AFL Grand Final – Sydney v Hawthorn: Spangher Magic

I’ve just watched a game, in a pub, surrounded by old duffs and hardened men with neck tattoos and stubble. I’m going to belt this out, in the raw moment, before TV and radio and the papers tell me what to think of it, then get on with drinking.

The Grand Final is no ordinary game. There are so many angles. It is a thing of electricity, like lightening. Its roar like thunder. No one angle will cover it. To break it down, the one game, could take you forever.

But I’ll have a crack, if only for absurdity.

The Game.

The First Quarter.

The First Quarter was a Grand Final. Tough, tight, and for a while, punch for punch. Insanely brilliant handballs, over heads, in tackles. Goals. Great forwards. One in four kicks were slapping the ball on the boot, because there was no time and space. That’s the shit we love, a lack of control, when anything can happen.

The Swans got off to the bottler they were expected to. But every time they got a goal, Hawthorn answered in 60 seconds. Every time. That saps a frontrunner’s energy. Shatters their confidence. There is no way Hawthorn are a ten-plus goal better team, but such is momentum.

It seemed to me that, half way through the first, the Swans were trying to do what they do, tackle, squeeze, harass, put pressure on. But they were always that second too slow, or, more so, Hawthorn were always too quick. That quarter second. The tackles came as Hawks were already getting their kicks off, as handballs were connecting. It rang huge alarm bells.

Pressure is, simply, the Swans game plan. The Hawks were up to it. And, when they got the chance, Hawthorn hurt people.

Without the Swans pressure game it came down to midfields and structures. As individuals, the Hawthorn midfield are quicker between the ears, just as tough, faster with their hands, better organised. Better. Structure-wise, the way they always, always have handball options killed Sydney. More than any star forward. When they got the ball, they linked. When Sydney got it, they were under the Grand Final pump.

In a game of structures vs pressure, structure won, easy. They got their hands to it first, and had better spreads of players.

The Moments.

The game was won in the first when Buddy, sorry mate, dropped an uncontested pack mark. He had a great day, I thought, but Sydney were one goal up, the ball came in long, the pack formed, Buddy went to crash it, and the pack gave him space. Only players with presence can do that. Hardened men’s body language backed off, just a fraction. And Buddy closed his eyes, bracing for contact that wasn’t. Dropping what was, in the end, a chesty, when he should have clunked it, out front, as if he was always going to, regardless of what the pack brought him. Hawthorn went down the other end, and levelled the scores.

With the Swans hot favourites, as said the confidence of a good early lead could have lead to anything. Runners running. Instead, the pressure never waivered. Soon after, Hawthorn mugged the momentum.

Grundy. He ran back with the flight of the ball, just when Hawthorn were gathering pace. These simple things, a courageous, if uncontested mark, a calming moment, can steer things back towards level pegging. You don’t notice them, but games are built on such stuff. He went the uncontested fist rather than back himself, straight to a brown and gold for a Hawks goal, and from that moment the game was buried. Even if, maybe, it was always going to be.

Rioli on Jetta. Rioli was a very happy story. Pulled back into the team from the brink of injury, playing well, smothering, tackling, causing goals far greater than his possessions. Jetta had a stinker. Before and after he was concussed. Two years ago, their moment defined a Grand Final. Aboriginal on Aboriginal, gun on gun, Jetta took him on and won by knockout. This year Cyril ran onto a ball on the wing/half-forward, went to take on whoever was there, and it was Jetta. Jetta corralled him left, right, had him. Rioli put the team first and simply chipped to a free man. A goal resulted.

The team won that one.

Backmen took hangers. Lake took a beauty. So did Grundy. So did Richards. Suddenly, it was as if Knights was back, and Hunter, and Silvagni. They were magic. I’ll forever thank and worship them.


Roughy vs Franklin. The bloke who kicked more, and won the flag, lost. If it was ever a contest. Franklin tried so damn hard. Was double teamed, triple teamed. Up against several All-Australians. He had no support from Tippet, who wasn’t worth a pinch. No smallies roved off him. He played up, down, everywhere. Roughie got none of it, not a sniff, until the game was over.

Hard running midfielders, totally on top, on the burst, smothered and spoiled, causing un-manned turnovers. They delivered Roughie 5 uncontested ones. And good on him. Buddy can have his moral victories. Roughead kicked 5 in a goddamn Grand Final!

