Finals Week 2 – Hawthorn v Western Bulldogs: The future owed nothing to the past

First impressions aren’t always the important ones. To the general football public, Alastair Clarkson made a bad first impression.  His actions at London’s Oval in 1987 presumably remain a source of regret, as they should. But if subsequent years have confirmed anything, there’s much more to Clarkson than a bad temper.


You can’t assess Clarkson, or modern Hawthorn, without considering the man who coached him on that farcical London afternoon. John Kennedy Snr was North Melbourne’s coach that day. His decision to rev his team up fit for mayhem, for what was an erstwhile exhibition game, speaks to the legacy he bequeathed another club. If the Hawthorn we have come to know has a founding figure, it is the man who coached them to their first three premierships. The club’s motto – “By our deeds we shall be known” – could be imagined straight from Kennedy’s mouth, with all the ambiguity it might imply.


Kennedy played in an era when Hawthorn struggled. In his first season, they didn’t win a game. They finished on the right side of the win/loss ledger only once in his decade-long career. By the time he became coach, Kennedy had seen enough of losing. His response was to drill his men to be the fittest and toughest. Kennedy’s Commandos claimed the club’s inaugural flag in 1961, but then plateaued. Other coaches, such as John Coleman, considered Kennedy’s approach limited. They thought he underrated skill. Kennedy, the disciplinarian, may have come to agree. Now a school principal by profession, work forced a country hiatus. Upon return, the teams he coached were still tough, but individual brilliance was more prominent . They also understood that, in football,  malice could suit the purpose of a given moment.  These have been hallmarks of the great Hawthorn sides ever since.


So Clarkson’s ‘unsociable’ Hawks are very much part of a tradition. But Clarkson has extended that tradition. He has been at the centre of a club culture now renowned for teaching, innovation, continual improvement. A teacher himself, many of Clarkson’s assistants have shared an educator’s background. The Hawks have led the field in recruiting, list management and coaching. Hawthorn football IP is one of the hottest items going. Like other great coaches, his disciples are now spreading through the AFL world.


Fate, through the vehicle of Isaac Smith’s errant boot, brought Clarkson face to face with one of those disciples. Like Clarkson, Luke Beveridge was a journeyman player. They both understand the  struggle in playing. In a former job, he was a forensic financial investigator. It makes sense that Clarkson could see potential in Beveridge.


Beveridge took the helm of the Bulldogs at a time of apparent crisis. Coach sacked. Captain and CEO gone. Reigning B & F player out with an ACL. Never mind. Under Beveridge, the Dogs hit the ground running and haven’t stopped.


They started this semi-final running as well, but they squandered the early chances created. In those first moments when nerves are tested, they would hardly have been settled by the sight of Tory Dickson, normally their most reliably set shot, shanking like a jittery schoolboy. Though the Dogs had the balance of possession in their forward half, the Hawks ominously took the ball the length of the ground on a number of occasions. Then Cyril picked the pockets of a couple of Dog defenders. By quarter time, the game had yet to find a pattern, but the Hawks had made the better of their chances.


They continued to do so early in the second term. The Bulldogs won the majority of contested ball, but they weren’t able to get their outside run flowing with any consistency. And they continued to miss shots. Clarkson has downplayed the importance of contested possession, but there was always a suspicion he was making a public virtue of a private concern. Certainly, the Hawks have relied on their positioning outside the contest, and timely pressure on opposition ball carriers, to create turnovers. They have then been ruthless scorers on the rebound.


The Hawthorn plan was on track to the extent that, in the 18th minute of the second term, Luke Breust had a simple shot to put them 27 points up. He missed. We tend to look with hindsight at such moments as turning points. In truth, signs of what followed had long been evident. This season, the fast, young teams had troubled the Hawks. The Dogs almost got them in Round 3. The Saints should have got them the next week. Then, in Round 6, the Giants opened them up in alarming fashion. The vagaries of the fixture meant they’d not encountered these teams since. The fateful consequence of Isaac Smith’s miss had been to place two of them in Hawthorn’s path to a Grand Final.


From the time of Breust’s miss, the Dogs kicked 12 of the next 13 goals. It felt like watching the Roman Empire crumble, in real time. In football terms, it was. For so long the masters of playing the game on their own terms, Hawthorn lost control. The Dogs continued to win the ball at the contest, and they now bolted into space. We’ve become used to seeing Hodge, Mitchell, Burgoyne, Lewis and co seize the crucial moment. We waited for it this time. It didn’t happen.


Clarkson was gracious in defeat. If four flags can’t give you some state of grace, then nothing will. Neither he, nor Hawthorn, will think they’re done yet. Trade plans are already well afoot. The Hawks long ago lost any taste for defeat. John Kennedy saw to that.


Finals are where players make their reputations. Over their last two games, we have seen a new generation of Bulldogs stake their claim. Bontempelli, Picken, Macrae, Dunkley, Dahlhaus and others have all risen to the spotlight’s challenge. They’ve set standards against which they’ll be judged in future. Next week they face another young team on a rapid rise. You get the feeling it won’t be the last time they clash in a match of great consequence. Romance demands that the Bulldog run continues. But romance has no more say in it than a multitude of other factors. Football is never preordained. Hawthorn just made it feel like it was, for a while.


