AFL Grand Final: Respect

It is very hard for a Geelong fan to write favourably about the Hawthorn Football Club, but I am going to grit my teeth and try. The 22 players who ran out for them on Saturday were simply magnificent.

They surprised many people (and punters), including me.  I thought the Swans would be very hard to beat.

But I was wavering a little. My mind had been affected in an unlikely way, the seeds of doubt sewn at The Footy Almanac lunch (a cracking afternoon of merriment) on Friday when Wayne Smith, father of Hawthorn speedster Isaac, was very confident about the Hawks. He thought they would come out as determined as they could possibly be, and in good nick, and they wouldn’t give the Swans a look in. I should have listened.

As I headed for the MCG, on a perfect Spring day, I was still expecting a tight game.

The mood, as always, was magnificent. I was gathering with people from around the world, from around Australia, and (like me) from around the block. I’ve been to a few Grand Finals and the experience is always worth it. To be there is uplifting.

I bumped into Gilbert McAdam – what a character – and he assured me the Swans would be alright. But the Hawthorn faithful had that glazed look of those who are happily part of a cult. Just as the fans had looked in 2008, that’s how they looked on Saturday.

The first few minutes were tight, and then Hawthorn took over. If they got the first possession they swept the footy away, Mitchell controlling traffic (throughout the first half), Hodge having presence, and Burgoyne (“Silk” they call him in standing room, where I was) using the footy purely. If they didn’t win the first possession they won it back with wild-beast ferocity.

They all had a crack. Hill ran everywhere, Langford was strong (and did some nice finessin’ on a wing), Breust was clean, and if Gunston had kicked straight it might have been over even earlier.

Malceski tried to mop up, and then take the game on, knowing how important the restoration of a positive vibe was. He had enough success to be noticed, but even he had fear in his grimacing face. He was helped by Buddy, who, up forward, played a lone hand. Buddy was admirable. He was also very tired of Matt Spangher taking aim at him from 30 metres and just smashing into him.

Ben McGlynn’s goal to open the second quarter made all us neutrals feel the game was on again. But that was short-lived. Hawthorn’s rampage continued. The slickness of close-in handball and the capacity to use the footy with penetrating, accurate kicks was quite something. They looked like the premier side. And when Hodge intercepted Rohan’s feeble attempt to bring the Sherrin back into play, the Swans were shot mentally, and physically.

Adam Goodes tried to rally, first from the centre square, and then by going forward to kick a leader’s goal, but his boys could not come with him. Hawthorn wouldn’t let them. And they weren’t strong enough to push through that.

There was no sustained response after half-time either, and in the Hawthorn domination, I stood and watched as two sub-cults emerged: The Cult of Will Langford, and The Cult of Matt Spangher.

Whatever Matt Spangher does in the rest of his life, and I am sure from the light in his eyes he will have a wonderful life, he has this Grand Final. He did everything that was asked of him and probably a bit more.

Will Langford has no doubt fought with the burden of expectation that accompanies the son of a champion. He played his heart out kicking three goals, one of which suggested the gods had chosen him, a freakish high-bouncing effort that demonstrated the footballer has evolved since primordial days of Peter Daicos. Langford’s last couple months have been impressive (just ask a Geelong supporter) but to be among the best in this credentialed team and to win the crowd the way he did was just brilliant.

They all contributed. Even Wayne’s boy Isaac had his moments, everything he did having the mark of Team on it, even to the final minutes when he could have kicked a sweeping goal from outside 50, the sort of iconic goal that is replayed for generations, but chose to chip to Burgoyne.

When the final siren rang out, I was out of there. Heading back through Fitzroy Gardens in search of the refuge of The Cricketers’ Bar at the Windsor, there was a sense of finality about it all, and the prospect that the Hawks had now become the greatest team of recent times, greater than my own Geelong.

That was rubbish. I admonished myself for such a thought.

No Hawk was to be seen in the pub, just sad-arse Swans, shocked by the performance, and the result.

I got talking to an few old Adelaide Uni Blacks stalwarts who are there every year, and a Welshman called David (what else?) from Pontypool who was very proud of Tom even though they were singing “I, I , I’ve got Alzheimers” in the other corner of the bar. More people came in until a truckie from the Sunshine Coast came over to say he listens to 4TAB on a Wednesday morning so we had a good old chin-wag about Queensland and footy.

But, eventually I had to face the reality: Hawthorn are a champion team, deserving of their win, and their place in footy history.

And they’ll be just as strong next year.

 

 

 

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au. He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo13, Anna11, Evie10. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

Comments

  1. First time in 12 flags no number 23 for the hawks

  2. Well done John – when you interviewed me at the footy almanac lunch I tipped the Hawks and got plenty of boos. But footy tipping is ruled by the head not heart and I just thought they had more poise and grand final experience and had been the best team for the last 3 years.

    The young swans supporters I sat with were Victorians and from south Melbourne families (so would never has seen the swans as a melbourne based team )

    They were upset and frustrated but I told them to stay to the end and watch the lap of honour as it shows respect for the premiers and respect for our great game. My dad taught me this when he took me to almost 10 SANFL grand finals when i was a kid.

    And when hawthorn ran their lap of honour who could deny that they were worthy premiers and the best team on the only day that matters

  3. Grant Fraser says

    Inside info confirms the belief the Hawks had Swans covered – were more fearful of Port.

  4. The cult of Paul Puopolo also has legs… they’re just little

  5. The last line you wrote is the scary one.

    Interestingly at my place, where we had the BBQ going and beer on ice, the lounge room emptied very quickly after the siren. The Hawks were that much better than the Swans that there was not a lot to discuss. A few of the boys got heavily involved in the form guide.

  6. Good story. Plug, I agree with Geoff’s opinion that when you lose, you stay to the bitter end, and watch the other lot run the victory lap. God knows I’ve had to watch it more times than I ever wanted too (but I got to be on the other end a few times too ;)

  7. Good stuff JTH.
    Premiers always look ominous for the following year though (of course they do).
    Looking forward to watching how the game evolves in 2015.
    The approach.
    90% of footy is half mental.

  8. Cheers JTH, if for no other reason that seeing Hawthorn and respect in the same sentence of an article by you!

    As for cults, you got me thinking. For a team like the mighty Hawks where, in essence, the mantra is that the team is bigger than the individual there’s a plethora (never better stated than in Three Amigos) of individual cult followings. The Hodge cult, The Cyril cult, the Breust cult, the Birch cult (it’s a Tassie thang), the Gibbo cult and the Mighty Mitch cult.

    Cheers

  9. JTH, a very honest assessment, as always. I was there on the day, and as you noted, before the opening bounce, out in the carpark amongst the sizzling sausages and opening ales, many of us said “it feels like 2008”. And it did. Maybe it was just the weather. I’ve purchased a couple of items from HawksNest this week – the usual including the DVD and a poster. My wife asked me to buy her a Will Langford badge – telling.

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