AFL Preliminary Final – Hawthorn v Port Adelaide: This one’s for Gibbo

On a late May night in the bowels of the MCG I learnt a valuable footy lesson. Players don’t find any solace in a loss. I learnt this lesson the hard way. I was attending a Hawthorn sponsor’s night. I’m part of a coterie, the Progressive Hawks and we sponsor Derick Wanganeen. Part of the night included attendees, in small groups, given a tour of the G. Two or three Hawks joined each group for the tour.


As we headed off I started a conversation with Josh Gibson. He had his left arm in a sling, the result of an injury against the Swans a couple of weeks before. He was surprised as anyone as to the extent of the injury. It was only a week after it occurred that he really felt severe pain. He was annoyed with the injury, champing at the bit to get back on the field.


The Hawks had just played Port, losing by 14 points at the revamped Adelaide Oval, but missing key players, Sam Mitchell, Cyril Rioli, Josh Gibson and Jarryd Roughead. I mentioned that he wouldn’t be too troubled by the loss, all things considered.


He stopped walking and stared me down. He said, “what are you talking about?” I could feel other punters walking with us shoring up behind Gibbo. I spluttered something about injuries and such. Gibbo paused. He said that every loss is just that, a loss. And we’re hurting from it. We have to play better. People around us agreed with his view, unanimously. I just got burnt.


Both Hawthorn and Port Adelaide went into this Preliminary Final with pretty much a full list to choose from. Hawks were without Rioli but had the luxury of choosing its best ruckman and (sadly) leaving Sewell out. This game was going to be about the best team with its best out on the park.


Walking into the G for the Preliminary Final the first thing that hit me was the Port song. Man is it catchy, in a pop, pop, pop music sort of way. Our song followed and you could not have heard a more stark contract between songs. The Hawks song sounds sombre, reserved. The Port song sounds brazen, bold.


The next thing I noticed was the Port crowd. They were hungry. They have watched this team grow and grow. They knew what Hawks fans didn’t about this young team and that is that they can play. They are the real deal. Their singing and cheering was a statement in itself.


Then the game got under way. The next thing I noticed (with fear and trepidation) was Port Power. Has a team ever had a better nick-name to describe their game style? Man can they run. Halfway through the First it looked like they were going to blow the Hawks away. With loose players, tight defence, Boak literally in every contest and a squad of speedy Gonzales’ they took the game on. What they didn’t do was finish it off.


Improbably, the Hawks were in the lead for a short time in the first. Two quick goals through clean, skilful set plays kept the Hawks in it. That the goals came from Roughy and Langford (the shock of the old and the new), in a sense sums up the Hawks game and why they could outlast Port. Hawthorn has found a strong balance of older, developing and new players. This model may not create the quickest team but it does emphasis the importance of knowledge. Against a team as good as Port this was the difference.


Whether it was Hodge or Mitch or Lewis or Lake or Gibbo or Birch or Burgoyne or most particularly, Roughy, these players patience, understanding of the mechanics of the game and good decision making brought the Hawks back into the game. And then control it. Young players like Duryea and Langford have damn good elders from which to learn their craft.


Twenty two minutes into the second quarter the game was in the balance. The Hawks led by less than a goal. For six minutes the ball was wrestled across the ground. Neither side could find an opening. In that period neither side controlled even a passage of three kicks/handballs in a row. It was tense. Half time was fast approaching. Burgoyne took his chance, in a run down the wing and with a controlled pass found Roughy who then kicked his third. The Hawks went into Half-time 11 points ahead, having won the quarter by 4 goals.


By three quarter time the Hawks had Port’s measure. This was Roughy’s quarter, his game! His goals came from every conceivable position and play. My favourite was his roving work from a centre bounce-down, with one bounce and a booming kick on the run just outside the centre square through the big sticks. I wanted to scream best on ground but there was still a lot of footy to be played.


The last quarter was a blur. It started as a happy blur, a delirious blur. We were up by 29 points I think. There was 15 minutes to go. Then Port powered up. Fuck they are quick. I couldn’t keep up. Neither could the gallant Hawks. Gray was unbelievable. Monfries fired. Wingard, who had been largely unsighted, was suddenly the engine room. They literally threw everything (including the kitchen sink) at the Hawks. And they had a belief that only the best teams can maintain this late in a game. As I said it was a blur. The last 15 minutes, a nightmarish blur.


I didn’t even see Hodge’s mighty defiant stand in the dying minutes, probably saving the day for the mighty Hawks, such was my blur. Vicki, my good wife, was texting the time countdown. Text after text came through: 3mins; OMG 2mins; 1.26; Phew 1min; too tense; 40secs; 30secs; 15secs; 3secs; OMG hooray!!!!.


When the ball was trapped just outside Power’s 50m line I didn’t even hear the siren. A big cheer went up and at first I thought it was Port fans cheering a free kick. Then I realised it was Hawkers* and then the song started up. I was still in shock. It took me a good hour to really digest that the Hawks hadn’t almost thrown the game away but that they had just played one of the three best teams in the competition.


As I enjoyed a well earned beer with good friend Neil and his mate Jeff at The Northcote Social Club I reflected on Gibbo’s stern statement to me back in May. A loss is a loss. Port did not do enough in this game. They are the real deal and will be among the best sides for the next few years, that’s for sure. They have speed, ingenuity and sublime skills. For now, the Hawks are the deserved winners and I reckon their maturity was the difference.


Our votes: Roughead (H) 3; Boak (PP) 2; Langford (H) 1




* We were standing on the ground level in the Olympic stand just to the right of the Punt Rd goals and the ground view became obscured by fans in front standing up and, well, going bananas


  1. Rick – taking off Cyril at 3Q time in the VFL is a bit of a risk. The AFL might take the Grand Fiaal off you for tanking.

  2. Wow…I just relived the Prelim! I just bit what was left of my nails. Enjoyed the read Rick. :-)

  3. PB, I reckon leaving McEvoy out raises more ‘tanking’ questions that Cyril’s contribution. The big man got Box Hill to the GF only to be left out of the big game … so he can possibly play in an even bigger GF!

    Thanks Charmaine, I reckon that game was the ideal preparation for next Saturday. Bring it on.


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