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Janet Linn reporting for AFANA from the Melbourne Cricket Ground

All week Australian Rules Football fans were agog with the excitement of two stunning Preliminary Finals. The first promised a nail-biting encounter between two teams that have shared an astonishing rivalry since Hawthorn upset Geelong - the overwhelming favorites - in the 2008 Grand Final. In the eleven games since taking that Premiership, Hawthorn has not beaten Geelong again. With a week off after winning the Qualifying Final against Sydney, the Hawks had their best chance yet to take the Cats and advance to the Grand Final.

A crowd of more than 85,000 people was in strong voice even before the National Anthem was completed, with the hungry Hawthorn fans particularly loud in their chants. The Hawks started well, using precision kicking and short passes to control the play. Jack Gunston opened the scoring and the Hawks looked calm and methodical. Steve Johnson was running hard to create opportunities and goaled twice in quick succession to settle the Cats. David Hale, the ruckman who was instrumental in the Hawks’ previous Finals’ win, was clearly on top, creating havoc and marking everything in the Hawthorn forward line. Captain Sam Mitchell was dominant and his pinpoint pass to forward Luke Breust resulted in another Hawthorn major. Cat Steven Motlop responded with some individual brilliance, picking up the football on the first take, running clear of the Hawks defenders and kicking a check side goal. Allen Christensen was next, kicking a very long ball towards goal and, although in real time it looked to have been touched on the line, a score review showed that it was a goal. Lance Franklin came off the ground holding his arm and went straight to the change rooms as Hawks’ fans groaned. Losing their champ to injury was not in the plans. Geelong had taken the initiative late in the quarter and went into the break a point ahead. Although the Hawks were playing the better football they had not been able to put any distance between themselves and the Cats on the scoreboard.

Franklin was on the bench at the beginning of the second quarter, his arm bandaged but seemingly okay to play. Johnson proved again why he is the most dangerous forward in the game when he kicked a fantastic goal from deep in the pocket. Tom Hawkins benefited from a Brian Lake stumble to take a mark and goal and suddenly the Cats were out by 14 points. The Hawks did not panic and went forward through Gunston who became the danger player of the quarter. He centered the ball to Brad Hill who found himself all alone in the square and banged the ball through for a goal. The Cats attacked again and a clever tap back into the play by James Podsiadly was plucked by Cat ruckman Nathan Vardy who kicked a good goal. The Hawks scored the quick reply after Hale again got involved and kicked to the leading Gunston whose goal reduced the lead to 11 points. Geelong began to falter under the intense pressure of the small Hawk forwards. Shaun Burgoyne showed his class, kicking a goal to reduce the margin to less than a goal. The Hawks were on top and making their move. Franklin was showing no signs of being affected by his arm injury and began having an impact. He was involved in one attack which gave Gunston his third goal and then another minutes later in getting a long ball to Jarryd Roughead. Normally a reliable kick Roughead missed from only ten meters out on the half time siren. After wasting some seriously gettable goals, the Hawks were ahead but only by four points going into the long break.

With 30 inside 50s to the Hawks in the first half and only 19 to the Cats it was clear that Hawthorn had left the door well and truly open for Geelong to mount a challenge in the third quarter. However it was Hale again on the end of a mark in the Hawks’ forward line and he made no mistake, taking the Hawks out to a 10 point lead. Lake took a terrific mark in defense to thwart a Cat attack but his careless kick was intercepted by Mathew Stokes who gave the ball off to the master Johnson for his fourth goal. Hawthorn went back to its classic short passing game and Luke Breust had a golden opportunity to goal. His shot was a horrible one but he got another chance seconds later when the Cats’ defense succumbed and Breust nailed the resulting shot on goal. Geelong kept attacking and Selwood worked hard to move the ball on to Vardy to Bartel who made no mistake to score an important major. When the Cats moved the ball forward again through Hawkins on to Selwood for a goal, Geelong took a one point lead. There were amazing acts of courage and skill everywhere over the ground. Cameron Guthrie scored another six pointer for the Cats and a seven point break. Mitchell and Burgoyne combined for a Hawthorn goal before Vardy took a terrific mark at the Geelong end and a Motlop swoop scored a Geelong goal. With Geelong substitute Josh Caddy making his presence felt and Motlop on fire through the middle, defender Harry Taylor had a chance in the forward zone and kicked a goal. When Jordan Murdoch kicked an excellent goal from a stoppage in the dying minute, Geelong took a 20 point lead into the final break and it seemed like Hawthorn may fall at the next to last hurdle. The question was whether they could find their own brave and inspirational leaders to claw back the deficit and launch their challenge to make the Grand Final.

And so it was. Hawthorn kicked the first goal of the last term after Franklin capitalized on a clever sideways tap from Breust and the crowd went crazy. Shiels had a chance shortly after but missed badly. At the other end, Cat Caddy made something out of nothing and kicked a goal to extend the lead to 19 points. At this point there were several desperate individual acts by Cats players - smothers by Selwood and Varcoe and saving marks in defense by Stokes and Rivers - which looked like they may take the Cats to a Grand Final. However the Hawks were playing to their own script. When Bartel could not get clear in the Hawks’ forward area, Brad Hill made him pay with a goal. The Hawks were on a mission and minutes later they broke free. Burgoyne handballed off to Gunston who scored his fourth and reduced the margin to less than a goal with seven minutes remaining. Burgoyne became the hero, kicking his third goal and putting the Hawks two points in front. As Hawthorn cheers rang around the MCG, all the momentum and the running appeared to be with the Hawks. Rushed behinds took the margin out to six points and with 30 seconds to go Varcoe had a final chance to equalize for Geelong and take the game into extra time. When he missed the goal and the Hawks took the ball into attack, the siren rang and the Hawks were in to the Grand Final.

A long-standing hoodoo was broken and the minor Premiers did what they needed to do to compete for the Premiership Cup on the last Saturday in September. Geelong was valiant in defeat and almost pulled off an upset. In the end, the extra week’s rest went in the Hawks favor as they had the legs and the firepower to outlast Geelong when the going got tough and the game was in the balance.

Hawthorn: 3.5 7.8 10.10 14.18 (102) 
Geelong:  4.0 7.4 14.6  15.7  (97) 

Best players 
Hawthorn: S. Mitchell, S. Burgoyne, D. Hale, J. Lewis, B. Guerra, J. Gunston
Geelong:  S. Johnson, M. Stokes, S. Motlop, J. Selwood, J. Corey

Article last changed on Sunday, September 22, 2013 - 7:52 AM EDT

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