A Grand Final Trilogy

I’ve been a passionate Hawthorn fan since I officially adopted the brown and gold as a seven year old back in 1982. Maybe it was the fact that I’m colour blind, or perhaps it was the flair of a new recruit called Gary Buckenara that sold me – but my destiny as a footy supporter had been chosen once I took possession of a stylish long sleeve woollen Hawks jumper.

I could never have imagined the good times to come over the next decade. Countless grand final appearances, five premierships and the opportunity to watch the likes of Dunstall, Brereton, Platten, Ayres, Dipper, Langford and Jarman ply their trade.

To then be starved of a flag between 1991 and 2008 was surely a good thing. It highlighted that a finals spot, premiership success – and for the Hawks, their very survival as a footy Club – could not be taken for granted. For players and supporters alike – it built resilience, humility, patience, character and a driving hunger to see Hawthorn re-emerge as a footy heavyweight.

I wanted to bottle the feeling I had after the 2008 Grand Final victory over Geelong – and I’m sure I wasn’t alone. It was pure elation and I floated on air for days and weeks afterwards. I wasn’t at the game to see it live, but as it unfolded in all its brilliance, as Stewy Dew tore the heart out of every Cats fan, I desperately wished that I was there. From that day onwards, my mission was to find myself at the MCG on the last Saturday in September, cheering my Hawks to another flag – being able to replicate those emotions.

Naturally, the opportunity to do such a thing shouldn’t be handed to you on a platter. There was the disappointment of seeing us miss the finals in 2009, an early finals exit in 2010 and then a heartbreaking Preliminary Final loss against the Pies the following year.

After a stellar 2012 season, a spot in the Grand Final appeared likely, but when a running goal from Graham Johncock put the Crows in front late in the final quarter of the Prelim it seemed that the rug was going to be pulled out from under me again. Fortunately, the Hawks did just enough to hold on in that game and with a Grand Final ticket in my hand for the very first time, I flew to Melbourne ready to fulfil my dream.

Episode 1 (2012 Grand Final):

The Hawks went into the 2012 decider as solid favourites and while I was fairly confident, a recent cliffhanger between the two sides at the SCG suggested the game would be close. The Hawks dominated the early Grand Final exchanges but failed to make the most of their opportunities. Sydney, sensing a chance of their own, rallied strongly to seize back momentum – moving out to a five goal lead during the third quarter. Then the Hawks went on an amazing run of their own to get back to within a point at the final change – game on! I could sense something special was about to happen and of course I was right. What transpired over the next half hour was a see-sawing, brutal, thrilling battle between two desperate sides. The game wasn’t decided until the final minute – but it was Sydney who took the spoils in a classic. I was gutted. The countless ‘what-ifs?’ from the game, the fact we received an unfair tag as chokers, the fact my dream had slipped from my grasp, the fact I returned to work on Monday to find my desk had been decorated in red and white…..it all cut me very deeply. To this day I still haven’t watched a replay of the game and I curse the Fox Footy programmers every time I see it scheduled on ’30 Minute Thrillers’.

The disappointment from that day continued to burn within, but I was not deterred.

Episode 2 (2013 Grand Final):

Hawthorn’s Grand Final appearance in 2013 came courtesy of another Preliminary Final heart-stopper against Geelong. Our opponents in the big dance were Fremantle, who under Ross Lyon had developed a formidable reputation. Their manic late-season form had many of the experts in their corner and the swarm of purple-clad Dockers fans who descended on Melbourne for the Grand Final was a sight to behold. Once again, I firmly believed that the Hawks could get the job done, but the nagging memories of 2012 had me on edge for the entire day. The Hawks looked determined and certainly made the better of the early going, but I always sensed that Freo were right in the contest. In the third quarter things began to click for them and they got within three points at one stage before eventually going into the final quarter just 10 points adrift. A huge 60 metre bomb from Isaac Smith, a Luke Bruest crumbing snap and a breathtaking dash to the goal square from Bradley Hill appeared to have us home mid-way through the last, yet Freo refused to lie down and surged once more. But in the end, Hawthorn held on for the win and were crowned 2013 Premiers. To be entrenched among the Hawks fans at the ground in those final minutes, to hear the final siren sound, to feel the relief, to finally be there see my team raise the Premiership cup aloft was just a fantastic feeling. And yet, for some unknown reason, that lingering pain in my gut from 2012 remained.

Maybe it was the fact that many of the same experts who accused the Hawks of choking in 2012 said the Dockers would have won if they’d taken their chances? Regardless, it still felt like the Hawks had some unfinished business to deal with on Grand Final day. So I began to steel myself for the third and final episode of this trilogy.

Episode 3 (2014 Grand Final):

Redemption….maybe that was the key to all of this?

After yet again flirting with disaster in the Preliminary Final against a fast-finishing Port Adelaide, the stage was set for a Grand Final re-match against the Swans. In many ways, the setting for the 2014 decider was in stark contrast to what had been the case two years earlier. The Swans were overwhelming favourites, minor premiers and also had Buddy Franklin in their corner. The word on the street was that they’d be too quick, too fierce at the contest and would have too much firepower for the Hawks to handle. Despite this dire outlook, I was a picture of calm in the days leading up to the game and this hadn’t changed as I walked through the MCG gates. Underdog status and a long line of experts who didn’t give us a chance was very reminiscent of 2008. I reckon we can do this!

What unfolded over the next three hours was footy nirvana. It was probably the most complete game of footy I’ve ever seen from a Hawthorn side. It was a demolition in every sense of the word, in every facet of the game….it was determined, brutal, relentless, clinical and beautiful! I waited far too long (probably until the early stages of the final quarter) to allow myself to fully relax, but I then spent the next 20 minutes or so absorbing everything around me. That feeling of elation I wanted to bottle back in 2008 had returned. The fact that the Hawks had made such a proud statement as a footy club, the fact they had defied the critics and the doubters and the fact they had performed at their absolute best on the biggest stage of all was wholly satisfying – and I was there to see it. A young bloke of around 10 years of age, along with his dad and his grandfather, were sitting next to me on the day and watching them embrace as they witnessed a famous Hawks premiership together will also stick in my memory.

It’s now some three days later and I’m still floating on air. I know I’ve been very fortunate as a footy fan to have experienced the amazing rollercoaster ride of the past three years. The pain in my gut has disappeared. I am content. Mission accomplished.

About Justin

A proud family man from Canberra who always appreciates a good laugh and loves his footy...


  1. Craig UpperHAWK says

    Brilliant article Justin. Sums up the feelings and emotions of this and most Hawks fanatics.

    The ghosts of 2012 are now buried deep under the MCG turf……think I’ll watch the replay again tonight for the 3rd time.

  2. Hi Justin,
    Your article resonated with me very much, lots of parallels. I began following the Hawks in 1983, so around the same time as you. I also wasn’t at the 2008 GF but swore to myself that day that I’d be at every future GF and I have been as well as almost every H&A Melbourne game and every final game.
    The kind people that decorated your office in red and white after the 2012 loss, must also have visited my office here in Melbourne. I came in on the Monday feeling okay, disappointed, but okay…only to find my office had brown and gold feathers strewn all over the desk and floor, and red & white streamers everywhere else. Luckily no-one else was in because the expletives that spewed from my mouth were not very ladylike as I frantically shoved each and every streamer and feather into the bin. I was gutted, and the “decorations” put me into a dark place for the next few days.

    So yes…the victory this year was particularly sweet. Looking forward to Season 2015, go the mighty Hawks!

  3. Thanks for the comments Craig and Charmaine. Glad my story was able to strike a positive chord with you both! Bring on 2015…

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