Grand Final Trilogy

 

This article originally appeared on The Footy Almanac on October 2, 2014, and was written by Justin Lalor.

 

 

I’ve been a passionate Hawthorn fan since I officially adopted the brown and gold as a seven year old back in 1982. Maybe it was the fact that I’m colour blind, or perhaps it was the flair of a new recruit called Gary Buckenara that sold me – but my destiny as a footy supporter had been chosen once I took possession of a stylish long sleeve woollen Hawks jumper.

 

I could never have imagined the good times to come over the next decade. Countless grand final appearances, five premierships and the opportunity to watch the likes of Dunstall, Brereton, Platten, Ayres, Dipper, Langford and Jarman ply their trade.

 

To then be starved of a flag between 1991 and 2008 was surely a good thing. It highlighted that a finals spot, premiership success – and for the Hawks, their very survival as a footy Club – could not be taken for granted. For players and supporters alike – it built resilience, humility, patience, character and a driving hunger to see Hawthorn re-emerge as a footy heavyweight.

 

I wanted to bottle the feeling I had after the 2008 Grand Final victory over Geelong – and I’m sure I wasn’t alone. It was pure elation and I floated on air for days and weeks afterwards. I wasn’t at the game to see it live, but as it unfolded in all its brilliance, as Stewy Dew tore the heart out of every Cats fan, I desperately wished that I was there. From that day onwards, my mission was to find myself at the MCG on the last Saturday in September, cheering my Hawks to another flag – being able to replicate those emotions.

 

Naturally, the opportunity to do such a thing shouldn’t be handed to you on a platter. There was the disappointment of seeing us miss the finals in 2009, an early finals exit in 2010 and then a heartbreaking Preliminary Final loss against the Pies the following year.

 

After a stellar 2012 season, a spot in the Grand Final appeared likely, but when a running goal from Graham Johncock put the Crows in front late in the final quarter of the Prelim it seemed that the rug was going to be pulled out from under me again. Fortunately, the Hawks did just enough to hold on in that game and with a Grand Final ticket in my hand for the very first time, I flew to Melbourne ready to fulfil my dream.

 

Episode 1 (2012 Grand Final):

The Hawks went into the 2012 decider as solid favourites and while I was fairly confident, a recent cliffhanger between the two sides at the SCG suggested the game would be close. The Hawks dominated the early Grand Final exchanges but failed to make the most of their opportunities. Sydney, sensing a chance of their own, rallied strongly to seize back momentum – moving out to a five goal lead during the third quarter. Then the Hawks went on an amazing run of their own to get back to within a point at the final change – game on! I could sense something special was about to happen and of course I was right. What transpired over the next half hour was a see-sawing, brutal, thrilling battle between two desperate sides. The game wasn’t decided until the final minute – but it was Sydney who took the spoils in a classic. I was gutted. The countless ‘what-ifs?’ from the game, the fact we received an unfair tag as chokers, the fact my dream had slipped from my grasp, the fact I returned to work on Monday to find my desk had been decorated in red and white…..it all cut me very deeply. To this day I still haven’t watched a replay of the game and I curse the Fox Footy programmers every time I see it scheduled on ’30 Minute Thrillers’.

 

The disappointment from that day continued to burn within, but I was not deterred.

 

Episode 2 (2013 Grand Final):

Hawthorn’s Grand Final appearance in 2013 came courtesy of another Preliminary Final heart-stopper against Geelong. Our opponents in the big dance were Fremantle, who under Ross Lyon had developed a formidable reputation. Their manic late-season form had many of the experts in their corner and the swarm of purple-clad Dockers fans who descended on Melbourne for the Grand Final was a sight to behold. Once again, I firmly believed that the Hawks could get the job done, but the nagging memories of 2012 had me on edge for the entire day. The Hawks looked determined and certainly made the better of the early going, but I always sensed that Freo were right in the contest. In the third quarter things began to click for them and they got within three points at one stage before eventually going into the final quarter just 10 points adrift. A huge 60 metre bomb from Isaac Smith, a Luke Bruest crumbing snap and a breathtaking dash to the goal square from Bradley Hill appeared to have us home mid-way through the last, yet Freo refused to lie down and surged once more. But in the end, Hawthorn held on for the win and were crowned 2013 Premiers. To be entrenched among the Hawks fans at the ground in those final minutes, to hear the final siren sound, to feel the relief, to finally be there see my team raise the Premiership cup aloft was just a fantastic feeling. And yet, for some unknown reason, that lingering pain in my gut from 2012 remained.

