Round 3 – Hawthorn v Western Bulldogs: As Good As It Gets

Where do you start a story? This one started about a week ago. The discussion on radio the other day again centered on how much better footy was in the early 90’s than it is now, with Carey, Kernahan, Dunstall and Ablett starring back then. I remember the early 90’s well and remember the discussion then was that footy was better in the 60’s and 70’s with Whitten, Skilton, Farmer, Hudson, Stewart and Baldock. Having done historical research I found articles written in the low scoring 60’s saying how good footy was in the free flowing 30’s with Pratt, Coventry, Bunton and Reynolds. Back in the 30’s they would discuss the great exploits of Thurgood in the 1890’s.

It seems an era is never really appreciated until it is gone. Apparently today’s footy is no good due to the congested packs, low scoring and other general ailments which in twenty years time will probably be hailed as the thing that made the game so good in the 2010’s.

As a kid in my early days of following footy in the late 70’s everything was interesting. I was like a dog that had been let loose at the local park with its tail wagging uncontrollably, not knowing where to run to first and barking at the sky out of pure happiness. The train rides to the suburban grounds with their history and character, my heroes on footy cards with a stick of pink bubble gum, Peter Landy and the replays on Seven’s Big League, duffel coats with player badges and individual designs, small convenient Footy Records, experiencing the elements on a Saturday afternoon, no abominable away jumpers, goal umpires who looked like your local butcher, and getting updates on the radio from around the grounds. This was as good as it gets.

Rose coloured glasses and the innocence of youth glossed over many points though. Those suburban grounds could at times be smelt before they were seen due to over flowing urinals and the air was also thick from smoker’s pollution so you had a choice of aromas. If it rained you invariably got wet, good luck getting a hot pie, the shocking condition of the playing surfaces and clubs going bankrupt chasing stars.

It was a different time and a different place that cannot be revisited. Days when players had a can in one hand and a smoke in the other after a game. Even if it was enjoyable it is probably for the best that it remains in the past.

Hawthorn are playing the Western Bulldogs in Tassie. I watched their respective Reserves teams, Footscray and Box Hill, play at the old Western Oval on the Saturday. This is the remnant of the old VFA and the passion that competition evoked in the 70’s is long gone. The outer, or Doug Hawkins wing, is now a grassy embankment and you can see Gordon St as the supporters shelter and coach’s box in the lookout tower are long gone. The Geelong Road end has the familiar look of the bridge going over the rail line but the high fence with its advertising is no longer there and another neutral suburban embankment resides where the younger members of the Footscray cheer squad used to be located. The old grandstand has been replaced by a structure that is as impressive as it is almost unbelievable for an area that time had almost forgotten. The one familiar remnant of the past is that a fair breeze will always be blowing. But the ground is in magnificent condition and the game is played at a fast pace. My Hawks get up (11.4.70 to 7.15.57) due to making more of their opportunities as the Dogs had many more scoring shots. It was a good game and an enjoyable friendly environment at a suburban venue as young families had a pleasant day out. There’s never much excited parochialism at a Reserves encounter.

By Tuesday afternoon I receive a couple of DVDs from a friend as I am not able to travel to Tassie nor do I have Foxtel. Watching the game is more of a review. It is a cool but glorious sunny day with a strong wind to the left of screen. The poplars outside the ground have turned golden in these early autumn afternoons and the air has a bit of bite to it. The ground seems to have a nice suburban character and a superb surface which is superbly captured by the cameras around the ground. This is as good a setting as you can find, it almost blends the best of the past with the best of the modern.

For us Hawks fans it is great to see Whitecross return after missing 18 months and two premierships. Apart from Frawley, Shiels and Hill being absent we are close to full strength and the doggies have lost a few. The signs are in our favour, particularly as we have a good understanding of playing the ground. Our recent record at the York Park is apparently that we have won 18 of our last 19 here (I assume that the commentators did their research) but like Geelong’s record at home it is tempered by the fact that certain clubs don’t make the trek down here. The Bulldogs are a young and exciting team with plenty of run which had seen them win their opening two games.

Bob Murphy wins the toss and wisely chooses to kick with the prevailing breeze. The opening term is tight as the Hawks concede the first two goals but fight back to lead by 2 points at the first change. Michael Talia is getting plenty of touches, Tom Boyd shows glimpses of why he is so valuable and even the much maligned Jarrad Grant finds a bit of the pill as well; but Hawthorn has already had nearly 40 more possessions, with Rioli trying party tricks of slapping the ball between his legs for the benefit of his team mate.

