The greatest prize in AFL is up for grabs this afternoon at the MCG, as Hawthorn take on the Sydney Swans in the 2012 AFL grand final. We’ll have live scores and commentary from 2.30pm AEST.
After Saturday night’s thrilling finish to the preliminary final, you’ve been waiting patiently for the final game of the year.
You’ve been reading and watching as much of the pundits’ views, checking injury news, wondering how much of the grand final marathon you can get through on TV.
Now the moment has arrived.
If you’re a Hawks or Swans fan, your stomach is starting to turn and you have a nervous aura about you.
If you’re neutral, you’ve had a relaxing morning, talking to your mates about who you’d prefer to lose the match and are now being moved away from the barbeque as the national anthem begins.
Hawthorn has been installed as premiership favourites for most of the year. Along with Carlton at the start of the season, there was plenty of hype surrounding the Hawks.
It wasn’t a rosy start, winning just two of their first five games, including a loss to the Swans at their home away from home, Aurora Stadium in Launceston.
Since then, there have been just two losses in 19 matches. The second of those was a concern for many as the Kennett Curse continued at the hands of Geelong.
The last month has been impressive from the Hawks. Fighting back to beat the Swans in their own backyard, dominating early against the Eagles and then Buddy kicking four and Brad Sewell impressing again as they kept ahead of Collingwood.
But signs of nerves last week against Adelaide in the preliminary final were somewhat surprising.
It was hard to know whether the week’s break or the pressure of the occasion was the cause, but the Hawks limped to the grand final. They were matched in intensity, midfield prowess and struggled against a tall forward duo that finally gelled.
The Sydney Swans weren’t considered much of a threat until around half way through the season.
Always seemingly flying under the radar, coach John Longmire worked on the endurance of some of his midfielders and forwards, while tweaking the defensive structures that have seen them really strangle their opposition.
The Swans’ watershed moment among the public was a crushing win on the road in Perth, against the West Coast Eagles.
There would have been unease among the Sydney fan-base when they lost three out of four, with those losses against serious premiership contenders.
However, they rediscovered that defensive prowess when taking on the Crows in Adelaide, restricting them to just five goals.
Last week was a masterful win against Collingwood, as they kept the pressure on the Pies all night. That could put them in good stead for this afternoon.
If you watched just the prelims, you’d be backing Sydney all the way.
Their ruck division seems to be a touch better, with Shane Mumford having a strong season. There’s been a marked improvement in the midfield, with the continuing development of Josh Kennedy, Kieren Jack and Daniel Hannebery as stars and the amazing longevity of Jude Bolton and Adam Goodes.
Hawthorn will be buoyed by another strong season from Sam Mitchell and Brad Sewell. Luke Hodge’s inclusion into the team (after illness last week kept him out) will add some grunt and toughness around the ground. Grant Birchall and Matt Suckling have had standout seasons in defence, while Lance Franklin looms as a danger up forward in such a big game.
The X-factors lie in the forward lines.
While he may not be listed there, Lewis Jetta showed last week that his outside run is tough to stop when he gets going. If he can be curtailed in the wet, then that’s a big win for the Hawks.
Cyril Rioli is surely a key man for the Hawks, but I see Luke Breust as the main man up forward. He seems to have gone about his business quietly, while averaging close to two goals a game this season. If he’s not kept quiet, he could sneak under the radar again and help the Hawks get up.
You can have your stat of Sydney having a bad record at the MCG. However, the Swans have been able to knock over a few hoodoos this season, most notably last week’s win against Collingwood (a team they hadn’t beaten in 11 straight matches). Come grand final day, it won’t matter a thing.
It’s easy to be lured into the amazing win by the Swans last week. But there’s a very good reason the Hawks have been favourites all season – they’ve played their best against the best.
What we can hope for is by the last few minutes of the match, we’re all questioning what could happen next, in another epic grand final.
Join us from 2.30pm AEST for the last game of the year as we cover the action from the AFL Grand Final.