Janet Linn reporting for AFANA from Australia
It was a Grand Final for the ages. A crowd of 99,683 screaming fans was treated to an outstanding contest after a week of talk about the weather potentially spoiling the spectacle. Meteorologists were forecasting bitter cold, strong winds, heavy rain and hail so when the storm clouds held off to provide a windy but otherwise clear afternoon, there were sighs of relief around Australia. Rumors that swirled pre-game about Sydney ruckman Shane Mumford, all-Australian Ted Richards and Hawthorn skipper Luke Hodge under injury clouds also appeared groundless with both teams lining up as expected. In a notable first, goal umpire Chelsea Roffey became the first female and the first Queenslander to officiate at an AFL Grand Final.
Hodge won the toss for the Hawks and chose to kick with the aid of a strong breeze towards the city end of the MCG. The Hawks dominated the first few minutes of the first quarter with Sam Mitchell, Brad Sewell and Jordan Lewis prominent. A spear-like pass from Matt Suckling to Lance “Buddy” Franklin gave Ted Richards no chance but Buddy’s kick was off line for a point. For Sydney, play makers Ryan O’Keefe, Dan Hanneberry, Adam Goodes and Mike Pyke were making their presence known. Leroy Jetta caused a huge crowd reaction every time he touched the ball but his long shot on goal was touched on the goal line by a leaping Hawk defender. It was a torrid start by both teams, with fierce tackles, heroic smothers and high-reaching spoils providing the crowd with plenty to cheer for. The opening goal came from a left foot snap by Xavier Ellis off a ruck contest and the Hawks took the lead. Minutes later, Sydney back man Nick Malceski kicked the answering goal – a stunning left foot goal from deep in the forward pocket and tight on the boundary line. There were numerous standout individual efforts in this quarter. A Ryan Schoenmakers defensive contest with Goodes, Hanneberry’s courageous aerial mark with Hawk big man David Hale bearing down on him, Paul Puopolo’s relentless boring through two packs of Swans’ defenders like a corkscrew, Richards’ desperate smother off Buddy’s devastating left boot, a combative tackle by Lewis Roberts-Thomson on Hodge and a sizzling race down the wing between two AFL speedsters Leroy Jetta and Cyril Rioli (with Jetta taking out the honors on this occasion).
While much of the game was being played in their forward line, the Hawks lacked composure in their goal kicking efforts with Franklin, Liam Shiels and Jarryd Roughead failing to convert on their opportunities. It seemed that the wind was proving a challenge for both teams but for the Hawks there were worrying echoes of last week’s Preliminary Final against Adelaide, which the Hawks won by a slim four point margin. Just as their supporters began to worry, the goals started coming and, with only several minutes left in the quarter, the Hawks turned on a three goal blitz. Schoenmakers kicked beautifully to Franklin who converted, a hard-running Luke Breust goaled after superb team play from Isaac Smith, Clinton Young and Puopolo, and Jack Gunston kicked a terrific goal from the 50 meter line. It was a surging finish by the Hawks who took a 19 point lead into the second quarter.
An outstanding comeback by the Swans was the story of the second quarter. Josh Kennedy had an early chance from outside 50 meters and made no mistake. When the Swans attacked hard minutes later, Kieren Jack goaled and brought the deficit back to seven points. Inspirational efforts by Goodes and Jetta got the ball to the Swans’ goal square where Jarrad McVeigh marked and goaled to reduce the Hawthorn lead to a point. Sydney was back in the game and skipper Hodge and experienced Finals’ campaigner Shaun Burgoyne were holding the Hawks defense together by the slimmest of threads. The Hawks looked rattled as the Swans continued to attack vigorously. A long goal from Sam Reid and two goals from feel good story Mitch Morton - delisted by Richmond a year ago and forced to fight long and hard for his place in Sydney’s top 22 – had Hawks’ fans everywhere jittery. Six unanswered goals to none had everyone talking at half time about the surprise package delivered by the Swans. The Swans’ back line, in particular Richards and Alex Johnson, had lifted their rating and shut down the key play makers in the Hawks’ forward line. Canadian import Mike Pyke and ex-Geelong ruckman Mumford were taking marks around the ground and the Sydney midfielders were tireless in their chase.