 

Maybe it was the fact that many of the same experts who accused the Hawks of choking in 2012 said the Dockers would have won if they’d taken their chances? Regardless, it still felt like the Hawks had some unfinished business to deal with on Grand Final day. So I began to steel myself for the third and final episode of this trilogy.

 

Episode 3 (2014 Grand Final):

Redemption….maybe that was the key to all of this?

 

After yet again flirting with disaster in the Preliminary Final against a fast-finishing Port Adelaide, the stage was set for a Grand Final re-match against the Swans. In many ways, the setting for the 2014 decider was in stark contrast to what had been the case two years earlier. The Swans were overwhelming favourites, minor premiers and also had Buddy Franklin in their corner. The word on the street was that they’d be too quick, too fierce at the contest and would have too much firepower for the Hawks to handle. Despite this dire outlook, I was a picture of calm in the days leading up to the game and this hadn’t changed as I walked through the MCG gates. Underdog status and a long line of experts who didn’t give us a chance was very reminiscent of 2008. I reckon we can do this!

 

What unfolded over the next three hours was footy nirvana. It was probably the most complete game of footy I’ve ever seen from a Hawthorn side. It was a demolition in every sense of the word, in every facet of the game….it was determined, brutal, relentless, clinical and beautiful! I waited far too long (probably until the early stages of the final quarter) to allow myself to fully relax, but I then spent the next 20 minutes or so absorbing everything around me. That feeling of elation I wanted to bottle back in 2008 had returned. The fact that the Hawks had made such a proud statement as a footy club, the fact they had defied the critics and the doubters and the fact they had performed at their absolute best on the biggest stage of all was wholly satisfying – and I was there to see it. A young bloke of around 10 years of age, along with his dad and his grandfather, were sitting next to me on the day and watching them embrace as they witnessed a famous Hawks premiership together will also stick in my memory.

 

It’s now some three days later and I’m still floating on air. I know I’ve been very fortunate as a footy fan to have experienced the amazing rollercoaster ride of the past three years. The pain in my gut has disappeared. I am content. Mission accomplished.

 

 

Comments

  1. Any Hawthorn supporter has been blessed with the choice they made as a kid. I am now a Hawks fan for my 40th year having adopted them in 1976 and hope to see my 11th premiership although up until 1987 it was restricted to TV. That’s a premiership every 3.6 years for four decades now. They give value for money on the big stage.

    I have been to the 1988, 1989, 1991, 2008, 2012, 2013 and 2014 Grand Finals for 6 wins and 1 loss live and the experience is like no other. Get my ticket tomorrow and can’t wait for another sunny Saturday afternoon in spring at the MCG. You can never get tired of this.

    Go Hawks

  2. Great omen with my Father’s team, West Adelaide winning the SANFL grand final yesterday.

    I was born in ’83, a Hawk premiership year, and also the last time that West Adelaide won a flag.

    I’ve been blessed to be at the ‘G for the 1989, 1991, 2008, 2012, 2013 and 2014 Grand Finals. My only memory of 1989 was my favourite player at the time, Dipper, being wheeled out on a hospital trolley, as we were leaving the ground.

    Bring on another one, c’mon Hawks!

  3. Peter Fuller says:

    I recently played golf with a friend, who is closing on turning seventy. I was surprised at his remark that he has seen the Hawks win 12 flags – as I hadn’t been keeping track of the accumulating number. I also have a number of Hawthorn-supporting friends who have an extra few years on the clock, and thus (unlike Bill) endured their childhood and adolescence when the Mayblooms were mocked as easybeats, including one inglorious winless season, before the first final in 1957 and first flag in ’61.
    You younger Hawks have certainly been blessed.

  4. Hi Justin

    This is a good week to read your report again. You have captured your last few years as if they were mine. It has been a wild, showground ride for Hawkers these last 4 or so years. I remember watching the 2011 Prelim against the Pies slip through our fingers and thinking I’m kinda glad we lost. We weren’t ready and surely would have been thumped by the Cats the following week. Four years later and four GF since then and I’m happy with the trajectory the Hawks took. It has been stellar. We can be arrogant for at least one more week (at least in those rare moments when butterflies aren’t playing out the battle of the Somme in our tummy).

    Cheers

  5. Steve Hodder says:

    Justin,
    I was there in ’78 (sixty cents for a standing room ticket, high up in the Northern Stand), ’87, ’89 and 2012. You take the good with the not so good and you barrack regardless. Butterflies mean anticipation and that means we’ve all got something to look forward to. I can’t wait!

    onya

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