Long Live the Kennett Curse

My favourite moment of Kevin Rudd’s rein at the top of the Australian Labor Party was the smug grin he gave when being sworn in as Prime Minister of Australia for the second time, right before he said “I’ve done this before” to the Governor General, it was a triumph and a massive ‘f**k you’ to Julia Gillard.

That I enjoyed that level of smugness, probably says something about me; yet when all was said and done in the 2008 AFL Grand Final and Hawthorn had beaten Geelong I detested the smugness of then Hawthorn President, Jeff Kennett when he declared Geelong didn’t have what it took mentally with the following statement.

“What they don’t have, I think, is the quality of some of our players; they don’t have the psychological drive we have. We’ve beaten Geelong when it matters.”

Granted, I was in Germany at the time and after a big day of drinking at Oktoberfest had somehow managed to stagger to a bar with a number of other inebriated Aussies in search of the big game, unfortunately for me as a rampant Cats fan, I was heavily outnumbered by the brown and yellow clad contingent and didn’t they let me have it.

Inebriated as I may have been, I felt at the time that it was a game Geelong lost rather than one the Hawks had won, who knew that would set such a strong precedent for future clashes.

I remember thinking that Geelong had it so heavily over Hawthorn in the ruck stocks that Mark ‘Bomber’ Thompson should have moved the misfiring Cam Mooney into the ruck (Mooney had a clear case of the yips in front of goal) and put absolute deadeye Brad Ottens forward (although Ottens also missed a sitter on the run in the second term).

Thompson simply sat on his hands as his Cats misfired. 6.12 at the half became 11.23 at the final siren, in comparison to Hawthorn’s 8.3 and 18.7. Straight kicking won the day, Geelong had blown another grand opportunity, eliciting memories of all those grand finals the Cats lost during my formative years. As a fan it hurt, I can only imagine how the players felt.

It’s also why Kennett’s comments hurt so much. Kennett smug as he may have been in victory had spoken the truth, it stung. It stung so much that Geelong players led by Paul Chapman made a pact to never again lose to Hawthorn.

And now we get to Friday night at ‘The G’. Geelong v Hawthorn was the expected grand final, but Fremantle to their credit swaggered into Geelong and took a surprise win, leaving the Cats and Hawks poised for a Preliminary Final blockbuster and when Geelong saw off Port Adelaide it was official.

Both sides have been going to great lengths to play down the curse that has seen the Cats win 11 straight over their long-time rivals, but if Geelong’s pact is to really mean something this is the game they have to win.

Not since the 2008 Grand Final have the stakes been so high and if the Cats are to again prove they are the greatest team of their generation then an aging Geelong side will have to knock off a Hawks side who quite frankly are in their prime and mightily impressive.

The subplots and machinations to this encounter are there for all to see. The Cats have lost arguably their best big-game player with Paul Chapman rubbed out for his bump on Port Adelaide’s Robbie Gray, while the Hawks will welcome back both Buddy Franklin and enigmatic midfielder/small forward Cyril RIoli, but are they better off?

Certainly the Cats are not better off without Chapman, but the Hawks looked a lot better in their Qualifying Final win over Sydney without Lance Franklin as opposed to the week before when thye had him in the side. Truth be told when Buddy is in they can become too ‘Buddy-centric’ and it has been known to cost them, add to that he has been kept quiet by Geelong defenders over the years and his inclusion though warranted adds intrigue.

What’s certain is that Tom Lonergan will go straight to Franklin and will look to keep him under wraps while All Australian defender Harry Taylor will likely get the job on Coleman Medal winner Jarryd Roughead .

While both match ups there are full of gun players and the quality midfields of both sides in Jimmy Bartel, James Kelly, Joel Selwood, Steve Johnson and for the Hawks: Sam Mitchell, Luke Hodge, Brad Sewell and Isaac Smith almost cancel each other out it leaves the winning of the match to the lesser lights, although frankly calling any player in the 44 on display on Friday night at ‘The G’ is a slap in the face.

That Geelong have the wood on the Hawks is beyond doubt and if they are within four goals going into the final term Hawthorn’s stars might just go looking over their shoulders as they have done in the past 11 encounters, when they have led matches deep into the final term only to be beaten. Most famously in Round 19 of the 2012 season when Tom Hawkins marked outside 50 and goaled after the final siren, sealing a famous victory.

Hawkins of course is a story in himself, after a couple of breakout seasons the Geelong full forward has struggled all year with a back injury, but has been getting better in recent weeks and just how he goes against always enigmatic key Hawks defender Brian Lake could be one of the battles of the match.

Lake, like Hawkins can be hit or miss and his influence on big games is usually significant one way or another, but it won’t decide who moves into the grand final.

The players who can decide that are Geelong’s small midfielders and forwards. Players who have had breakout seasons like Allen Christensen, Steven Motlop and Matthew Stokes, while for the Hawks it will be their other attacking talls who can seal their first victory over the Cats.

The roles of Jack Gunstan, who is deadly in front of goal and the best set shot in the competition. Small forward Luke Breust and around the ground ruckman David Hale in attack will be vital. They’re the players who have to step up if the Hawks are to break the curse.

So can the Hawks break the curse?

Truth is they have been better than Geelong as a playing group throughout the year, but the Cats have inflicted Hawthorn’s only two losses for the year on them.

The Cats though have been far from impressive at the back end of the season. A shock loss to Brisbane Lions was almost repeated in the final round of the season at the Cattery and then they fell to Fremantle in the first week of finals before just scraping past a surging Port Adelaide side.

They do get up for matches against Hawthorn though and both times this year they have looked to be marginally the better side when the teams have clashed. The question for the Cats is do they still have it in them?

That they will give their all there is no doubt and they are more than capable, the match will swing back and forth but it’s set up for a massive moment for a big name player.

The question simply is who will it be? This match will be a cracker, I suggest sit back and watch.

Oh and long live the Kennett Curse, no one likes a smug former politician.

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