by Lisa Albergo reporting for AFANA from Chicago
While South Melbourne (now Sydney) was one of the foundation clubs which broke away from the VFA to join the newly formed VFL in 1897, Hawthorn was nothing more than a suburban junior club. Hawthorn had very little success for a number of years. The Hawks were admitted to the VFA in 1914 and still struggled for a number years, just missing the 1924 finals before being admitted to the VFL in 1925. South fared a bit better during this time, doing reasonably well most seasons. Although frequent finalists, their first Premiership did not come until 1918. The next few years were up and down for South and Hawthorn found the going really tough in the VFL as constant "cellar-dwellers". While Hawthorn continued to struggle, South had a modicum of success, making the Finals in 1932 and taking out the Premiership in 1933. Hawthorn continued to wallow in the nether regions of the ladder while South became somewhat of a powerhouse, appearing in numerous Finals. However, another Premiership was not forthcoming as they lost the 1935 and 1936 Grand Finals.
Subequent years were bleak for both clubs, more so for Hawthorn as they just could not seem to get off the bottom of the ladder. Finally, in 1943, they managed fifth place and just missed the Finals on percentage. South finished eighth that year. The following year, fortunes were reversed as Hawthorn again found themselves second last while South finished seventh. With many players returning from military duty, South surged up the ladder to again make it to the Grand Final while Hawthorn continued to struggle, finishing 10th. The 1945 Grand Final was a vicious affair and has gone down in history as the "Bloodbath". It was more of a running brawl with football coming second and got so bad at one point that police actually entered the field to break up the fighting. Nine players faced the Tribunal on 15 charges. Five were suspended, the severest penalty a 12 month ban for a South Melbourne player. Carlton prevailed on the scoreboard, once again denying South that elusive Premiership.
The next decade was bleak for both teams, the best finish between the two being South with a fifth placing in 1952. Hawthorn finally lifted themselves off the bottom to finish third in 1957 for their first VFL finals appearance. They defeated Carlton in a semi-final but then faced powerhouse Melbourne who were in the midst of a Grand Final streak. The Demons would go on to win three in a row and were looking to equal Collingwood's record of four consecutive Premierships (it didn't happen with the Pies defeating them in the 1958 GF). Needless to say, the Demons thrashed Hawthorn in the Preliminary Final.
Hawthorn fell over for the next few seasons and South struggled. Enter John Kennedy Sr as Hawthorn coach (Kennedy's grandson Josh plays for Sydney after a stint at Hawthorn). Kennedy was a strict disciplinarian and set up a training regime that would exhaust a Green Beret. His hard love strategy worked and "Kennedy's Commandos" finished fifth that year and surged into first the following year to win their first VFL flag. They slipped the next year, but headed the standings again in 1963 only to lose the Grand Final to Geelong. South was still struggling. Kennedy left for several years and the Hawks slipped. He resumed coaching the club in 1967 and again got the club into winning form with the 1971 Premiership. Hawthorn continued to build even though their season finishes fluctuated. Finals appearances continued to elude South. The Swans would not see any September action until 1986, four years after they relocated to Sydney. Even though both were in the Finals that year, their paths did not cross. That came in 1987 when the Hawks defeated Sydney in an Elimination Final.
Hawthorn grew stronger while the Swans struggled to establish themselves and gain a foothold in the rugby dominated northern market. The Swans became the easy beats of the League while Hawthorn were regular finalists. They would not meet again in a Final until 1996.
Source: 100 Years of Australian Football, The Bloodbath, Every Game Ever Played 1897-1997, AFL Record Season Guide
Article last changed on Monday, September 12, 2022 - 5:15 PM EDT