AFL Grand Final – Sydney v Hawthorn: The Sweetest Victory of All

Sydney v Hawthorn,
Saturday, September 27th,
MCG, Melbourne,
by William Schack

 

“Well, this, is the sweetest victory of all.”
– Paul Keating

It was the Grand Final matchup that we were expecting. As the Hawks were still revelling in the glory of an 11th premiership in 2013, the news came through that Lance Franklin was leaving the club. Most had suspected it, for if he wasn’t leaving he would have already signed, and there was extraordinary dollar figures being thrown up in the media. No one, however, had suspected that Lance would go to Sydney and be a Swan. It was the most controversial deal struck since Barassi went to Carlton.
After the initial shock wore off, most football fans minds then flashed forward to Grand Final day in 2014 and they could see nothing other than Brown and Gold, Red and White, the number 23, and a sublime Grand Final.
We got all of that, but not in the way we had expected.

We almost didn’t get it. The Swans kept up their end of the bargain as they recovered strongly from a shaky start to the season. After they walloped Geelong in round 11, it was obvious to all football fans that it would take a disastrous run of injuries for Sydney to not make the Grand Final, and from then on they experienced almost no issues.

For the Hawks, it wasn’t so easy. In fact, it is hard to think of a more difficult path to back-to-back premiership success. They lost their best player to a rival that beat them in a Grand Final only one year earlier, they lost their coach to a debilitating illness for five weeks during the season, and they had injuries and suspensions to many of their key players – Rioli, Mitchell, Gibson and Lake – throughout the year. They just persisted, however, and kept winning games regardless of what was happening around them.
Then there was the pesky problem of facing their arch nemesis in the Qualifying Final. The score line might not have agreed, but Hawthorn absolutely killed Geelong that night, and the six goal margin is more of a reflection on Geelong’s ability to stay in games, than Hawthorn’s control of the game.
And then they had to face an enthusiastic Port Power who surged forward until the very last second and were so close to getting onto the biggest stage of all. Had the game gone for another 30 seconds, they would have won. But the siren went and then whatever had happened before didn’t matter, because once you get to the Grand Final the slate is wiped clean. Anything can happen from there.

In the build up to the game, all the talk about Hawthorn was centred on Cyril Rioli. Many suggested that he wouldn’t play, many suggested that if he did he would be the sub. But when the ball was first bounced at 14:30 on Saturday afternoon, Cyril Rioli was right there in the middle of the MCG, ready to hit the very first contest. It was a sign of Hawthorn’s confidence in his body, and also the confidence in the team. Anyone could play anywhere, and Clarkson wasn’t afraid.

The game started with Hawthorn brutally attacking Sydney. The Swans were being pressured into making mistakes all over the ground, but they were still able to break free and kick 2 of the first 3 goals. Their second was kicked by Franklin who marked 35 metres out and had Brian Lake’s elbow land perfectly into the back of his head as they fell to ground. Then as he began his run up he had 2 or 3 Hawks players on either side of him, providing a guard of honour of sorts, and no doubt shouting some kind words of encouragement.

From there, the Hawks began to really get on top as their assault on the Swans continued. By quarter time the tackle count was 24 to 11, unheard of differential numbers for Sydney given that they were also losing the possession count. Some of the tackles were visibly affecting the Sydney players, too, most notably when Jarryd Roughead careered into Dan Hannebery like a blitzing NFL linebacker. The ball spilled free and Hodge swooped and kicked towards the forward square, it bounced awkwardly above Grundy’s head, Gunston tapped it forward before recollecting it and kicking the goal. It was a moment of brutal dominance that typified Hawthorn’s day.

The Hawks went in at quarter time 20 points up, and it should have been more. Uncharacteristic points from Gunston (3), Hodge and Shiels had kept Sydney in the game. They were all very easy shots and were terrible kicks. In football, the team who kicks badly at the start and doesn’t achieve a big enough lead, usually loses the game. And with memories of the Swans swiftly erasing a 19 point quarter-time deficit in 2012, I was fairly certain that would happen.
When McGlynn kicked the opening goal of the second quarter, it looked like that was going to happen, but then came the avalanche.

The Hawks midfielders began to dominate the game and Sydney just couldn’t get it forward. Their defenders were suffering the football equivalent of the London Blitz and they weren’t given a second to breathe and reassemble. Every time they got it out of defence, it came back just as quickly, and the Hawks weren’t just bombing it in and hoping for the best, they were piercing the Swans defence and picking out their forwards. There was only so long they could hold on.

