Geelong and Hawthorn notch up eight classics and counting

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    Over Australian football’s storied history, which two sides have had a rivalry as good as this? Not clubs, but teams of a particular era, when the competition gets personal.

    There have been some beauties. The Essendon and Hawthorn sides that battled through the 1980s. Richmond and Collingwood playing five grand finals in ten years from 1919. Carlton and Collingwood in the 1970s. Essendon and North Melbourne around the turn of this century.

    But the last few years between Hawthorn and Geelong would have to rate highly among them.

    We all know the back story. The taste of the 1989 grand final epic was still in our mouths when these two sides met in the 2008 rematch. The Cats dominated play but couldn’t finish off in front of goal. A third-quarter burst from Hawthorn rattled the favourites, and their composure was lost.

    That Geelong side famously swore they would never lose to Hawthorn again. In eight matches across four seasons since, they’ve been true to their word.

    But Hawthorn have not taken a backward step either. They feel the heat of the Cats’ intensity and respond. Every contest since that day in 2008 has been played with a physicality above anything in the surrounding season.

    And oh, how close those matches have been. Any and all of them could be included on a highlight reel.

    In 2009, Geelong triumphed by eight points in the opening round, and a solitary point kicked after the siren in round 17.

    In 2010, the margins were nine points and two. In 2011’s regular season, 19 points and five. Even the 19-point match involved a big Geelong comeback, and was in the balance until the dying minutes.

    Then yesterday’s match, again decided by two points. The only larger margin was in 2011’s qualifying final, as Geelong sealed it the top-four contest by 31.

    More remarkably, five of the eight matches have involved Geelong coming back from deficits at three-quarter time.

    By 2012 you could be forgiven for imagining that the fire might have dimmed. Not so. Don’t think that the dropped chance in 2008 doesn’t still sting the Cats. With three premierships in five years, they are talked about as potentially one of the great sides. Had they taken four, that status would be beyond debate.

    For Hawthorn, the standouts in these contests have been Jordan Lewis and Brad Sewell. These are matches that suit their relentless physical style of play.

    Mitchell especially relished the first half yesterday, with retired Geelong tagger Cameron Ling doing sideline interviews for television rather than standing in the Hawk’s hip pocket.

    On paper, Hawthorn’s devastating forward has looked like it should be too much for the Cats. But while Lance Franklin, Jarryd Roughead and Cyril Rioli have all threatened to explode at various stages over these matches, the threat has always ended up suffocated by Geelong’s defence.

    Even without fullback Matthew Scarlett yesterday, Geelong were well served by the old firm of Corey Enright, Tom Lonergan, Harry Taylor and Andrew Mackie. Mackie’s chase to smother Michael Osborne’s final-quarter shot from the goalsquare was the stuff of legend.

    Hawthorn’s defence was equally determined, with Lance Gibson coming back strongly after an accidental kick to the face, and the chronically underrated Brent Guerra calmly defusing half a dozen dangerous situations.

    But even in the wet conditions, they were unable to neutralise the threat of Geelong’s talls. James Podsiadly is becoming a Hawthorn specialist, his five matches against the Hawks yielding returns of 2, 2, 6, 3, and 5 goals.

    Tom Hawkins, meanwhile, played by far his best game for the Cats, and gave them inspiration when they looked to be flagging. The big man has suddenly grown into his game.

    He flew high for two of the most athletically brutal pack marks you could hope to see, smashing opponents out of the way and plucking the wet football like low-hanging fruit. The confidence was palpable. His set shots can still be awkward, but he managed three crucial goals.

    But the real telling point for Hawkins was the development of other parts of his game. In the tense last quarter, he contested a ball outside fifty, won it at ground level, spun off an opponent, waited a split second, then dinked a pass to a teammate within goalscoring range. Later that quarter, he put in a gut-busting run to the halfback flank to provide an option for Geelong out of defence, and remained on the wing to give support in the movement forward.

    These were complexities to his game that would not have been there a season back. If Hawkins can just get his set shots from 50 metres going, he will be a scary proposition.

    But the central player, both to yesterday’s match and to the last four seasons of rivalry, was Jimmy Bartel. Bartel is the man synonymous with Geelong’s last quarter charge-downs. It is he who is most able to commit to the contest late when legs are weary and skills fade.