HAWTHORN                     3.4    7.5     8.9     12.12 (84)
WESTERN BULLDOGS  1.5   6.10   12.11   16.11 (107)

Shiels 2, Hodge 2, Sicily, Gunston, Puopolo, Rioli, Hill, Breust, Fitzpatrick, Burgoyne,
Western Bulldogs: Stringer 3, Picken 3, Smith 2, Bontempelli 2, Wood, McLean, Dunkley, Roughead, Dickson, Daniel

 Burgoyne, Shiels, Hodge, Smith, Puopolo
Western Bulldogs: Bontempelli, Picken , Macrae, Smith, Dunkley, Dahlhaus

Official crowd: 87,823 at the MCG

About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has passed his 40th year as a Carlton member.


  1. Love the bigger picture historical context JB. Remind me again who John Kennedy’s team played against in the “Battle of Britain”? In defeat revenge? They had it coming.

  2. G’day PB

    Yes, twas the Blues. I happened to be at The Oval that day. I haven’t forgotten.

    That aside, Kennedy and Clarkson make for interesting character studies. Many seemingly contradictory impulses within both men.

    See you at the lunch.

  3. The Battle of Britain sticks in my gullet to this day and with time it’s actually getting worse. Mike Sheahan is obsessed with it to the point of unwellness. These days I get more jacked off with the blowhards that ‘celebrate’ it as a moment from the Good Old Days than with any of the participants on the day.

  4. G’day Rick

    The B of B was one of the most pointless and ugly days in the game’s history. Ian Aitken’s career never really recovered from Clarkson’s king hit. To judge by Aitken’s public comments, the two remain unreconciled all these years later.

    But Clarkson was a 19 year-old following the coach’s lead. It’s Kennedy’s attitude to that exhibition game which is hard to fathom as time passes. So he wanted to take the reigning premiers down a notch? Interesting way to go about it.

  5. Love it JB.

    I find the perseverance of club story interesting.
    Players & coaches come and go, but the idea of hard-nosed Hawthorn prevails.
    Like flaky Richmond, luckless Dogs, tragic Saints.
    How much of club story is defined by individuals and his much of individual’s stories are influenced by club is interesting.
    Would L Hodge have been the same player at Geelong?
    Why/ why not?
    Would Geelong “as it should be played” FC have squashed that unsociable aspect? Would Geelong FC now be seen as hard nuts?

    The idea of story, and of being capable of writing ones own story is huge, I think. For players, coaches, everyone.
    Colliwobbles maybe a good example of otherwise capable people being overwhelmed by a story (a.k.a. pressure).

    This is an area seemingly, that L Beveridge has tweaked nicely.
    Like K Hinkley before him.
    And L Cameron.

    Lots to think about. Love it.

  6. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Really good piece, JB. Thought-provoking from an historical context from the Kennedy to Clarkson ethos. In between was Allan Jeans, whose side had the right mix of skill and mongrel about them. Bruns-Matthews incident and the ramifications leap to mind. Plenty of other instances of skulduggery featuring Judge, Dipper, Dermie, Lethal et al in the Jeans era.

    I wonder how the last round of 1987 may have affected Kennedy’s mindset going into the Battle of Britain? Blues pinched it on the siren taking top spot and effectively denying North the double-chance. Fascinating chain of events.

  7. ER, I often ponder how some of the players unfortunate enough to have been at Carlton in the last decade would have fared elsewhere. Time, place, circumstance….

    Phil, Jeans coached against the Hawks in the ’71 GF – a notably brutal affair. An early job application? He certainly didn’t have any trouble fitting in when he got there.

    This isn’t to suggest Hawthorn invented football brutality. For most of their early history they were probably more commonly a victim of it. But no club has bettered their gift for it in modern times.

  8. Peter Fuller says

    I found a characterisation by Garrie Hutchinson a fairly accurate dichotomy of 1970s football. He saw Barassi as a coach in one tradition and most of the other leading coaching figures of the time in the other. Barassi’s teams (Carlton, North) were built on skill and run, Hafey and the succession of Hawks’ coaches focusing more on the physical and defensive aspects of the game.

    Obviously Hutcho (and I) are persuaded by this version favourable to Carlton, but I think it has some validity as an analysis of two differing approaches to the game which persisted into the ’80s.

    Over the years, there has been a focus on the most influential coaches by looking to the number of their players who ultimately coached at the top level. Barassi, Hafey, Jeans and more recently Sheedy have had numbers well into double figures. Clarkson looks like becoming the contemporary pacesetter.

  9. Malcolm Ashwood says

    JB really good and interesting read and as OBP says above it provides as many questions as answers


    “Hawthorn & Footscray headed off in opposite directions soon after their first and only premiership battle. The 1961 triumph was Hawthorn’s first, the first of four over the next 17 years. The Bulldogs wandered back from where they came with no premierships and no grand finals. The clubs are getting ready to meet again, this time in passing with Hawthorn descending and Footscray (Western Bulldogs) on the way up”

    That extract was from taken from Mike Sheahan’s “On Monday” column from the Melbourne Herald, Monday July 28 1980.

    Sheahan’s observations/prognostications were based on the Dogs thumping 53 point home victory (their first win at home against the Hawks in 9 seasons) the previous Saturday. Loveless 8 goals, the unstoppable KT had 23 disposals, 11 marks, 4 goals. Let the good times roll.

    Good things come to those who wait. It might take 36 years but what’s the rush.

    Terrific piece John, as always. Look forward to next weeks offering.


    P.S Romance and Bulldogs? What’s the world coming to!

  11. Thanks for the comments gents.

    Mic, where is the Shane Loveless bio and why haven’t you written it?
    Only 36 years… If nothing else, being a Doggies fan prepares you for the long view.

    Fingers crossed for Saturday.

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