This all goes back a couple of decades, perhaps to 1989. Or even earlier.
The story so far: the Hawks are too good for Geelong during the late 80s and early 90s. The Cats have a terrific team of characters who play the game with their own flair and are encouraged by the creative approach of Malcolm Blight. But the Hawks have a better side; a side which has learnt how to win with clinical efficiency, and how to spot and fix problems early in seasons, early in matches.
The Hawks generation passes, and they give way to the Eagles under Mick Malthouse. The Cats continue to rise. But the Perth side has their measure also.
Over the next decade or so the Hawks show moments of real promise, but they are not premiership material. The Cats re-build very slowly, their fans wondering whether they are destined never to win the flag.
Finally the Cats come good – superbly. They win the flag in 2007, when Hawthorn are not on the scene.
The following year they look like winning the flag again but a young Hawthorn thwart them in a fascinating Grand Final; a match where many Geelong players learnt a lot about themselves and about footy.
They leave the arena wondering what they have just done; and they are hungrier than ever before.
Sure in his belief the Cats will be haunted by the loss, Jeff Kennett says on ABCTV’s Offsiders that the Hawks have Geelong’s measure psychologically.
You’ll hear in pubs that the Cats players responded and that Chappy vowed never to lose to Hawthorn again, a statement which was about feeling and intent more than anything else. I take it metaphorically, although the weight of evidence says I should consider taking him literally.
Because since then the Cats have won every contest between the two clubs – all eight of them, including a classic semi-final last year. Those who look to the gods for understanding, and interpret the signs, are happy to attribute the run to Kennett’s mozz. (I attribute it to the ongoing presence as a player and a s a coach of Max Rooke).
The Cats win the flag in 2009, are crushed by a dominant Collingwood in the 2010 Prelim Final, and turn that around to win brilliantly in 2011. The third premiership surprises much of the footy world – but not Geelong supporters who have come to know their team well and have belief in Otto and C. Ling and Jimmy B and J. Selwood and Boris and Chappy and Scarlo a whole cast of players who the footy world underestimate. (It took them a long time to understand Johnno.)
In the summer of 2012 Hawthorn are installed as hot favourite to win the flag.
The Cats , we were told (incessantly) in the Autumn, are coming to the end of their reign. Yet in Round 3 they find a way to beat the Hawks.
Since then both teams have had their ups and downs. The Tiges beating Hawthorn by 10 goals is one of the better examples of a Hawthorn down. Hawthorn flogging Collingwood is one of the better examples of a Hawthorn up (if you rate Collingwood).
It’s true that Hawthorn have built brilliantly over the last month. Hence they are heavily favoured to win this fixture, and have been smashed with a second wave of punters’ cash to win the premiership.
They are good.
But Geelong have also registered encouraging wins. In the last two weeks they have beaten Essendon and Adelaide while missing key players. Tom Hawkins has been phenomenal, shouldering the responsibility of being the single key forward. He has played like an old key forward, and at times he has had my mind wandering back to the ‘70s and ‘80s with a classic big forward’s approach of strong leading, strong in the one-on-one marking contests and genuine leadership. I can hear Harry Beitzel, or Smooth Booth, “Hawkins” and the roar of the crowd.
The Cats have also enjoyed the benefit of strong games from Mitch Duncan and Billie Smedts, and better form from Allen Christensen. Every game for these young players is a small victory for the club.
Some players, it seems, have been cruising, but Andrew Mackie was absolutely fair dinkum when the Cats were challenged by the Crows fightback on Saturday.
And Trent West is getting into the right places, he now just has to feel the footy in his hands and believe he has the ability that produced such a fine game against Hawthorn in the semi last year. He goes well against the Hawks.
Hawthorn is a formidable opponents and their fans are buoyant. Some are saying (after the annihilation of Collingwood) they haven’t seen Hawthorn so dominant against a top side in 20 years.
They have options up forward and flexibility around the ground. Jarryd Roughead has returned as well as any Achilles-sufferer ever. However, they are still short of key backmen.
The Hawks can win this with sheer class, and the weight of scoring power. The Cats can lose it if their young’uns feel the pressure. But the young’uns have an alibi: they are young and learning, and this may free them up. They might go out and show us what they can do.
The Cats can win it if their star mid-fielders outplay the Hawks mid-fielders. Tactics will be interesting. Hawkins will again have to shine, but Harry Taylor and Trent West might go forward. Do the Cats play a second ruckman? And what of no Johnno and no Joel Corey? Does the J-Pod come back.
Consider the last five years, and then consider the last five weeks, and this is set up to be a classic. It could be a flop: Hawthorn could be at their brilliant best and run the Cats ragged.
But I reckon it will be hard-fought.
In front of an admiring crowd.
Who know their history.
Copies of The Footy Almanac 2007-11 are available at email@example.com
Twitter: John Harms @ratherbeatlunch
Other articles by John Harms