    His possession count since 2009 goes 28, 23, 29, 26, 28, 20, 19, 20, these in some of the most fiercely contested matches of his career, when silky stat counts are brutalised out of the game. He has kicked five goals into the bargain.

    His ten behinds might ordinarily seem below par, but in contests this tight, even those have at times proved crucial. It was he who kicked the late behind to level the scores in 2009, then another after the siren to win it.

    Yesterday, with Geelong 18 points adrift early in the final term, Bartel marked outside 50. All day players had struggled even with short passes in the high winds and slippery conditions.

    He calmly went back, weighed up the breeze, and kicked a swirling 55-metre bomb straight through the middle. The Cats believed they could get back. They did.

    One day, Geelong’s streak of wins will break. One day, the streak of classics will break too. I have to admit, yesterday I was tipping the Hawks to get up. But I see now that only a fool would do that while Bartel is around.

    As for the run of classics, that probably won’t end with the Geelong streak. The fire between these sides burns yet. What makes the Geelong run all the more remarkable is how well their opponents have played. To be none from eight just defies probability.

    Yesterday, Hawthorn were the dominant side most of the day. They had their opportunities late, too, squandering several decent chances to run in and goal. But as the Geelong side of 2008 can remind them, if you don’t kick ‘em, the rest of it doesn’t mean anything at all.

    Geoff Lemon
    Geoff Lemon

    Geoff Lemon is a writer, editor and broadcaster covering sport for The Roar, The Guardian and ABC, as well as writing on politics, literature and history for a range of outlets.

    He tweets from @GeoffLemonSport.

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    The Crowd Says (56)

    • April 10th 2012 @ 12:24pm
      Justin Curran said | April 10th 2012 @ 12:24pm | ! Report

      Great game to watch as an impartial (albeit freezing!), loved every minute of it. If only the Demons could get close to that level! Hawthorn may be developing a worrying trend of losing big time matches in the dying minutes due to nerves and poor decision making. See Preliminary final 2011 and yesterday, although they did beat the Pies last week. Now they only have one more game in the home and away season to shake the Geelong hoodoo before finals time. And I will never understand grubber kicks unless you are on or outside the boundary line. All credit to Geelong, Hawkins was on fire!

      • Columnist

        April 10th 2012 @ 6:53pm
        Geoff Lemon said | April 10th 2012 @ 6:53pm | ! Report

        Yes, the decision-making there was strange, wasn’t it? Both times Franklin could have run in closer as well.

    • April 10th 2012 @ 12:48pm
      Angie J said | April 10th 2012 @ 12:48pm | ! Report

      Daniel S…sour grapes I think, plus, please learn how to spell…

    • April 10th 2012 @ 1:11pm
      John Ascenzo said | April 10th 2012 @ 1:11pm | ! Report

      Daniel S: stats are stats. Free kicks 24 to the Cats 29 to the Hawks (that is 21% more and there should be an inquiry into this). Can’t find 50m penalty data but from memory 4 to 1 in Hawks favour. Mind you I’d give all of the 8 wins back for the 2008 flag!

      • Columnist

        April 10th 2012 @ 6:54pm
        Geoff Lemon said | April 10th 2012 @ 6:54pm | ! Report

        The 50 metre penalties were down to stupid Cats play though. Chapman does need to pull his head in a little.

    • April 10th 2012 @ 2:03pm
      Brian said | April 10th 2012 @ 2:03pm | ! Report

      Two games played aginast Collingwood and Geelong and we’re 1-1. No complaints there, premierships are not won in April. It was also no surprise that Geelong had more run in the end, they left out Stephenson whilst we played McCauley, Hale & Roughead.

      And whilst the writer mentions Scarlett abscence it should be remembered that Hodge is just as useful to us. We lost but as we now see year after year the best team in April/May rarely wins it. Sounds crazy but I am more worried about the form Calrton are showing and how they could get stronger.

      Finally not sure who Lance Gibson is but Josh Gibson played in our backline.

      • April 10th 2012 @ 2:39pm
        hawker said | April 10th 2012 @ 2:39pm | ! Report

        Lets see how carlton go this friday night. Really looking forward to it , I can honestly say I’m truly neutral as I hate both of them equally.

