Happy Hawks – Fragile Freo

Another AFL Grand Final has come and gone and in the wash up, Hawthorn Hawks have become 11-time champions of Australia’s most popular professional sporting code.

It’s a good thing they did too because had they have lost to Fremantle, surely this generation of Hawks for all their talent and perennial contendership for the flag would have been considered failures when it came to delivering to the club what matters most.

Sure two wins from three grand final appearances since 2008 is a good record but the Hawks right now have the most talented list of all clubs in the AFL and should be ever present come the final Saturday in September.

The best thing that came out of the game yesterday were the performances of some of the Hawks more enigmatic stars. Cyril Rioli, who went missing in the 2012 decider was important with his forward pressure and tackling being the talking point. Young forward Jack ‘Norman’ Gunston continued his rapid rise kicking four goals in a game where lynchpin Lance Franklin was rather quiet, continuing his recent poor run in front of goal and only kicking one, not that it mattered.

Much like the Preliminary Final win over Geelong it was Hawthorn’s youngsters who stood up, but most importantly one of the AFL’s strangest men, Brian Lake stood up to be counted.

Enigmatic as they come Lake stood tall at the back for Hawthorn and delivered a man of the match performance putting constant pressure on Fremantle’s forwards and getting the Hawks going on the rebound.

But what were the five key factors and moments in the grand final? As good as Hawthorn were, Fremantle kinda, sorta did their best Jana Novotna impression to crumble when it mattered most. I wouldn’t call it a choke but nerves certainly got the better of them.

  1. Nerves: Nathan Fyfe is one of the best young midfielders in the AFL. He possesses great aerobic capacity, is an elite runner, has a dominant leap and is usually a good kick, but the 22-year-old had a shocker in front of goal early and it set the tone for the Dockers. Trying to get their first premiership in club history, Fyfe won’t want to re-watch this game. He first shanked a set shot to the right… out on the full then five minutes later did the same thing to the left – Freo heads dropped and he wasn’t the only one to miss everything. Hayden Ballantyne and skipper Matthew Pavlich followed suit at various stages.
  2. Ballantyne’s dirty day: I’d hazard to say that 90 per cent of AFL fans in Australia enjoyed this immensely. One of the AFL’s most hated players just couldn’t get going up forward for Freo. Usually a mouthy, cocky player, Ballantyne had plenty of the footy but didn’t do much with it. Shanked shots were the norm and when he missed an easy set shot in the last quarter out on the full from close range the MCG threatened to swallow him whole.
  3. Buddy who?: There is every chance this could have been Franklin’s last game in the yellow and brown and while that colour scheme suits just about no one, believe it Hawthorn will be just fine if Buddy becomes a giant. The rise and rise of Jack Gunston, Cyril Rioli and Coleman Medallist Jarryd Roughead means Hawthorn still have a potency up forward and can be a force without the best forward of his generation.
  4. Forward pressure: Known for being a dynamic runner, Cyril Rioli isn’t exactly known for his ability to lay tackles but the two he laid in the forward 50 in the first and last quarter said a lot about what Hawthorn would be about on the day. His tackle on Lee Spurr in the first quarter was what Hawthorn needed to get going, mind you Spurr, a player of more experience should have known better than to drag that ball in, and when he did it set the tone for the umpires to pounce on holding the ball decisions all day long.
  5. Isaac Smith, your hero Hawks fans: As far as grand final moments go this was the one that turned the match back to Hawthorn’s favour.  A stellar third quarter from David Mundy and a fired-up Matthew Pavlich brought Freo storming back into the match and within two kicks at three-quarter time. The Hawks needed someone to stand up and steady the ship. Enter Smith.

Marking outside 50, the mature-age recruit swung onto his left side and unloaded an almighty kick from well outside the arc. It never looked like missing and he celebrated like a man who had just sealed a grand final. That kick took away all of Fremantle’s momentum and was the ultimate turning point in a tightly contested grand final.

After only having lost twice this year, both regular season losses to arch-rivals Geelong the Hawks deserved the win and the flag, much like the best player in the league, Gold Coast’s Gary Ablett deserved his second Brownlow Medal earlier in the week. It was a week in which the AFL got it right all the way through, but heading into next year here are a few questions which will be answered in time.

Will Lance Franklin stay a Hawk? My guess, the money from GWS will be too hard to turn down.

Can a team playing Ross Lyon footy win a grand final? In rugby league they say defence wins premierships. In AFL attack does, if you kick 100 points you usually win the match. Freo’s average score this year 92, it’s not enough.

Will the AFL change the current bump rule? I hope yes, in its current guise it hurts the game. Protect the head, sure, but you can’t keep going with the ‘he chose to bump’ garbage, players moving at that pace often can’t pull out there has to be a balance, the MRP have a lot to answer for.

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