AFL Finals Week 1 – Hawthorn v Sydney: It’s all in the balance

By Chris Bracher

9.05 am Monday 2 September and Victorian office productivity is at a low ebb, as the 2013 version of “Ticketek-roulette” commences. Tigers fans are in the 9 am cyber-queue for the first time in over a decade, along with Blues, Pies, Cats and Dockers, complicating the process of logging in. For a rusted-on Blood who has been spoilt for Finals appearances for many years this routine has become a chore. Necessary and rewarding, but a chore nonetheless. Contrast this with the excitement of the Tigers in the office who are itching to pay the AFL toll to see their beloved in action.
The fourteen minute default is not nearly long enough for someone determined to rort the Week 1 Family Pass package to enjoy that rare feeling of beating the cyber-enemy that is Ticketek and their abhorrent charges! So after three timed-out manipulation attempts our Category 3 MCG seats are in my hand and the business end of the title defence is about to commence.
Our injury depleted team that has scrapped and clawed its way through the season proper with resilience and resourcefulness will be boosted by the inclusion of Hanners, Nicky Smith ( for Cyril) and Lewis “Jetstar” Jetta for some long missing leg speed. Big Kurt missed last week against the Hawks too but I suspect that was more about strategy than hamstring. Keeping the big fella under wraps with a view to monstering Brian Lake in the Qualifying Final makes some sense.
Since his long-awaited debut in the red and white, Tippett has polarised discussion throughout the Bloods faithful. For each that loves him there is another who has reservations. The tightness of his guernsey and the pronounced shoulder cut-outs reveal an impressive rig but there are overtones of “Warwick Capper shorts-style” publicity surrounding his presence. Despite a couple of bags of goals early on, students of the Swans game cite team balance and lost attacking flexibility as potential negatives.
Buddy Franklin has copped a week for a late bump in Rd 24 on Grand Final hero Malcevski; representing a rare piece of footy justice as the beneficiary of his absence is for once the team that was wronged. Rioli failing to show amongst the Hawthorn squad at their pre-game warm-up confirms that his ankle has not come up. An extra couple of clicks on the Bloods confidence meter!
If Ticketek madness is the first sign that Finals are upon us, the second is the first national anthem team line-up for the series. As the sounds of Julie Anthony reach the penultimate note I delight in re-introducing my kids to the tradition of drowning out the ultimate note, by screaming “Carn Bloods”. Game on.
The step-up in pressure from Round 24 is awesome to behold. The hand-speed in close of both teams is pulsating, as each search for a way out of the rolling maul that it is first quarter finals football. The Hawks are inside 50 more than us but our defence is steadfast. Notwithstanding this, I’m worried about Heath Grundy (again). Without the substantial reference point of a Franklin or Roughead to follow and spoil he looks all at sea. Gunston and former Swan journeyman Spangher represent a less predictable route to goal for Hawthorn. Grundy doesn’t do un-predictable well.
A point in it at quarter time and all tied up at just 4 goals apiece at the long break. After snagging a couple early, big Kurt is not clunking them as we know he can and our staccato forward entries reflect midfield pressure from Sewell, Mitchell and co. Teddy still has Roughy on the leash and we have certainly had our chances but my sense is that the May-blooms are just a little cleaner and methodical. We are still right in it but discussion amongst the red and white brethren focuses again on team balance. Long bombs to Tippett demands the presence of speedy front and square goal-sneaks to capitalise once the ball hits the ground. Patching up around the team this year has left us devoid of such types, with the exception of ex-Hawk “mighty mouse” McGlynn who is having a shocker.

Third quarter and the game opens up, as it was always going to. Our midfield champs “Kizza”, Joey, Hanners and Lukey Parker are working as hard as ever but fighting a losing battle for first use whilst Mummy is struggling for touch. Form can be transient and our big ruck star from last week will shortly be clad in the red vest. All of a sudden the enemy has outside space and with it, momentum. The Hawthorn General Luke Hodge is directing traffic from half-back as well and spring-boarding attacks. Tiring Swans legs make for ugly turnovers and the Hawks make us pay more than once on the rebound. Jetstar sheds the green vest to make his grand entrance after 12 weeks on the sidelines. There is a sense of the prodigal son returning as he is gifted a goal with his first kick by big Pykey. The fluorescent boots are still there shining bright but tonight that is the only resemblance to the player who mesmerised 2012 crowds with his explosive dash and clean finishing. 30 minutes is not enough time to re-kindle the magic.

A boisterous sound from the Hawthorn crowd that I last heard late in the 3rd quarter of last year’s Grand Final is back and I’m hoping that a similar fate awaits tonight. However, 24 points in arrears at the last change makes it highly unlikely.
Our mix-and-match team of 2013 has battled brilliantly to get us to this point but Finals pressure exposes deficiencies that may have been papered over as we notched our 15 ½ wins. Big Jessie White has had a remarkable 2013 but all of a sudden murmurs of “trade him” are back. The brave Gary Ranga Rohan has been welcomed back with open arms recently but is clearly under-done and Andrejs Everitt is exposed as a stand-by defender only. Sadly, Father Time seems to have finally just ticked past our grandest of warriors, “St. Jude” Bolton.
Gunston, Hale, Puopolo and Swans-reject Breust add to our pains and Roughy finally finds some space from Ted to join the final quarter party.Eventually, the futility of our cause is realised as we drop off and the Hawks coast to a 54 point win.
The arrogance and over-confidence that typified the Hawks supporters of 2012 is back. The nature of the footy fan is that we can have short memories when in the moment. My disappointment is nastily channelled into hoping that they meet a similar fate once more!
Post-match commentary once again focuses upon that word – balance. Tippett, Mumford, Pyke and White made us top-heavy and inflexible. This may be so but I think we have simply over-drawn our account and our player-stock balance is in the red. We have simply run out of red and white soldiers.
The longer route to the Grand Final is the route that we now must traverse. I suspect that route is too long for us to travel. I think we are cooked. I hope I’m wrong.

Final score: Hawthorn 15.15 105 Sydney 7.9.51
Votes: 1. K.Jack (Syd) 2. L.Hodge (Haw) 3. B.Sewell (Haw)

About chris bracher

Known to stare longingly down Clarendon St still wondering how his red and white heroes ever left him, Chris Bracher's pining for his relocated team has been somewhat appeased by recent Bloods glory....but the pain never truly goes away!


  1. Great stuff Chris.
    History does say that it’s hard to win the flag without a week’s rest. But there are some tough nuts in the red & white.
    I like your observation of the step-up in pressure that finals bring. It’s always odd to read reports of home& away matches that are played in a “finals-like atmosphere.” Those reports are always wrong.

  2. Hoooodddgggggeeeeeyyyyy!

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