AFL Grand Final: Hawthorn in the driver’s seat
Lance Franklin of the Hawks celebrates a goal during the AFL 1st Preliminary Final match between the Hawthorn Hawks and the Adelaide Crows (Photo: Lachlan Cunningham/AFL Media)
So here we are on the verge of that one day in September. The grand final awaits.
On one side we have the team everyone said would get there, and on the other the club no one thought could.
We have the flashy, fancy Hawks, everyone’s tip, a year-long premiership favourite containing the magnetism of Buddy Franklin and the wizardry of Cyril Rioli.
They are up against the supposedly dour, continually underrated Swans, who count a Canadian rugby player and half a dozen off-cuts from other clubs among their key planks.
But both sides are similar in many ways – no two sides are as tough in the clinches, as keen to get it to the outside, and to move it quickly when they do, and each possess multi-pronged forward set-ups.
Where they are possibly most similar is setting up superbly in defence, which is hardly a surprise between two grand finalists. Defence wins premierships is a common enough catch-cry, and with good reason.
No side does it better than Sydney, and Ted Richards leads the way as the best in the business, combining with Heath Grundy and Alex Johnson to choke off opposition forward fifty entries with regularity, feeding the ball off to the likes Marty Mattner, Nick Malceski and Rhys Shaw to provide dash and run.
Hawthorn’s equivalent to Richards is Josh Gibson, although the latter often prefers the big spoil over taking the mark.
Ryan Shoenmakers is the (often shaky) stay-at-home full back, with Ben Stratton in support. Grant Birchall and Matthew Suckling provide the run, each with lethal left foot.
Perhaps Brent Guerra will be back this week for last-line duties, potentially to play on Ben McGlynn in the battle of the dodgy hamstrings.
The Hawks are a bit more vulnerable down back to quick ball movement coming in than the Swans are, and Sydney are the fast-break specialists, so expect a few cheap goals under those circumstances.
If the Swans try to get it in long and high, it will play into Gibson’s hands. As good as Sydney were against Collingwood, they still need to do some work tidying up that last kick inside fifty.
Lewis Roberts-Thomson, the rare breed of ‘role-playing’ key forward, is likely to get the job of keeping Josh Gibson honest, and there may be no more crucial match-up in the entire match. If Gibson is allowed off the chain to punch and mark at will, the Swans will have trouble taking enough marks inside fifty to kicking a winning score.
The Swans have shown they will use LRT as a target too, his two goals on Friday night against Collingwood are proof enough of that. He’s been a regular scoreboard contributor throughout the year, and, despite his obvious limitations, shapes as an important player.
It’s been well documented how the really big ‘monster’ forwards have troubled the Hawthorn defence, and it’s been especially true over the past month against high quality teams. Jack Darling took a match-high nine marks and kicked three against them in round 23, Travis Cloke led all-comers with eight and six in the first final, and Kurt Tippett did the same with eleven and four on Saturday evening, accompanied by another four majors to Taylor Walker.
What plays in the Hawks favour is the Swans don’t have the really big unit coming out of the goal-square.
Sam Reid is talented and blessed with beautiful hands, but is still slight, and struggling for impact. Five marks, fifteen possessions and a goal has been his below-par contribution in the finals so far, and he needs to go up several levels.
Adam Goodes is a champion of course, and potential game-shaper, but doesn’t tear teams apart through brute strength and contested marking, while the combination of Mike Pyke and Shane Mumford will find a goal between them at some point, hopefully not from an umpiring decision plucked from nowhere in a ruck contest.
Lewis Jetta is another problem altogether, and has been damaging in both finals so far. He’s got the knack of kicking the important goal, often in scintillating, team-lifting fashion. He needs to be the victim of a hard tag, and I’d give the task to Clinton Young, who can also hurt going the other way.
Up the other end, Franklin will obviously be causing headaches for Richards and co. He kicked 4.3 against them in his return from a hamstring injury in round 22, and has been in ominous form since, improving with each outing.
Fresh off eight scoring shots from twenty touches against the Crows, he’s ready to deliver the big game performance of his life.
It won’t be a lone hand from Buddy of course, as the Hawks have many players who regularly find the big sticks. Luke Bruest provides huge pressure and finishing skills, Jack Gunston has been a handy foil as the third tall, and David Hale has had a career-best season alternating between ruck and forward.
Jarryd Roughead was a non-entity the last time these sides met and will be looking to rebound. He’s only kicked one goal in the last four matches, and his team needs more marks within goal-kicking distance from him.
If the above isn’t enough to make the mouth water, then what about the midfield battles that await us?
What a roll call of talent we’ll see plying their trade on the biggest stage, each of them as hard as flint. Josh Kennedy. Sam Mitchell. Keiran Jack. Brad Sewell. Jude Bolton. Luke Hodge. Ryan O’Keefe. Jordan Lewis. Dan Hanneberry.
It’s going to take a brave player to put themselves between any of the above and the ball when it’s there to be won. They all hit like a Mack truck and don’t mind taking punishment either.
Add in Jarrad McVeigh, probably the most poised and polished of the Sydney elite, and they might just bat a bit deeper at the coalface. Hawthorn probably makes up for it on the outside with Isaac Smith, Liam Shiels and Xavier Ellis, if he makes the cut, and we know their bevy of elite runners and precise disposal can cut a team to ribbons.
Sam Mitchell, especially, will be keen for a big game, and he’s my Norm Smith medal tip. He only had thirteen touches as captain in 2008, but led the way with a match high seven tackles, which is what you want from a leader when they can’t get their hands on the ball as often as they’d like.
There’s a nice symmetry to he and Luke Hodge switching places as Norm Smith medallist and premiership captain. Much has been made of Mitchell missing this year’s All-Australian team, and the voters will have that in mind when making their decision.
The Hawks only just overcame the Crows, but in reality they outplayed them comprehensively early, and should have put the game away.
Inside fifties don’t always tell the story (we only need to look at Sydney’s defeat of Adelaide for proof – the Swans lost the count 37-59 but had the game played on their terms and were easily the superior side), but they did on Saturday.
Hawthorn won the count 64-38, with many of those entries of a high quality. They didn’t result in goals through a combination of poor kicking, dropped marks and fumbled ground balls.
If the Hawks forward structure is similarly good this week and their midfield is able to deliver again, it’s unlikely the same mistakes will be made twice in a row.
When these sides met in round 22, the Hawks weren’t prepared for the intensity and pressure of the Swans after a couple of soft wins against Port and Gold Coast, finding themselves 38 points down halfway through the second quarter.
Once they settled into the rhythm of the match, Hawthorn outscored Sydney 14.9 to 7.6 from that point on. I’m not one for hoodoo’s of any description, so don’t care about the Swans poor MCG record, but the ground will suit the Hawks more than the SCG did, which gives us a pointer to the likely result.
When I was going for my driver’s license, I made several errors in my final lesson, which was immediately beforehand, nervous under the weight of expectation.
Who wants to be known as the guy who failed their driving test, right? Afterwards, my instructor told me that he’s always more confident when a learner makes a few mistakes in the preceding lesson, because it sharpens them up when the heat is really on.
It’s a lesson that’s stuck with me through the years, and is why, much like Geelong in 2007 who went through a very similar situation as the hottest of favourites, Hawthorn will be crowned premiers in 2012.
Sydney to put up one hell of a fight in an entertaining and exciting battle, but Hawthorn will wear them down in the end to win by 25 points.
Cameron Rose is a born and bred Melbournian, raised on a regime of AFL, cricket and horse racing. He likes people who agree with him but loves those that don't, for in his mind there is nothing better than a roaring debate. He tweets from @camtherose.