No-one expected this domination to last for the whole game because Hawthorn were favorites for a reason. Their “X factors” Franklin and Rioli had the potential to score goals at will and their midfield stars in Mitchell, Sewell and Lewis were ball magnets whose ferocity would not diminish as the game went on. The Swans’ 16 point lead at half time would not be enough to ward off a Hawthorn onslaught.
A torrid contest ensued in the third quarter. Mitchell gave Roughead a chance very early but the strong wind affected his kick and registered the minor score. The Hawks were ready for business but it was the Swans who scored first again after Jetta grabbed possession on the wing and fooled his opponent by deciding not to run and carry but rather to center the ball. He had the choice of passing to two inexplicably solo Swans, running full steam through the middle of the MCG. Jack took the mark and handballed to Kennedy who ran forward and goaled. In spite of the Hawks’ best efforts, Sydney continued to slice them up through the midfield and in the backline. When Roberts-Thomson scored the Swans’ next goal he extended the margin to a handy 27 points. Sydney’s backs were standing tall and the relentless tackling power of the whole Swans’ side was hammering the Hawthorn resistance. A dubious ruck infringement against Mumford gave David Hale a free kick in front of goal and he was reliable as usual, slotting Hawthorn’s first major since the end of the first quarter. The move of Burgoyne into the midfield lifted the Hawks and Shiels and Breust started to get a lot of the ball. Grant Birchall, well shut out of the game until now, took control of a rebound ball and kicked magnificently to the arms of a waiting Franklin who ran around the mark and kicked a goal. The margin was now back to a manageable 16 points. Shots to Franklin and Suckling were points but the Hawks were running harder and handling the ball more efficiently and confidently. A Puopolo pass to Gunston and a goal narrowed the gap to eight points and it looked like the Hawks were making their move. Ellis was subbed off and Shane Savage came on to inject more run into the Hawks’ game. Franklin was inspirational, kicking a long range goal from 60 meters out and Rioli was moved into the midfield. Sewell, Rioli and Mitchell combined brilliantly to feed the ball to Isaac Smith who goaled and gave the Hawks – who were on a roll of monster proportions - the lead. A sloppy mistake by Mitchell in the dying minutes of the quarter saw him penalized 50 meters for not returning the ball correctly to the Swans’ McVeigh who was brought to the goal square to kick the steadier for Sydney. Roughead missed a late chance when his shot hit the post and another Hawthorn goal was saved by a flying Roberts-Thomson mark. At the final break, and for the first time in AFL history, it was a meager one point margin. The Grand Final was on a knife’s edge and fans awaited the final chapter with eagerness and a small dose of trepidation, depending on which team they were barracking for.
Although the breeze had stiffened at the city end for Sydney, the first goal of the last quarter was scored by Breust, after a Swans turnover caused by Franklin’s fierce attack on the ball. A terrific snap on goal by Hale was a beauty and took the Hawks lead out to 11 points. Franklin continued to be everywhere and was tackled head high to earn another free kick in front of goal. With a score of 3.3 and one out of bounds on the full, Buddy was no sure thing and he scored a disappointing point. Sydney replied with a point from Reid and a dubious 50 meters against Pyke gave the Hawks another chance with Gunston on the 50 meter line. He handballed to skipper Hodge whose shot didn’t make the distance and was rushed through for a point. The Hawks now held a clear 12 point lead. Hanneberry kicked a goal against the flow after some hard work from Goodes on the wing and Grundy and Jetta at half forward. It was a solitary goal the difference. Hawthorn was winning most of the clearance ball and when Rioli took the ball and kicked long, trouble was looming. Again Richards, who had been on one leg for most of the game, read the ball best and marked to stem the attack. It was a seesaw from forward line to forward line and back again and goals were hard to come by. It looked like the Hawks might have the game in hand. A high kick to the Sydney forward zone had Morton outnumbered two to one but his refusal to stand down made a contest and the ball was held in the area for a stoppage. The next goal was crucial to the outcome of the game. If it was the Hawks who scored, it was game over. If it was the Swans, hope remained. 99,683 fans – and millions of television viewers - were glued to their seats.
