into next season. Beware a team with little to play for; they always seem to find something.
Jack Fitzpatrick replaced Jonathon Ceglar and was lively early with a mark and point, before a free kick and making amends. Collingwood were moving it quickly and had 4 in an open game. More of the same in the 2nd, as they took us on much like the Dees a few weeks ago.
Cyril added a specky to his highlight reel and the goals were flowing in the back end of the 2nd; Puopolo, Hodge and Rioli had us in front before the impressive Treloar – unsighted in the first, leather poisoning in the second – and Goldsack sent us 11-points adrift. Breust’s fresh-air-miss, from 30cm out, beggared belief.
Early in the 3rd, more Rioli magic set up Breust and then a poor decision from Brown caused the turnover and let Cyril in. The lead swung back and forth with Grundy’s snap, Hartung on a turnover, Cloke on a fast break and then Cyril leveling it up – it was entertaining, even if I didn’t want to be this entertained.
Burgoyne and Lewis gave us a valuable 2 goal advantage at three-quarter-time.
In the final quarter we made early running and they were a shade unshakable with 4 late goals. The 3rd of them came when a long ball to the goal square and Greenwood’s day early jump, cleared Fitzpatrick out of the way, creating an air lane for the ball to drop into Blair’s arms. Only whistle was from me, with iced water running through my veins.
When Treloar snapped another, we were falling from the top four after sitting peak of the empire, top of the rock 2 weeks ago.
And then came Fitzpatrick’s moment. Standing still when Burgoynne gave it to him and then away with the speed of a thousand startled Gazelles. A gargantuan blast clinched the finest escape in a season of them. A mad Hawthorn supporter growing up, Jack lived his childhood dream… and my current one.
Top-4 had gone down to the final 2 minutes. There was singing and head scratching on a season as compelling and volatile as I can recall. Not always what I hoped for. Sometimes struggling, sometimes exploding and efficient and sometimes I needed a bit of Rough. But we hung in and made it. They gave good effort in a long campaign. Late shows with big plays while my nerves gently shred. And as they search for the version of their better selves, it is fair to wonder if finals will bring that out or if this was delaying the inevitable. We’ll see.