        • April 10th 2012 @ 2:53pm
          Brian said | April 10th 2012 @ 2:53pm | ! Report

          Also really concerned about Schoenmakers, we desperately need Gilham to come back and stand up. Also apart from Hodge, Bailey & maybe Puopolo any idea whats happened to Liam Shiels?

          • April 11th 2012 @ 12:19pm
            hawker said | April 11th 2012 @ 12:19pm | ! Report

            Shiels played in the VFL the last 2 weeks I expect him back against the crows. I think Gilham is playing a few minutes every qtr in the VFL this week last I heard so he should be good to go in a couple of weeks…

        • April 12th 2012 @ 8:47pm
          Po said | April 12th 2012 @ 8:47pm | ! Report

          If the Blues can’t roll the Filth on Friday, they have no claims to a Top 4 spot. They’re absolutely flying in terms of injuries and structure (although it would be nice to have Walker and Warnock on the park).

      • Columnist

        April 10th 2012 @ 6:57pm
        Geoff Lemon said | April 10th 2012 @ 6:57pm | ! Report

        Ha! Sorry Brian, I think I had a cricket moment and subbed in Lance Gibbs, the great West Indian off-spinner.

    • Roar Guru

      April 10th 2012 @ 3:46pm
      Redb said | April 10th 2012 @ 3:46pm | ! Report

      Disgraceful out of touch decision by the MRP to rub out Whitecross for a week for accidental contact with Selwood. If Selwood wants to go head first into every contest you can’t expect the opposition to be accountable every time. Whitecross showed genuine concern for the kamikaze Selwood in the collision, he doesn’t deserve to be rubbed out for it.

      The MRP are doing more to hurt the image of the game in this case.

      • April 10th 2012 @ 5:42pm
        Football Fan said | April 10th 2012 @ 5:42pm | ! Report

        Agree 100% redb. That was a genuine accident and Whitecross can feel righly annoyed.

      • Columnist

        April 10th 2012 @ 6:58pm
        Geoff Lemon said | April 10th 2012 @ 6:58pm | ! Report

        Agreed, there was no intent by Whitecross, and he took care to support Selwood’s head when the player slumped onto him afterward.

        • Roar Guru

          April 11th 2012 @ 8:47am
          Redb said | April 11th 2012 @ 8:47am | ! Report

          Yep and Beau Waters gets off completely !! MRP are losing it.

          It’s called intent you dolts.

          • April 11th 2012 @ 8:01pm
            Ian Whitchurch said | April 11th 2012 @ 8:01pm | ! Report

            No, in the case of Selwood they are called ‘headbutts’, and he should get rubbed out from them until he fixes his technique.

            • Columnist

              April 12th 2012 @ 11:49pm
              Geoff Lemon said | April 12th 2012 @ 11:49pm | ! Report

              Not sure that headbutting someone’s shoulder is really an offence in the run of play…

    • April 11th 2012 @ 8:33pm
      Archie said | April 11th 2012 @ 8:33pm | ! Report

      Carlton and West Coast should be stronger this year. If there’s vulnerability at the top, I think it will be Collingwood. Buddy suffers from left footers’ malady when running into the right hand pocket. He can’t/won’t use his right foot. As an ex-player and long-time spectator, I observe that right-footers are generally better on the wrong foot than left footers. ‘Twas ever thus. And LF are far more prone to avoiding their RF. It was common knowledge when I played and nothing’s changed.There are some exceptions – Pendlebury for example – but there are few LF who can slot a goal from 50m with their wrong foot. Check it out before commenting. Enjoying reading intelligent sports discussion as opposed to the bigoted bombast of NRL prevalent up here in Qld. And Geoffery, excellent article now hindsight has kicked in.

      • April 12th 2012 @ 8:51pm
        Po said | April 12th 2012 @ 8:51pm | ! Report

        The Pies are firmly back in the pack. Even with a full strength list, I have doubts that Buckley can run as tight a ship as Malthouse. They really need both Dawes up one end and Tarrant down the other to string a solid season together.

        • Columnist

          April 12th 2012 @ 11:50pm
          Geoff Lemon said | April 12th 2012 @ 11:50pm | ! Report

          I’d say they still have the ability, it’s just a matter of how much their confidence took a battering after last year’s fade, or whether they can channel that disappointment into exceeding previous efforts.

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