The Not-so-dirty Dozen – ranking the Hawks’ premierships

Every Premiership brings with it an effusion of hyperbolic praise from all and sundry, particularly unexpectedly emphatic performances such as Hawthorn’s on the weekend.  But when the club’s own legends start claiming this as the greatest victory ever you’ve either got some serious exaggeration on your hands or they’ve got a point.

So why don’t we do some objective measurement of Hawthorn’s Grand Final successes and come up with a ranking?

It’s a relatively easy task in Hawthorn’s case in that their Premiership successes are all pretty recent. We can more easily compare like with like, and, for someone my age, draw on our own recollections of most of the games.

Here, for what it’s worth, is my ranking in reverse order. I’m not bothering with a rigorous set of criteria. It’s just a quick reflection on the quality of the performances, the calibre of the opposition and a sense of the significance each win in the broader context of the club’s history.

I’m surprised a few Hawk diehards haven’t already indulged in this task already. But as a neutral and with the perspective of having watched over 40 Grand Finals live, I reckon I’ve taken a fair bit of the emotional and recent memory bias out of this assessment. Hopefully, it might prompt some debate.

12.  1983 – 20.20 (140) v Essendon 8.9.(57).

A dominant performance but achieved by a competent rather than outstanding side up against a Grand Final novice that was utterly clueless on the day.

11.  1988 – 22.20 (152) v Melbourne 6.20 (56).

A similar game to 1983 against similarly inept, inexperienced opposition. However, I score it slightly higher because of Hawthorn’s complete obliteration of a hitherto plucky Melbourne side and because one had to admire the brilliance of a great team that performed to its best on the day, memorably illustrated by “the wall”.

10.  1991 – 20.19 (139) v West Coast 13.8 (86).

One could arguably rank this as one of the great Grand Final triumphs by a side that defeated an opponent that had been absolutely the best-performed team during the regular season. In truth this feat was achieved with Hawthorn’s upset Qualifying Final win in Perth which I rate as one of the Hawks’ greatest finals victories. But by the time the Eagles had reached the Grand Final, on their 3rd consecutive road trip to Waverley, they were ripe for the picking – fatigued and out-psyched by the well-rested, highly experienced Hawks. Their last quarter capitulation confirmed this. A last hurrah from a great era.

9.  2013 – 11.11 (77) v Fremantle 8.14 (62).

A hard-fought victory against a side that many had tipped to win.  However, in retrospect the relative worth of the victory ranks lower than others because Freo was exposed as having the frailty and nervousness that characterises so many Grand Final novices. Neither a great Grand Final, nor an outstanding win.

8.  1978 – 18.14 (122) v North Melbourne 15.14 (104).

This was the “decider” in the Hawthorn v North 1970s Grand Final rivalry. It was a decent game, closely contested between the two best sides of the season, in which Hawthorn emerged as a deserved but unspectacular winner. Interestingly, the win was followed by a mini-slump in which Hawthorn missed the finals for the next three years.

7.  1976 – 13.22 (100) v North Melbourne 10.10 (70).

Not a game I have strong memories of and, on face value, a relatively mundane victory over a gallant North side which had done well just to make the Grand Final. However, in exacting revenge for their thrashing in 1975 and the legacy of “Crimmo’s Cup”, the Hawks’ win gains greater standing than it might otherwise deserve.

6.  1971 – 12.10 (82) v St Kilda 11.9 (75).

Hawthorn deserves considerable credit for winning this one in the face of brutal opposition tactics. In an era in which full-forwards were the dominant avenue to goal, the concussion suffered by Peter Hudson could have been and, indeed looked, fatal to Hawthorn’s chances when they trailed by 20 points at 3/4 time. In coming from behind with a reshaping of their forward line, which was highly unusual in those times, the club and their coach, John Kennedy, gained great kudos, much as Sheedy’s last quarter reshuffle in 1984 – against Hawthorn – also forged a legend.

5.  2008 – 18.7 (115) v Geelong 11.23 (89).

This was the supreme upset against a team on the verge of a near-perfect season. For this reason alone it deserves a high ranking. But in truth, for all Hawthorn’s clever tactics and shining contributions from lesser lights, it was a game thrown away by inept Geelong finishing. A famous, but lucky victory.

4.  1961 – 13.16 (94) v Footscray 7.9 (51)).

