Hawks’ Secret Revealed – Copy the Uni Blacks

by Ray Wilson


Forget sports science, pre-game strategy meetings, genius at selection, or match-day coaching masterstrokes. The great thinkers follow one simple rule – forensically discover a winning precedent, and replicate it.


The famous University Blacks hit a down patch that found them in E Section of the Victorian Amateurs in 2000. Since then, they have risen through the sections, playing in six grand finals for five premierships, culminating in winning the A Section premiership last Saturday week by 44 points. Importantly, it included the elusive back-to-back achievement craved for by all at Hawthorn.


Last Thursday evening about 25 Blacks people who had gone the extra mile at the club over the past 15 years had dinner together, and swapped stories of their favourite happenings over those golden years. Some were insightful, some were serious, some were sentimental, most were just funny. A favourite was from a B Section Reserves game three or four years ago. The standard of B Section is pretty good, so the fundamentals of preparation for the game these days apply. Like players arriving about three hours before the game, pre-game discussions in small groups, stretching and warm up in the rooms, and the coach’s last minute motivational speech. This day the players ran out, did a lap, and readied themselves for the five minute on-field warm up with the balls. Except there were no footballs. There actually were footballs on the ground, but they were all in use by the opposing team. Innovation was at hand. As the Blacks kicked the first three goals of the game with the opponents barely getting a possession, speculation remains as to whether the opposition lost focus after seeing 22 Blacks players doing the warm up with line drill using a single tennis ball.


Following Hawthorn’s demolition of Sydney, the media has been full of attribution of causal effects. Coaches, administrators, the fitness staff, loyal fans, sticking it up Buddy, the tradition of Kennedy’s Commandos, a pre-finals visit from Jason Dunstall, and even the actual ability of the players have been praised as key contributors. But the Almanac can now exclusively reveal the true hero.  We all know the Thursday training run is for the fans to gather in their thousands to cheer their heroes. No training is actually done then. The real final training session is a closed one the Friday before the game. Always short and sharp, total emphasis on skills, quickness of hand and foot, goal kicking practice. Last Friday Hawthorn’s squad was all warmed up, the balls were called for, but none were forthcoming. To polite questioning the property steward answered they were all locked away, and he did not think they could be accessed. It is unsure if he had a tennis ball in his pocket, but the next sentence directed at him from a coach was not a question, and contained un-parliamentary language.  This caused a slight loss of nerve by our property man, and if he was about to produce a tennis ball he abandoned the plan and said he thought he could rustle up some yellow balls. At that point he was informed that the grand final was not played with yellow balls. He compromised.


So it transpired that the Hawthorn players, who on Saturday played the almost perfect game using red balls, used yellow balls for the first half of their final training session. Two questions remain. Would they have played the perfect game had they exactly copied the Uni Blacks and used a tennis ball, and who was the mole at the Blacks’ Thursday private dinner with a direct or indirect line to the Hawthorn property steward, the true architect of the club’s back-to-back triumph.


Ray Wilson

Hawthorn 1971 premiership player, former president of University Blacks, captain of University Blacks back-to-back premierships 1964-5, whose son-in-law is the brother of a Hawthorn assistant coach, the one in charge of strategic and tactical innovation. The author claims no responsibility for Hawthorn’s win.


For more footy (and other sports) articles, return to www.footyalmanac.com.au



  1. Love it Ray, the Adelaide Uni Blacks could well take this into next season. We certainly want to learn something from how you’ve gone about things in Melbourne. This latest flag is the crowning glory in a period of sustained excellence.

    I’ve heard on the Blacks grapevine that the lost art of goalkicking is one of your passions in footy. I reckon the ‘tennis ball method’ could add something there too.

    Come to think of it, we could probably bring subs down by 50% if we adopted it across the board!

  2. Ray

    I thought that was the perfect game.

    Shudders arriving at Kardinia about now.


  3. The footballing equivalent of the golf ball with the cricket stump?

  4. There is a section in legendary NBA coach Phil Jackson’s autobiography about having the players practice in a darkened stadium. You had to sense where the ball was coming from before you could see it.
    Hawthorn’s midfield running and sharing looked like it came from an other-worldly fourth dimension on Saturday.

  5. Malcolm Rulebook Ashwood says

    Ditto TM Above , great read go the blacks

  6. Pete Granger says

    I am a backpacker from Mars. Can you please confirm. You are a team of blacks who go to university. You play a game called footsy, which involves kicking a red pigs bladder between two sticks in the ground. The secret to winning a Grand Final is to practice kicking a tenor’s balls until they turn yellow. Have I got that right?

  7. All that’s correct Pete Granger, except to say that they have to be old tennis balls. New tennis balls are too fluffy and don’t hang in the air quite the same way.

  8. Great stuff Mr Wilson. I noticed that as the Hawks and Swans came up the race and onto the MCG the Hawks, to a man, were clutching a red footy while the Swans players came on to the ground empty handed. I can only conclude two things having read your incisive analysis. That is, the Hawks having trained as you describe were now not going to let that red sherrin out of their clutches and the Swans were only just then (and all too late) going to try the no-ball option.

  9. Matt Zurbo says

    Ha, you beauty Ray!

  10. Helen Bosworth says

    Your rhetoric still makes me smile…

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