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by Kim Densham, in Melbourne reporting for AFANA.

In a week dominated by conspiracy theory claims, “Mad Monday” bad boy behavior, the resignation and appointment of a first team coach, the re-signing of the captain, the first 100 goals kicked in a season by an Aboriginal player, a  "NAB Rising Star winner", this week was about one thing … Springtime in Melbourne!  Spring means September and September means Footy Finals. As South Australian fans grappled with St Kilda’s percentage boost win over an undermanned Bombers outfit by 102 points. A result that sent the Adelaide Crows from double chance 4th spot to a sudden death 5th spot on the ladder- They all howled - “Victorian Conspiracy!”  And Docker, Rhys Palmer, who won “the nab Rising Star Award” beat a favorite in Hawk, Rioli. Leigh Matthews parted company with the Brisbane Lions, resigning after a power decade, having coached the Lions to 3 successive premierships. After months of intense speculation, bids, offers and counter offers, that involving Carlton, the Magpies, Jonathan Brown and the Lions. “Mad Dog” announced that he had signed a new contract and would be a Lion for life.  Twenty Seven hours later, Brisbane announced the appointment of another favorite son, home crowd hero and recently appointed West Coast Eagles assistant coach, Michael Voss, as the new senior coach. The Media scrum focus was off the Hawks and the Dogs because it was squarely on Carlton forward, Brendan Fevola who, after missing his ton (100 goals), was snapped wearing an outrageous pink negligee and matching accessory, during rush hour traffic, after a day of “Mad Monday” celebrations. at a venue in Federation Square. There was a moral outcry and a debate about the merits of the “Mad Monday” tradition continues. “A week”, as they say in Melbourne, “is a long time in Footy”.

Spring was five days old, the birds were out, skies were blue, the “G” was in fine fettle and the crowds were ready for September Finals action. The tale of the tape showed the Dogs had lost 5 of their last 7 games and the Hawks were on a high, after Franklins record breaking ton, winning the Coleman Medal and were peaking at the business end of the season. The Hawks Cheer Squad banner read “Ha! Ha! Gotcha” – A dog catcher bagging a stray….would the Dogs be September strays?  Or would they hunt in packs and ruffle Hawk feathers? Tonight was about the team that could settle fast, stay focused and come out hard. Have the Dogs come out to play or would they be muzzled? The first ten minutes would tell the story. The Dogs created the action, running hard from the opening bounce, a flurry of nervous quick handballs followed by a chipped ball over the Hawthorn zone  and into the safe hands of the ‘smiling assassin’ Brad Johnson. Brad walked back and kicked with deliberate action, but sprayed it wide. Was this a sign of a bad moon rising? Three minutes into the game was too early to tell. The rebound ball comes out quickly, high and long into the Hawthorn forward line. Roughhead, with a mammoth vertical leap, carried higher by the roar of the crowd, with sticky hands plucks the Sherrin out of the air. The crowd roars unabated and from a tight angle in the forward pocket kicking to the Punt road end, ‘Roughy” lined up, an awkward kick for the left footer. Decision time, does he go for the banana? Or fire direct and straight? He did neither! He opted for a right foot kick, his weak side and the ball skewed off the outside of his boot, a reverse banana shot away from goal to the 50 m arc, however it got fired quickly back but missed the big sticks, the end result, scores all square - one behind each and nerves starting to settle. Minutes later the Hawthorn defense moved the ball up the wing, followed by another long high kick into the arc, this time aimed at Buddy. He went up, the crowd rose in anticipation, the ball skimmed off his finger tips and popped over the short Doggie defenders and landed with a lucky bounce into the path of Rioli coming in at speed. Rioli gathered, snapped and … missed. The crowd’s disappointed was deafening.

The frenetic pace, suited the Dogs’ running game, Hawthorn took a while longer to adjust and get defenders back with the run. The pace frustrated the Hawks’ big defenders, who gave away a number of penalties, the first gifted Brad Johnson the Doggies opening goal, minutes later another gift, Gianserracusa nailed the second. The Bulldogs had the momentum. Hahn was able to match it with the ferocious and talented Hawk, Luke Hodge. A kick in from Mitchell went to the veteran Shane Crawford, who steadied on the run, looked up at the square, saw the imposing figures of Franklin and Roughhead, kicked a long, high punt over the short Bulldog defenders into the strong vertical leap of …Buddy. Who tapped the ball out with a soft touch, turning his defender inside out, scooped the ball up in one hand and snapped a Goal – Hawks in the lead, Buddy with his first! Would he be on song today? Hawthorn tactics included, setting up a zone system, the forwards lined up on the centre square , leaving a lone forward with his defender and acres of open space for the lead. Immediately after the bounce the forwards break left and right, pulling the defenders with them, leaving a corridor the size of Texas for the run. Simultaneously, the Hawk defenders push up to the square and wide into the wings. The effect was to pull the man on man Bulldogs away from the centre run, creating space for the forwards. The other tactic was for the midfield to deliver high balls into the square – rules now prohibit arm chopping, hands in the back and tunneling, meaning that the tall forwards can jump vertically without being overly harassed. They would need to be out marked, with defenders coming in from the side or out jumped, in the front position…not likely against either Buddy or Roughy. Minutes later a high long ball floated in, on cue Buddy and Roughy moved in unison, vertically up, the crowd roared in awe, amazement and appreciation, Roughy had the timing and height, out marked Franklin and the Dogs , turned and snapped - Hawks with three. The arm wrestle continued, Hawks zone tactics slowed the pace, The Dogs ran hard at every chance, lifting the finals crowd to another level. The ferocious tackling took its toll – Hawk’s, Campbell Brown limped of the pitch, Buddy copped a shoulder stinger and Croad had a bruised foot. Williams though, was able to halt the running Dogs, intercepted and broke the line with an awesome run down the right flank, even having enough time to marshal Buddy to the square. He drew a defender and handballed over his head high and slow toward the imposing figure of Franklin. The Dogs defense ran back to pressure Franklin. Buddy who dropped the ball, it spilled free and as Buddy was bundled over the line, he somehow managed to get boot to ball and kick an unbelievable goal, directly in front of the Doggies Cheer Squad. The Hawks dominated the quarter, the centre clearances (4 to 2), around the ground (11 – 5) and most importantly pulverized the Dogs in hard ball gets (10 – 2).