An emphatic, seemingly nerveless, performance for a first ever Grand Final appearance, especially after 36 seasons of largely rank failure. This win charted the course of Hawthorn’s destiny and helped create the first of many Hawthorn “legends” in John Kennedy. These factors alone count for plenty, although as this is the only Hawthorn Flag I wasn’t alive for and haven’t watched in full, it is hard to make other comments.

3.  1989 – 21.18 (144) v Geelong 21.12 (138).

The game that everyone talks about, but for a whole lot of reasons other than Hawthorn’s victory. It was in fact an alarmingly narrow escape for a side that had dominated the season and controlled the game for three quarters, set up by eight 1st quarter goals in the face of some “amateur hour” rough-house tactics from an unfocussed opponent that was clearly not accustomed to the Grand Final stage. That this game rates so highly on this list stems in part from the quality of the contest but more so from the extraordinary resilience Hawthorn displayed in hanging on with barely 13 fit players after Geelong’s brutal assault and in the face of the pure genius of Ablett. The significance of the result is magnified by it being their first back-to-back effort.

2.  1986 – 16.14 (110) v Carlton 9.14 (68).

This will probably seem a surprisingly high ranking for a win that is not widely talked about but to me this was a hugely significant result for Hawthorn at the time and one which in hindsight has many parallels with 2014. Hawthorn had lost its previous two Grand Finals, badly, to Essendon and had been well beaten by Carlton in the semi-final, having to win their way through via the Preliminary Final. Carlton had used the last off-season before the introduction of the draft to pick the eyes out of the interstate talent and had lured Kernahan, Bradley, Motley and Dorotich and others to the club. A Blues’ premiership was fully expected, but Hawthorn simply blitzed them on the day, a long, bouncing goal by Buckenara (?), epitomising a game in which everything went perfectly for the Hawks, much as it did on Saturday. The final 42 point margin flattered the losers who were 10 goals down well before the end. A game that could easily have tagged Hawthorn as a serial Grand Final choker but which instead precipitated their late 80s dominance and clear emergence as the team of that decade.

1.  2014 – 21.11 (137) v Sydney 11.8 (74).

An unexpected, completely dominant display against a highly respected opponent that had beaten them two years previously and had strengthened their side significantly since. Adversity overcome through the year shouldn’t really count when assessing the performance on the day but the fact that the residual consequences of this (e.g. to select Cyril or not) were still playing out in Grand Final week, whilst Sydney were settled and stable, has to play a part in the ranking. It was, truly, a triumph achieved against the odds. The stellar performances of a number of young and unheralded players contributed to a complete team performance that was in stark contrast to the spasmodic, nervy display the week before.

So there it is. I think Dermie, Dunstall and others have a fair point and this probably was the greatest Grand Final win in this remarkable half century of success. One could possibly quibble about the lacklustre standard of the opposition in the 2014 and 1986 games, but I think that is the point. The Hawks were underdogs in both games against class opponents and on the day made them look second-rate. Wins like this rate more highly in my book than run-of-the mill thrashings by teams at their best – rather like Keiren Perkins’ “rare gold” 1500 metre victory.

But that’s just me. What do others think?








About Sam Steele

50 years a Richmond supporter. Enjoying a bounteous time after 37 years of drought. Should've been a farmer!


  1. Loved the article Sam.

    I still think 1989 wins hand down. I remember it well and the anxiety of the last quarter. Although watching Dermie in pain and in slow motion again and again is not helpful.

  2. Let’s face it – the 1986 Carlton team was not much chop, and I follow them.

    All those big-name recruits you mention had played about 20 games each, less in Motley’s case, and Bradley for one was well and truly cooked for the year by GF day. At the other end of the experience scale Maclure and Doull were about three stops past their station, Hunter and Johnno weren’t fit, and the others had contributed to an appalling finals record since their 82 flag. Leaving Silvagni out wasn’t the best decision ever made either.

    Hawthorn were workmanlike and disciplined, and their pressure at the man with the ball was outstanding, but like the even more chronically GF-traumatised Collingwood in 1990, they were no better than the (lack of) class of the other mob meant they needed to be, they were coasting half way through the third quarter, and any tension that was left stayed strictly on our side of the fence.

    1986 lags well behind 1978 and 2008 on quality of opposition, and on individual match highlights. The 78 decider is one of the most underrated of all grand finals.