Pike vs McEvoy. There was a time, in the first, in the second, when the game was still in the balance, then just hanging on. Ruckmen win finals. McEvoy ruled those moments, and the game. He ruled Pike. Buddy busted his ringer, but how the hell did Sydney think they could do without Mummy?

Nick Malceski vs Hawthorn. Supported well by Shaw, the Beard was brilliant. Sydney’s best. It was Martin Pike at his best in his Fitzroy days, Zanotti. When all was lost I could still barrack for Malceski whenever he was near it.

Langford was just sensational, in the first half, when it counted. He was close to my Normie. Hodge deserved it. For the work he did, for the crunch times he got it, for his leadership, for his presence. Mitchell used every one of his 78 touches. Every one! Lewis continued his brilliant year, having people do the double-take. “That’s not THE Jordan Lewis?” But it is, and was. Yet, in the first, when it was a game, there was Hodge, there was Burgoyne, there was… Langford.

Goodes did all that could be expected of him. He’s simply no longer front line. Nor should he be expected to be. Two goals, contested efforts, job done. It was up to others to stand tall around him.

Lake and Gibson. They swapped and mixed with Buddy and Tippet. Buddy held his chin high, but it was an absolute ripper, old school contest.

The stories.

A subplot was McEvoy and McGlynn. A subplot was Franklin. A subplot was Clarkson. The back-to-back, and the minor Premiership blowout. But, well, really, there was only one real story, and it was a beaut, one for the ages…


Matt was very, very good. Worth his place and then some. Every time he got the ball the barflies cheered, because he looks like that bloke you know. The panel beater, the road-worker, the dodgy uncle, the Metal-head nephew. Because he’s done it hard. Because he has a great name. Because, in a team of champions, versus a team of champions, and same old stories, he was an underdog.

The underdog.

The man from the outer, out there with clean-cut, monstrously athletic legends. For him, all Swans, Hawk and local footy supporters were happy.

It felt like Matt Spangher won an AFL Premiership for everyone.


  1. Brilliant Matt, so many spot on insights as always. Your long held wisdom that ruckmen win big games was spot on. I had seen little of McEvoy and swallowed the conventional wisdom that he would take the taps and roll back to fill space in front of Buddy. That presumed that Sydney could win enough clearances to go forward. In fact he was an agile presence at the forward 50 throughout the game, pressing forward just as Hale always does.
    Brilliant coaching by Clarkson to exploit Sydney’s ruck weakness. Pyke is a serviceable back up ruckman. Tippett is the most highly paid waste of space since Nic(redacted).
    And having seen all of Spangher’s early career with the Eagles I was thrilled for the bloke. He always had some skills, but above all he lacked the confidence to clunk them in big games against the best. Last week the lack of defensive matchups forced Hawthorn to play him forward against Port, and he looked lost.
    Today he had a role and he executed it perfectly. I love the way that all the Hawks players know their capacities and play for the team. Spangher automatically looks sideways for a handball or chip pass, no matter if he has space to run, because he is a shit kick and bombing to the forward line wastes it.
    He would still be an ordinary player in an ordinary side, but in a great side he can use his strength and marking, while others compensate for his limitations.
    The other thing that you highlighted with Cyril and all the Hawks players know it – never blaze from the boundary. Look inside. And that creates a responsibility for forwards to lead AWAY from the ball into space.
    So many AFL clubs still let players do what they have been doing since Under 15’s and lead up to the oncoming player, where all the defensive heat will be. Hawthorn lead to the side or to the back. Its brilliant, obvious and bloody hard to learn.
    Clarkson is a strategic genius. His planning and preparation make game day tactics redundant.
    Thanks Matt.

  2. The Norm Smith was a toughie. I gave it to Not THE Jordan Lewis myself Matt. At one stage in the third he drove Sydney back over the storming pack on three consequitive occasions. (Not that their storming was getting them anywhere. They appeared to have only two options: storm the barricades or kick it long to Buddy. Neither option was going to out score an opposition attack fed by a dominant midfield) But I guess Hodgie’s smooging up to Buddy would have swung the voters his way in a close one.

    Next year’s battle for the McHale Medal count between Clarko & The Hink is going to be a bottler, eh?