Quarter time score Hawks 4.5.-29 Dogs 2.1.13.

Rodney Eade was fuming at the Doggies performance. The huddles were split into position groups; each assistant coach reinforced forgotten game plans. An outward calmness belied the intensity of the message; the giveaway was the steam that rose from the spot occupied by Eade. It was to no avail as the opening bounce was won by Hawthorn; the ball funneled out to Chance Bateman, who sliced through center traffic, looked up and delivered a pinpoint kick into the sticky hands of Roughy, who missed to the left. The Dogs fumbled the ball out from the kick in; it’s turned over by Allen. The ball bounced to Rioli who was light on his feet. Dancing Cyril, twisted and turned his way through a flatfooted Doggies defense, stopped, then doubled back and kicked the ball left – Miss! Dogs were lucky but were not coping with the Hawk onslaught, fumbling and rushing hand balls, coughing up possession, causing turnovers and errors all over the ground. The Hawks forced a turnover at half forward, a quick chip kick went straight  to Buddy who was outside the 50m arc' Buddy took a strong mark, walked back and fired a bullet pass to Crawford, who was  on an angle. The former captain and veteran slotted home a pressure kick. Hawks by 30 at the 13 minute mark. The next few minutes of play by the Dogs was kick and hope stuff, no plan, no ability to string passes together. The disciplined Hawks threatened to bust the game wide open. A long ball into the forward space hit Buddy on the chest, he marked, wheeled left, inside out of the right forward pocket – left foot snap, Hawthorn Cheers squad were delirious – Buddy bagged his 5th. Hawks were rampant! Eade made a tactical change by pushing Allen forward, to try and add some accountability to the Hawks defenders. It paid off – Dogs piled on a mini run by kicking two in a row. Would they claw their way back or were they gone? Hawthorns forward pressure was immense; they were going for the jugular, choking the Dogs run and shredding their game plan. Buddy put the fullback under pressure, the kick went sideways and with no options available got forced back and the pressurized Dogs conceded, Buddy pushed the Fullback and gave away a 50m penalty. Buddy gave away another 50 m penalty.  Doggy déjà voodoo, Buddy forces the ball backwards for another behind.

Halftime score Hawks 10.12-72, Dogs 4.6-30.

Halftime was a chance for the Bulldogs to catch their breath. They came out re-energized.  For the Hawks though Campbell Brown came out of the rooms late. In quick succession the Dogs added two more. Bulldog Higgins in an act of bravery laid his body on the line and copped a hefty hip and shoulder from Hawk Guerra but Allen had kicked his second. The Doggies intensity was short lived and a steadying Hawk defense turned the screws, Brad Sewell stoked the furnace of the midfield engine – white hot and on fire with 7 clearances. Hodge played a long handball to Mitchell. Mitchell kicked to Crawford who played on around the body to Osborne who chipped to Roughy. Roughy tapped out to Buddy, spun out of a tackle, dropped the ball to his left boot and missed the kick under pressure. The ball spilled out and was collected by Osborne who headed for goal with three defenders converging from all angles, he bundled the ball on, lost the bounce but recovered slightly and soccered one through, to the relief of the crowd. Game over! Hawthorn had released their inner mongrel, no give in any tackle, hard bodies on the line, fierce, first in any contest and leading at 3 quarter time

15.17-107, Dogs 7.7-49.

  In the final quarter, Gianserracusa scored after a see saw opening three minutes. Hawks bench was down to one and Trent Croad was still in the rooms. Ladson limped off the ground not to return. The Dogs needed to run this quarter and take advantage of a depleted Hawthorn bench. Cooney pulled one back and reduced the deficit for the Dogs. The Hawks were in defensive recovery mode and absorbed everything the Dogs threw at them. Griffin kicked his third – but it was too little, too late! Buddy had given away three freekicks, three 50m penalties and just missed the 9 goal finals record set by Geelong forward and 90’s legend Billy Brownless, by kicking 8 spectacular goals. All in all an ominous display of orchestrated force, fierceness in the chase, ferociousness at every contest, counter balanced by shrewd coaching by Alistair Clarkson.     Be afraid…very afraid!

Hawthorn         18.19 (127)

Western Bulldogs 11.10 (76)

Article last changed on Monday, September 22, 2008 - 2:00 AM EDT

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