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Comparing dynasties: Who were the greatest irritants?

The Hawks have featured in plenty of grand final classics going back to the beginning of the AFL era. (AAP Image/Julian Smith)
Roar Guru
23rd May, 2017
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1794 Reads

Paul Roos at the Sydney Swans famously had a ‘no dickheads’ policy during his halcyon years of 2005-06. Roos meditated, maintained his pristine brown hair over eight years of coaching, and was once seen to be whistling right before a quarter-time address with the Swans five goals down. They won.

The policy of no disruptive influences was a further example of Paul Roos trying to bring new thinking into AFL circles, in a time synonymous with the general toxicity of the Brisbane Lions era.

Of course, peace and love vibes were never going to cut it if the Swans wanted to kick on and become one of footy’s fabled dynasties.

Now that Hawthorn are being thrown around by the likes of Essendon, Gold Coast and St Kilda – not to mention their arrogant fans deserting in droves – we can safely say that the Hawks’ era of being incredibly annoying is officially over.

With Jordan Lewis and Sam Mitchell being shipped out, there is a sudden drop in knees dropping into thighs, jibes about injections and general cheap pot shots.

We can finally start to compare: Brisbane or Hawthorn? Who were the greatest? The greatest irritants?

Hawthorn Hawks 2015 AFL Grand Final Premiership Flag

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

With advances in nutrition, tactical planning and more time for teams to train, it is naturally difficult to compare across eras.

How does a Neil Balme cheap hit behind the play compare to a Mark Yeates cheap hit behind the play compare to a Luke Hodge cheap hit behind the play? Without a time machine, we may never know.

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Now, people may accuse me of short-sightedness in only rating teams from the AFL era on this metric.

This is unfair, as literally every single player from the 1970s and 80s was a thuggish fool, rendering any analysis from that era irrelevant.

Brent Crosswell once wrote an article about watching Sam Newman breaking John Nicholls’ nose in a 1970s ruck contest. He naively asked his teammates why this had happened and was simply told, “Polly (Farmer) taught him the ropes.”

We will always wonder how the Hawks of 2007-16 compare to the Hawks of the 1980s. Now, Dermie running through the Essendon huddle was an act of annoying arrogance, to be sure, but that was definitely funny. Dermie had chutzpah. Or is it only less vexing with the rose-tinted glasses of time?

Moving on to the AFL era, it is clear that greater professionalism has taken over footy. Instead of players engaging in a melee with total disregard to the match unfolding around them, they now know that they have to deck their opponent once before refocusing on winning the ball.

The AFL era has seen some great teams come and go. My high school days coincided with watching North Melbourne grind out finals win after finals win. Good times.

Glenn Archer was an enforcer while somehow keeping a modicum of respect. Wayne Carey alone filled North’s idiot quotient, to be sure, but I’m mainly focused on on-field idiocy, such as Byron Pickett’s numerous cheap bumps.

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Just like how Essendon 1999-2001 was a fake dynasty, so we had a fake tough guy in Matthew Lloyd. He no doubt read an article about him being soft in his early days and overreacted.

Similarly, when Kevin Sheedy called on Essendon to play with “no rules” against Brisbane in 2002, he had thrown his team to the Lions, literally and figuratively. Essendon had been overtaken on the field – by superior enforcers.

The Brisbane Lions! Now we’re talking. This was a team who took football to the next level. This involved:

  • Their players calling in fake votes to an Age survey on who was the toughest player in the AFL, so that Collingwood’s Ryan Lonie emerged as one of the winners.
  • Completely ruining the Australia-Ireland series concept because the Scotts always started brawls whenever a match wasn’t going Australia’s way.
  • And repeatedly bumping Nick Riewoldt in his injured shoulder off the ball in 2005. Again, the Scotts and Michael.

It is only now that Brisbane has a point of comparison. Three-peat Lions, meet the three-peat Hawks.

Now, by this stage with AFL marketing in full flow, the Hawks were able to come up with a buzzword to fully justify crossing the line between being tough and being thugs: ‘unsociable’.

Hawthorn Hawks AFL 2016

(AAP Image/Rob Blakers)

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For some reason, the otherwise inoffensive team that always pushed their buttons was North Melbourne.

First there was Hawthorn’s meltdown in the 2007 semi-final, when once they realised they wouldn’t win simply lost the plot and began the fisticuffs.

Then Brain Lake proved that he had taken the Hawthorn way to heart by strangling Drew Petrie in 2014.

Finally, a year later, the coup de grâce: Luke Hodge and Jordan Lewis delivering twin hits to the head to Andrew Swallow and Todd Goldstein within ten minutes of each other.

I’ll just say that a 2015 Grand Final involving these two would have made slightly more interesting viewing than what we saw.

Sam Mitchell’s subtle, clever jibes complemented Hodge’s more muscular play, with his ‘injection’ gesture to an Essendon player in 2015 and general all-round game (of annoying people).

Time to get sentimental about it all being over. We may never see their likes again.

Looking to the future, GWS’ ambition has resulted in the recruitment of the likes of Shane Mumford, Steve Johnson, Jeremy Cameron, Jonathan Patton, Tom Scully, Toby Greene and Phil Davis providing a nice blend of experienced enforcers with the lippy up-and-comers, small rover-types whose idol was perhaps Steven Milne.

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They are looking to begin their own dynasty to rival the Hawks. In every sense.