  3. Peter Fuller says

    This is an interesting exercise and probably the better for being undertaken by a non-Hawk. I think the real question is the weighting. You seem to be focusing primarily on the Grand Final as a single match, while giving consideration to the strength of the opposition. Should the focus there be how good was the 2nd best team, or how difficult was it to eliminate or avoid other contenders?
    All pre-1994 GFs meant that the team with the Preliminary final weak off was at a considerable advantage, which makes the 1986 performance more meritorious than it would otherwise have been (note some of Rick N’s comments). I rate 1971 highly, fierce and quality opposition, more so than any of the pre-1980s. I’d rank the ’80s as 1. 1989, 2. ’86, 3. ’83, 4.’88. Of the recent ones 2008 IMO ranks highest, followed by 2014, 2013 and 1991 approximately equal.

  4. I suppose for Hawthorn fans this exercise is like choosing between your children.

    Peter – my focus was the Grand Final itself, rather than the finals campaign or the season as a whole. But then it’s hard to isolate the one game entirely. As I say, 1986 rates highly in my view because Hawthorn overcame adversity to get there and turned the tables emphatically on a team that beat them well just two weeks beforehand. I daresay Brisbane fans would rate their 2003 Flag just as high for the very same reasons.

    Rick – interesting comments about 1978. I certainly recall some great high marking highlights and a “Norm Smith”performance from Dipper but I’m not sure that either side was an absolute standout. Carlton in 1986 won 18 games compared to 16 by Hawthorn and North in 1978 and beat the Hawks by nearly 5 goals in the Second semi.

    Nice to hear from you, Cousin. No-one will ever forget 1989 in a hurry and maybe, by my own criteria, Hawthorn’s effort on the day in the face of huge challenges should warrant a higher ranking.

    I don’t hear too many disputes about 2014 being No. 1 though.

  5. Enjoyed reading the piece and your rankings Stainless. I agree with you about ’83 being the worst. It was my first GF in the flesh. Shit game. Swans win in 2005 was my only other attendance. Shit result.
    I only have vague memories of a lot of these, but if you are judging it on best game to watch for a non partisan – then ’89 is top of my list for GF’s. Period. I just remember being enthralled all game.
    2014 is the most complete performance by any team in a GF – but it was boring to watch for a non-combatant. More like applauding a virtuoso piano sonata. Brilliant but sterile.
    Well played SS.

  6. Interesting piece, Stainless.
    I am with Cousin: the courage shown by the injured Hawks that day in 1989, to hold off the Cats, was truly something else.

  7. Totally agree PB – I would do a very different ranking if it was judged on entertainment for neutrals. 1989 would be right up there and 2014 was as boring as bats–t! The Ducks just didn’t turn up.

  8. Grant Fraser says

    Interesting article…the best thing about your opinion is it is completely yours and cannot be denied.

    Lunch of 4 besotted Hawks yesterday pegged ’89 in poll position, with 2014 right up there along with ’08. ’71 figured highly for the raw brutality.

    And I agree with sentiment that the best win in ’91 was in the West. The best player of a Hawks finals series ought receive the Stephen Lawrence medal.

  9. In 1978 injuries destroyed North’s campaign.
    We lost David Dench in round 3 with a knee reconstruction.
    Stephen Icke tore a groin late in the season. Brent Croswell broke his arm in the qualifying final.
    In the grand final Stan Alves tore a hamstring and Malcolm Blight tore his groin before half time.
    Hawthorn almost had a free ride to the premiership.

  10. Matt,
    If memory serves me correct Ross Glendinning also did his hammy in the first quarter, chasing Michael Moncrieff who was on a lead.

  11. The 1991 premiership was theft. Three trips in three weeks to Waverley where the Hawks had played 10 times that year and won 9 was a total rip-off by the AFL of the minor premiers who had set the record for H&A of 19.
    The QF at Subiaco was epic, and the Hawks deserved that one but it was only their third trip for the year
    It was going to be pretty tough for the young Eagles side against the finals-hardened Hawks, who they’d beaten twice in the regular season ,one a massacre at Princes Park.
    And to think that they’d played and beaten North at the MCG in round 19,why not for the GF? Still cranky!
    Oh and is it 8 VFL premierships and 4 AFL premierships? They’re officially the best in the AFL but sadly marooned on 8 in the VFL, behind Carlton ,Collingwood , Essendon and Richmond.Do these count in the AFL?
    I wouldn’t think so

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