The Hawks and Cats drama continues
If you were to try and understand why people get so much from a contest of AFL football, look no further than the Hawks versus the Cats last Friday night.
It was the ultimate illustration of the reason why AFL fans can, as a collective and as individuals, be so utterly involved and consumed by a game.
The spectacle itself was magnificent – acts of courage and desperation alongside feats of indescribable skill, a perfect demonstration of both the style and substance of the sport of Australian Rules football.
But the way the story unfolded, the consequences of victory and defeat and the weight that came with it, was what made it a truly compelling experience.
As a source of entertainment, it had everything. An explosive start, stirring fight back and nail-biting end. An underdog Geelong side, champions but seen to have had their day, facing the red hot, premiership favourite Hawthorn, who have destroyed all comers in recent weeks.
Two clubs with some of the richest history of any in the competition, both individually and in contests against each other. This contest provided the potential quality of drama that would be hard pressed to be surpassed by anything to come out of Hollywood.
The start the Cats produced, defying the expectations of all but the most optimistic of Geelong fan, was truly sublime. An exhibition of breath taking football made even more exceptional by the quality of the opposition.
The performance the Hawks produced to then come back, from 51 points down early in the second quarter to hit the front in the last, matched it. They climbed off the canvas and counter punched, gained the initiative and the momentum and had us believing in them again.
At this point, the game had had enough twists and turns to satisfy even the most sceptical spectator.
The pressure of the last quarter was felt by all that witnessed it. It was compelling and you felt involved in every contest.
This is where sport is at its finest, when it allows you to be drawn in and invested in the drama on the field, when it defies all expectations and predictions to produce events that, even witnessed first-hand, cannot quite be believed.
Tom Hawkins’ goal on the siren, from outside 50 to cap off a haul of six, was truly the stuff of football legend. If it sounds clichéd, that’s because it is. How many have dreamed of kicking the goal after the siren to win the game?
Every single one of those that ever played the game have had this wish, as well as anyone who wished they had played.
It is a dream that almost defines the game itself, and is the spark that ignites so many great careers.
Hawkins will always be known for that kick, no matter whatever else he does or has done. This from a man whose performance in last year’s grand final is already career defining. If that was the moment a somewhat dubious football public became convinced by him, this was the moment they fell in love with him.
There is, of course, the added mystery of the Hawks continued inability, despite consistent quality of play and periods of total dominance, to beat Geelong. Nine games since the 2008 premiership, three and a half seasons, without a win against a side they just can’t shake.
To a football fan caught up in the romance of the game, this is the stuff of folklore.
The impact this streak has on Hawthorn is made worse by the impact it has at Geelong. No team wants to slip into the habit of feeling invincible, but a nine game winning streak against a team lauded by most before Friday night to already have one hand on the cup will do the world of good to any team.
If Hawthorn meets Geelong at any point in the finals, they will have a right to be nervous.
What about those other teams? After Friday night, who would want to meet the Cats in the finals now? No club would feel safe, despite any home advantage, at any point in the game, against this experienced Cats side in their current form.
As individuals and as a unit, they have an aura about them that is hard to deny and impossible to replicate.
Beware Geelong, a team that believes they can beat anybody. And now everyone else believes it too.