It’s now official. Sydney and Hawthorn will contest the 2012 AFL Grand Final. But for all those who pencilled it in as a certainty last night, it could have very nearly been a different story.
This evening, a young Adelaide outfit took it right up to the Hawks, who had to grind out an incredibly hard-fought five point win.
The Crows led at quarter and half time. Kurt Tippett and Taylor Walker, with four goals each, simply dominated Ryan Schoenmakers and Josh Gibson.
Patrick Dangerfield declared himself as a star of the big stage with a massive 11-disposal final quarter that turned the game on its head.
Scott Thompson had 31 disposals, Bernie Vince had six clearances and five inside 50s, Dangerfield finished with a game-high nine clearances.
The Hawks, it must be pointed out, kicked 13 goals and a disappointing 18 behinds, keeping Adelaide’s impossible dream alive.
But the upset was not to be, despite a dramatic finish.
In the final six minutes, an overturned free kick put Adelaide within five, which was followed by a quick goal to put them in front, which was followed by a quick Cyril Rioli response, which was followed by a Buddy Franklin response, which was followed by another Taylor Walker goal and a hectic final 16 seconds.
Yes, it was chaotic. And yes, it could’ve definitely gone either way.
So if you’re a Hawthorn fan – or player – thank your lucky stars. That is what they call a great escape.
But maybe, just maybe, it’s for the best.
History says dominant sides that have the favouritism thrown upon them by all are prone to shock results. Perhaps it’s complacency, perhaps it’s believing one’s own hype, but Collingwood in 2010 had to draw a Grand Final before they could put away St Kilda in the manner many expected them to.
Before that, Geelong in 2007 had a “great escape” of their own in a preliminary final against Collingwood. The next week they won in the biggest Grand Final victory of all time.
And then there’s Geelong in 2008, which showed what it can be like when a side’s bubble isn’t given a timely burst.
Something tells me tonight’s game was exactly what Hawthorn needed. Getting tonight out the way will ensure their focus is 100% where it should be over the next seven days. They’ll be taking nothing for granted now.
They’ll accept it as an uncharacteristic performance – the last time Hawthorn kicked more behinds than goals was in Round 12 – but they’ll also appreciate that it’s highlighted areas they need to work on that perhaps wouldn’t otherwise have been highlighted.
In terms of positives from tonight, Brad Sewell’s 28 disposals at 82% efficiency – with seven clearances and six inside 50s – would have to be up there.
Sam Mitchell had 29 touches, six tackles, seven clearances and nine inside 50s.
Franklin eventually worked his way into the game to finish with three goals, while forward partner Rioli was … dare I say it … special.
For all that, the Sydney Swans haven’t done a lot wrong. While the Hawks will probably hang on to favouritism, they shouldn’t be underestimated in any way.
Sydney have a Ben Rutten-type in Ted Richards who could silence Buddy for long periods once again. Indeed, they have the best defence in the competition.
In the midfield there’s Josh Kennedy, Kieren Jack, Jarrad McVeigh, Ryan O’Keefe and Lewis Jetta, among others, and up forward Adam Goodes has been known to cause Hawthorn headaches.
But if we are to look solely at tonight’s game and what it means, I’d say it’s up there with the best possible outcomes for Hawthorn.
Surely it’s better to get caught off guard in a prelim than on the biggest stage of all.