  3. Pyke won the taps, putting them down the throat of his midfielders, but Hawthorn just monstered them the instant they got it. When they got/made the extra 1/4 second, they made it tell.

    I listened to Roy and HG to avoid being told what was happening in the game. Tippett was in the running for the Dyer (Dire) Medal, but did some semi-skilled things towards the end. Not sure who ‘won’ it in the end. Fair amount of competition…

    The sight of a back man going nuts at his fellow defenders on multiple occasions was also a sign of

  4. (This transmission is interrupted by a poorly timed advertisement for Ginkgo-Leucanitis)

    a team battling with its mojo. By the time he resorted to hand gestures pulling the mids back after the google eyed frustration efforts failed, it was already too late.

    Those who took part in the Spangher drinking game would’ve made a solid contribution to pub profits.

  5. Excellent wrap. I am still too emotional to write much this morning but oh what a game it was! So proud of my Hawks. All the disbelievers can swallow their harsh words.
    Out played, out coached, out classed.
    Back to back!

  6. Neil Anderson says

    Seeing Lake do so well as a Hawk is hard to accept as a Footscray supporter. He’s gone from a very good Fullback to a superstar because he’s now surrounded by superstars.
    The Hawks win was a great example of selective recruiting over a few years to get the right players for the right positions on the ground.
    It was a good slap in the face to the Swans who blew their budget on just two players who are suitable for two positions on the ground only.

  7. Yep, they came easily for Roughy but that first quarter tackle was brutally legal – every Swans player would have taken note. The way the Hawks shut down the Swan’s first release is something Clarko would have been working on all season, brilliant! And as a Crows man I took no joy whatsoever in Tippett’s performance…

  8. Yvette Wroby says

    Hi Matt, great article, great comments Almanackers. What struck me was the intensity of the Hawks, an Buddy shared that because that’s where he has been so successful too. He was one of their best, Buddy, but he was alone. Goodes also trying constantly to lead his team forward, but that 1/4 second you talk about felt even less. Relentless, hard, determined and deserved winners.


  9. John Lennon once sang ‘a working class hero is something to be’. Matt Spangher now is that working class hero. It all started a year ago with heroics for Box Hill in the VFL Grand Final.

    I am waiting for the t-shirts to come out … with a Che Guevara like image, or maybe the shroud of Turin.

  10. The most remarkable thing about your observations Matt is they come from the TV. You have nailed it without the full panorama of being there.

    By the way, in the dying minutes the crowd spotted Spangher running from the wing as the Hawks attacked, and as the ball hung in the air, he sprinted for the contest. He just couldn’t quite get there to do the Knights thing. It was a brilliant crowd moment.

  11. Great article Matt. Just one small correction: this year’s grand final sprint was between Jetta and Hill.

  12. I’m re-reading each GF report MZ, starting with yours. It’s a great read, well and truly capturing the moments and the men. The Hawks stood up across the field. A game like this really shows how deficient BOG awards can be (not to take anything away from Hodgey’s magnificent game). This was a team effort.


  13. Thanks gang.

    Savouring the victory, Rick? Haha. As a Roy supporter, those days are sadly behind me!

    Tom, whoops! If it was the same incident, I watched with the volume down. HIll was front-on to the camera. Just saw Jetta and probably wished it was Rioli facing him. Would love to see them two in a sprint! Hill killed it on the day.

    Gus, I thought McEvoy negated a lot of Pike’s ruckwork, hit it to teammates when he did win and smashed it around the ground. He was so good at clearing space in packs, tackling and being a big man. Also five marks in the first half, when it counted.

  14. Malcolm Rulebook Ashwood says

    Ditto Old dog I thought , McEvoy was pivotal and smashed , Pyke his hit outs were to advantage , the hawks annihilated the swans tactically and structurally , it was a victory for role players like , Spanghef and 1 per centers where , Ropli was brilliant , thanks old dog

  15. Earl O'Neill says

    Great review, Matt, insightful in the way that only a player can write. Frinite I wrote to my footy email group that Pyke would be against Hale and McEvoy, who had Roughead for support, while he only had Tippett and Reid. Should’ve listened to myself.
    Spangher was a bit of a cult figure in his brief stiint in Sydney. The hair, the strut. It aint quite an Aaron Keating, but better.

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