Neither team would surrender but the Swans were absorbing the Hawks’ run on. Jude Bolton kicked forward to Morton – again in a game of two on one as the Hawks defended steadfastly. Morton was able to handball into the open where Jack (Sydney) and Young (Hawthorn) ran hard to compete for the ball that was bouncing towards the goal square. Jack prevailed and goaled to tie up the game – it was the biggest moment in the 2012 AFL season so far.
Ted Richards took yet another saving mark in defense to repel a Hawthorn surge forward. A rushed behind and Sydney went to a one point lead. When Pyke marked the Hawthorn kick out and hand passed to Grundy, the Swans were in their forward 50 again. Dual Brownlow medalist Adam Goodes produced a champion’s moment when he took the ball off the hands of the assembled pack and kicked around the corner for a brilliant goal. The Swans led by seven points. A terrific play by Birchall to Franklin set the Hawthorn forward up for another shot on goal. Incredibly, Gunston found himself completely alone in Hawthorn’s forward pocket close to goal and Franklin passed him the football for an almost certain six pointer. To the groans of the Hawks’ faithful, the usually reliable goal shooter hit the post and it was a single goal margin with five minutes left in the Grand Final. AFL officials may have been nervously contemplating a draw but the Hawks and Swans were determined to get a result and needed to steel their resolve. The Hawks defended the kick out tenaciously and turned the Swans back several times. Richards, Roberts-Thomson and McVeigh stood firm but it seemed only a matter of time before Hawthorn scored. Sewell snapped from a stoppage close to goal – a point, the margin went to 5 points. Sydney could not clear the danger zone and Sewell snapped again – but it was another point.
A four point margin separated two warrior teams with two and a half minutes left. The pressure was intense and players showed no signs of wearying with contest after contest too close to call. There was a Premiership on the line and either team could win it from here. Sydney finally managed to hold the ball on the half forward line after Marty Mattner, not known for his pace, chased down Hawthorn’s Birchall to lay a tackle. Pyke kicked a loose ball from the stoppage towards center half forward where he found Jetta in front of his opponent. Jetta kicked long to the square where the football was punched off the goal line back into play, to be greeted by a huddle of players competing for possession. The umpire called for a bounce with 50 seconds remaining on the clock. The indefatigable Hanneberry handballed out of the pack to Malceski who threw the ball on his left foot and watched his kick fly high through the center of the posts for the match winning goal.
Sydney was home with only 34 seconds to go and the MCG erupted. After looking beaten, the Swans had stormed home with the last four goals of the game to take the Premiership Cup and a place in AFL history. Stalwart midfielder Ryan O’Keefe was the winner of the Norm Smith Medal.
Hawthorn players looked shattered – after all, they finished the season as the team to beat and deserved their status as Premiership favorites. Although their defeat was an honorable one and missed shots on goal at crucial moments cost them dearly, in the final analysis, it was the Swans’ toughness, their will to win and their consummate teamwork that was the difference. The “Bloods” are Premiers, and richly deserve their success. AFL fans all around the world will talk about the 2012 Grand Final as one of the greatest in history. It was certainly a Grand Final to remember.
Scoreboard Hawthorn: 4.5 4.6 9.10 11.15 (81) Sydney: 1.4 7.4 10.5 14.7 (91) Best players Hawthorn: Sewell, Mitchell, Lewis, Breust, Franklin, Hale, Lewis Sydney: Hanneberry, O’Keefe, Kennedy, McVeigh, Malceski, Pyke, Goodes
Article last changed on Sunday, September 30, 2012 - 9:36 AM EDT