In the second term the class of the Hawks comes to the fore and 9 goals are added to their tally as they enter half time nearly double the score of their opponents. The skills and speed at which manoeuvrings are executed is like military precision. This really is as good as it gets. The second half is a formality as the game Doggies were simply no match. Ten different goalkickers and nearly 500 possesions – 10 players had 24 touches or more with Hodge holding a clinic equalling the club record of 44. Roughead kicks 7 goals and Rioli shows that taking spectacular marks is not a fluke as he does it twice in the space of a few minutes. I saw the great Hawthorn sides of the 80’s and this team deservedly sits alongside those. Should they happen to win the premiership again they can fairly claim to be the best ever to represent the brown and gold. They stack up well against their predecessors when I looked at their current line-up against that of 1989:

B:    Collins – Duryea             Langford – Lake           Ayres – Burgoyne

HB: Tuck – Hodge                  Mew – Gibson              Jencke – Birchall

C:    Dipper – Smith                Wittman – Shiels         Pritchard – Hill

HF: Buckenara – Langford    Brereton – Gunston    Hall – Rioli

F:    Anderson – Puopolo        Dunstall – Roughead   Morrissey – Breust

R:    G.Dear – Ceglar                Condon –  Lewis          Platten – Mitchell

Int:  Kennedy – Suckling        Curran –  McEvoy

Schwab – Stratton            Gowers – Frawley

This is truly as good as it gets and a time to savour for all Hawks fans. The sun is shining and it is fantastic to feel the warmth of its rays. In an 18 team competition it doesn’t take much to slip back into the pack and time near the head of the ladder can be brief. For the moment life is good and there to be lived.

Hawthorn:    2.3   11.6   14.7   19.13 ( 127 )
Bulldogs: 2.1  6.1   8.6   8.9  ( 57 )



Hawthorn:  Roughead 7, Gunston 2, Breust 2, Hodge 2, Hartung, McEvoy, Rioli, Birchall, Puopolo, Mitchell.
Bulldogs: T. Boyd 3, Honeychurch, Dahlhaus, Jong, Crameri, Minson.



Hawthorn:  Hodge, Roughead, Lewis, Smith, Birchall, Mitchell, Duryea, Langford.
Bulldogs: Dahlhaus, Jong, Talia, Murphy, T. Boyd, Minson.


Umpires:  Ryan, Mitchell, Harris.

Official crowd:  15, 559.


Our Votes:  3 Hodge ( Haw. )  2 Roughead  ( Haw. ) 1 Smith (Haw)


  1. Nice work Armin. Have to give it to your 80s line up over the current one in most positions but that is probably based on completed careers of the 80s guys whereas many of Hawthorn’s current list have many years to cement complete their story and cement their positions of relative greatness in my mind.

  2. Steve Hodder says

    Crikey, haven’t you opened up the proverbial can of worms? A lot of great Hawks’ careers lapped over from the 70’s well into the 80’s e.g. Mathews (six goals in the ’83 GF), Knights, Eade, Green, Wallace (have we forgotten how good our VC was?), Schwab (lousy coach as was Knights), Lovridge and what about Lester-Smith et al? The problem is we had an evolving side throughout the 80’s; as we did in the 70’s, as is the latest lot and the comparing of sides is tough. But fun!

    No Hale? is there room for the big fella in the current “best side”?


  3. That 1989 line-up is a team of all-time legends. I have followed the Hawks since the 1970’s and saw the entire 1980’s unfold before me and I know how great we were as I witnessed it first hand.

    The reason I looked at lining up our current squad against the 1989 squad (both back-to-back premiers) was to show that our current squad stacks up very well. They are two different eras so the playing styles were different (set positions v versatility). For example Dunstall wouldn’t be able to play one on one these days due to defensive flooding and he wouldn’t go on-ball like Roughead. I don’t want to say one is better than another but to point out the current line up is providing similar results and we should be appreciating them in the same vein.

    Hawthorn were at their peak 1986-1989 with the following record including finals
    1986 20 wins, 5 losses – Premiers
    1987 19 wins, 7 losses – Runners Up
    1988 21 wins, 3 losses – Premiers
    1989 21 wins, 3 losses – Premiers
    81 wins, 18 losses – 81.8% winning record

    The current team has had the following record over the last 3 years
    2012 19 wins, 6 losses – Runners Up
    2013 22 wins, 3 losses – Premiers
    2014 20 wins, 5 losses – Premiers
    61 wins, 14 losses – 81.3% winning record

    Speaking hypothetically only and requiring a degree of optimism, if Hawthorn were to go through the season with a 21 win, 4 loss season and win the flag then they would have matched the three premierships from the 1986-89 period with 82 wins and 18 losses at 82% which would be at a better winning percentage, would have three in a row which the great 80’s sides couldn’t manage and they are doing it in an18 team competition with the draft restricting recruiting.

    It is impossible to compare players in different eras other than compare the records that they achieved as a team – otherwise it is based on opinions and bias.

    We had one of the all time great sides in the 80’s and this current side has the capacity to be able to match that, and for me that is as good as it gets as I didn’t think I would ever see a Hawthorn side again that would be capable of producing the records set in the 80’s

    Matthews, Knights, Eade, Greene, Wallace and Lester-Smith had retired or moved on by 1989. For the same reason I haven’t included Franklin, Croad, Crawford, Guerra, Sewell etc in the current line-up.

    With the arrival of Frawley and improvement of Ceglar I don’t think that Hale would be in our best 22 at present as we would be too top heavy with all of them in at once.

  4. Steve Hodder says

    Heck! Hard to argue with stats like that, but the ’86 team oozed as much class as ’89, regardless of the stats. Eade was good, really really good. Remember the ’84 Prelim? So was Wallace! Haven’t seen Hale this year, but if he’s not in our best 22 then we must be in good shape; or something horrible has really befallen the mighty Mayblooms. Hope this isn’t all academic re: 2015.


  5. Steve Hodder says

    Nope, got it wrong. I meant the ’84 Second Semi against Essendon. Eade, Wallace, Lester-Smith, they were seriously good!


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