First, Breust goaled after being awarded a free kick for being kneed in the head. By that stage, 18 of the last 20 inside 50s had gone Hawthorn’s way. Sydney couldn’t keep them at bay any longer.
Mitchell marked a pass just inside 50. He stood up, looked around, and speared the ball towards David Hale who was 15 metres closer to goal and in a better position. If he was playing in any other team, the pass would not have even been considered, but then again, no team in history has ever played like this Hawthorn team.
At the very next bounce, Hawthorn surged forward again. Birchall wobbled a punt to the half forward line where Hodge cleanly collected the ball on the bounce and his teammates streamed forward. The Swans chased their tales. Hodge gave it off to Langford, who streaked away from Hannebery and kicked what would have been the goal of the day if he didn’t beat it later.
Then Hodge got on the end of a rushed kick from Roughead to the forward square. And then a poor kick-in from Rohan that lacked the required penetration was intercepted by Hodge and he waltzed in for his second goal. The margin had blown out to 47 points and there was still 10 minutes to go in the half.

The Swans were able to reduce the margin by 2 goals before Roughead kicked the Hawks 6th goal for the quarter and they went in at the main break 42 points in front.

Adelaide fans with vivid memories of the 1993 Preliminary Final would not concede the game was over, nor would Pies fans permanently scarred by the 1970 Grand Final.

But when Roughead and Gunston kicked the first two goals of the second half, that was it, the premiership was Hawthorn’s.

After the game, people I spoke to said that it was boring, but I couldn’t disagree more. It was one of the most impressive displays of football I have ever seen. This was the most impressive Swans side since 1935 and the Hawks tore them apart in a way that no one was expecting. Collingwood was aided in 1935 by Bob Pratt being hit by a truck the day before the game, Hawthorn needed no such assistance, for they they played at the peak of their powers.
Clarkson has devised a brand of football that no other team can play. With its focus on precise kicking while still adhering to the principle of winning contested football, he has created a strange hybrid of uncontested and contested football in which passing is king.
His standing amongst the present day coaches as the pre-eminent master is now without question. He has rebuilt this Hawthorn team from nothing, won a premiership, then rejigged the team once he realised that his game plan and his list was not good enough to win another premiership, and then went on and won two more premierships. He now joins club legends John Kennedy and Allan Jeans as the only men to have won three premierships for the club. At Hawthorn, there is no greater company.

The Hawks are also now the sole owner of the title of the best team in the AFL era, as they are now one premiership clear of Geelong, West Coast and Brisbane. This, I am sure, will bring a frown to the face of all Geelong fans. And if Mike Fitzpatrick gets his way and is able to recreate history for no apparent reason and the starting date of the AFL is changed to 1987, the Hawks will be awarded another two AFL premierships for 88 and 89. (I wonder if this has anything to do with the fact that Carlton won a premiership in 1987?).

So where does this 12th VFL/AFL premiership victory sit in Hawthorn’s history? I feel somewhat unqualified to answer that question, but it’s important to do so. They have had so many wonderful premiership moments: 1961 stands out because it was the inaugural flag; 1971 was an uncompromising affair, and it took some tactical masterstrokes by John Kennedy to help overcome a 20 point three-quarter time deficit; 1976 was important for it was won as the former Hawks captain, Peter Crimmins, lay on his deathbed; 1989 is considered by many to be the greatest Grand Final of all time, and the heroics of Dipper and Dermie on that day will forever be a part of football folklore; and 2008 was one of the great heists in VFL/AFL history. But given all the adversity that Hawthorn faced in 2014, given that they were defending a premiership, given that they were playing a supremely talented side and then completely dominated the game, this, I feel, was the sweetest victory of all.
The Hawthorn Football Club has produced so many great acts since it first rose to power in 1961, but this was its masterpiece.

About

William Schack is a loyal Collingwood fan and an amateur writer. His sporting idol used to be Mick Malthouse and his dream is to see Nathan Buckley holding a premiership cup.

Comments

  1. I thought I was reading a piece written by a true Hawks man, so passionate were the words. Then to read your bio and learn that you’re a Collingwood man was a complete surprise! Thanks for your article. Enjoyed it very much. I agree with you, and yes I am a very passionate Hawks supporter, that the game was in no way boring although I too have had that comment thrown at me many times since the final siren. I also agree that this one is the sweetest so far given our tough year with the things you’ve mentored. And also the tough draw that we had this season. Talk about being punished for being premiers! Anyway, I am one proud and very happy Hawk and I’m just enjoying basking in the after glow of the greatest prize in the greatest game of all.

  2. I too was surprised that the article was written by a Pies fan, you’re a much better person than I, for I am never quite so gracious about opposing sides.

    That game was certainly not boring. Boring is not a margin, boring relates to the quality of the football and the high quality precision pressure which was relentlessly applied all day made it an enthralling viewing event for the duration, even if the result was likely to have been set well out from the finish. It wasn’t nail-biting or an edge of seat finish but it also certainly wasn’t boring.

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