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Hawthorn completed its premiership three-peat, defeating the West Coast Eagles in today’s AFL grand final by 46 points, doing what its opponent could not: making the most of chances.
After Elliot Yeo goaled for West Coast on the half time siren, the notion the Eagles could recover after a less-than-ideal start was alive. But when Mark LeCras opened the scoring for the second half with yet another wide shot, the scoreboard told the story.
It was 3.9 to 9.3 – the Eagles on the wrong side.
Hawthorn didn’t immediately respond, but it came soon enough. Approaching the half-way point of the premiership quarter, Ryan Schoenmakers guided through a goal with very little angle to work with.
Jack Gunston then added another two goals to his tally. Isaac Smith then slotted one from an even tougher angle than Schoenmakers.
Compared to a team that couldn’t capitalise on far more basic opportunities, the Hawks looked like they’d maybe done this before.
More contrasts were evident earlier in the day. In the second quarter, Eagles skipper Shannon Hurn missed a set shot from a reasonable distance only minutes after Hawks captain Luke Hodge goaled off one step along the boundary.
Before that, no one’s start to the match – from either side – compared to Cyril Rioli’s.
About ten minutes into the second term, a Hawks inside 50 unfolded exactly on the terms West Coast would have wanted. The Hawks sent a ball inside 50 in Rioli’s direction, but the Eagle zone defence quickly ensured three players closed in on him.
With two goals to Rioli’s name already at this point, the Eagles were about to register a big defensive win. Sure enough, Rioli was outnumbered by Sharrod Wellingham and Jeremy McGovern and the Eagles ran it out of the back line.
Except Rioli kept chasing. Running about 35 metres, and right before the ball was disposed of, he laid a tackle on Mark Hutchings. Holding the ball. Eagles turn it over. Rioli sets up Gunston. Hawks goal.
At that moment it was hard to see the Norm Smith going to anyone but Rioli – and it was obvious that even when things were falling into place for West Coast, they were failing to make the most of it.
The game started at a frenetic pace as both sides took pressure off with early goals.
Having an extra man down back was clearly in vogue, but the difference perhaps was that Hawthorn tended to cut off forward forays at high half back whereas the Eagles tended to be constantly having to rebound inside 50s.
That became more problematic as time wore on – Hawthorn led inside 50 count 14-11 at quarter time, then 35-19 at half time. By game’s end the Hawks had won the count by 19.
On the scoreboard, the result was emphatic. Hawthorn were premiers by 46 points.
The Hawks pulled off a feat achieved just five times before in AFL/VFL history, the three-peat. In the modern game, with a draft, salary cap and equalisation measures, it’s truly a remarkable effort.
Rightly, the discussion will now turn to where exactly they stand in the game’s history. Right up there is the safe bet.
As for today’s heroes, Rioli yet again had a massive impact without winning an epic amount of footy. When he got it, or the ball went near him, the Eagles were in trouble.
Gunston stepped up big time up forward, despite being in doubt to even play earlier in the week. His four-goal game was paired with double-digit marks and close to 20 touches.
Smith had three goals, 20-plus touches and some steadying marks at half back in those tense early second half stages.
Hodge, Jordan Lewis and Sam Mitchell all performed at the level we’ve come to expect from them. Once again they enhanced their reputations on the big stage.
Defender James Frawley, maligned after the finals loss to West Coast three weeks ago, kept Josh J Kennedy quiet as a mouse for the majority of the contest.
After moving to the Hawks from Melbourne, Frawley achieved what he went to Waverley for – a premiership win.
Joining him will be Schoenmakers, for whom victory must surely be just as sweet after playing only in the Hawks’ 2012 Grand Final loss and missing the successes of 2013 and 2014.
As for their team mates, they are premiers again and it’s made all the more special by one thing: a significant place in history has been etched.