by Janet Linn reporting for AFANA from Australia
Grand Finals come but once a season and the week that precedes them is a bonanza for supporters and commentators alike all around Australia. With the Fremantle Dockers making their first Grand Final appearance in their 19 year history, Western Australia - and particularly the City of Fremantle - was in a state of magnificent anticipation. The streets of "Freo" were lined with purple and thousands of Dockers’ fans made the trek across the Nullabor Desert for the game. There were not enough seats on planes so coaches, buses and cars full of purple clad supporters headed east. It was reported that some supporters even took flights via Adelaide and then hired cars to drive to the Melbourne Cricket Ground while some stalwarts were said to have flown to Melbourne via Asia. Such was the euphoria on the Dockers’ side that many pundits were even tipping a Fremantle Premiership. The Hawthorn club went about its business somewhat quietly during the week, allowing the swirl of excitement and sea of purple surrounding the Dockers to dominate the media but not their team psyche, as they prepared to avenge the disappointment of their 2012 defeat.
This year’s Grand Final promised some interesting stories. Would this be Lance Franklin’s last game as a Hawk, dogged as his season had been by rumors of an imminent move to Greater Western Sydney? And was there the potential for a family to be divided for the day with only the second pair of brothers in history – Bradley Hill (Hawthorn) and Stephen Hill (Fremantle) - playing on opposing sides in a Grand Final? Other questions to be answered were whether injury niggles would impact on Fremantle defensive duo Luke McPharlin and Michael Johnson, how would the Hawks counteract brilliant Fremantle midfield players like Nat Fyfe, David Mundy and Michael Barlow, all used to dining out on big man Aaron Sandilands’ ruck dominance and would tough tagger Ryan Crowley be targeted (legally and not so legally) by Hawthorn strong men aiming to protect prime midfielder and ex-captain Sam Mitchell? These – and more – intriguing questions would all be answered in the four quarters about to get underway.
When the ball bounced for the first quarter there were no skirmishes, no unfair bumps or holds and no questionable pushing and shoving. It was all business for both teams with the frenzied battle for the football the only focus. The Hawks played Fremantle at their own game, keeping the ball locked in their forward line for long periods. Jack Gunston was awarded a free kick and became the first goal scorer for the second week in a row. Fyfe was in everything for Fremantle and although he had several opportunities to convert on goal, he was uncharacteristically inaccurate, missing badly. The Dockers players seemed overawed by the experience of playing in front of 100,000 screaming fans. While they were playing their hearts out, the Hawks’ relentless pressure had them kicking poorly, fumbling marks, kicking into the man, running into one another’s space and slipping over. At times there were five or six Hawks to one or two Dockers in the contests. Numbers won out with the Dockers limited by space and time and forced to bomb their kicks haphazardly to the forward zone where Hawks Brian Lake and Luke Hodge were camped out, repelling every attack. Hawthorn was giving a master class in short precision kicking and controlling the ball beautifully. When McPharlin was penalized for running over the mark while defending a Franklin shot on goal, the resulting 50 meter penalty saw the Hawks score their second goal and the signs were already ominous. The Hawks were able to swarm the stoppages and use Sandilands’ ruck dominance to their own advantage then kick the ball around and build up patiently to a forward thrust. Fremantle players lost their composure early and their structure lapsed, resulting in a chaotic quarter with no goal scored. The scoreline at quarter time – a two goal lead to Hawthorn – flattered Fremantle but the good news was that they were still well and truly in the game in spite of being completely outplayed by the Hawks.
Fremantle attacked first in the second term but Danyle Pearce continued his poor ball handling, spraying his shot out of bounds on the full. Franklin showed some class with a clean running possession, hand passing off to Cyril Rioli who handballed in turn to a running Gunston and the Hawks had another major. Alarm bells were sounding for the Dockers but worse was ahead. A sloppy kick from Pearce led to a turnover which ended up in a loose ball in the Hawks forward 50. Docker Lee Spurr did everything he could to dispose of the ball but Rioli is a master tackler. The umpire called “holding the football” and Rioli kicked a goal. The margin was now four goals and Fremantle went into overdrive as they sensed the game slipping away from them. Hayden Ballantyne – usually reliable in front of the big sticks – missed an easy chance but Tendai Mzungu converted minutes later to bring up the Dockers’ long-awaited first goal. The game heated up, the football was in hot dispute and it was contested football at its best. Crowley had a genuine chance on goal but he missed, a sure sign that the Hawks pressure was as much perceived as real. The Hawk ability to smother the ball off the opposition’s feet was a real feature of their game. From a stoppage, Luke Breust swooped and kicked the ball forward to the Hawks’ goal square where Gunston was again too strong for his opponent Zac Dawson. He kicked his third goal and the Hawks were back to a 23 point advantage. The Dockers kept fighting but horrible misses on goal from Matthew Pavlich and Fyfe did not help the deficit. Neither did the continual long bombs being launched into the Fremantle forward area with the Hawks’ defense reigning supreme and Lake taking mark after mark in defense. At the half time break it was a 23 point lead to the Hawks and – as their pre-game banner had suggested – the game was theirs “for the taking”.
Half time had clearly given the Dockers time to re-assess and discuss how to get back to basics. They came out strong and determined with Pavlich kicking a quick goal from a free kick against Lake. A poor kick by Michael Johnson gave the Hawks the opportunity for a quick reply and Jarryd Roughead was happy to deflate the Dockers by kicking a goal. Great attacks on the ball by David Mundy and an inspirational smother by small forward Michael Walters gave Fremantle some heart and Pavlich responded with his second goal for the quarter. Fremantle was within 16 points and Pavlich bobbed up again passing to Walters who goaled. It was a ten point margin and the Dockers looked lively. Chris Mayne began to impact and when a turnover got the ball to the Dockers’ 50 meter line he booted an enormous goal and the Dockers were only three points in arrears. The Hawks were being asked the question and their play became a little less precise under the pressure. Hodge was the calm hand at the helm and his low pass threaded to Rioli was a treat. When Rioli passed to a leading Roughead, it looked like the Hawks might have overcooked the attack. However the controlling umpire signaled an arm slap, Roughead was awarded a free kick in front of goal and the Hawks got some breathing space. Several promising Fremantle attacks were turned back by the steadfast Lake who had the uncanny ability to find himself in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. A superb aerial mark by the diminutive Walters gave Fremantle a goal to bring them within a kick before some quick thinking and fine instinctive football by Gunston gave the Hawks another just prior to three quarter time. The Hawks went into the last break with a ten point lead but a rejuvenated Dockers’ outfit and its supporters - at the MCG and watching on giant screens in the streets of Fremantle - had some hope of a miracle comeback.
Max Bailey (ruck) was substituted and Jonathan Simpkin came into the game. Simpkin was an interesting inclusion for the Hawks after Brendan Whitecross badly injured his knee in the Preliminary Final against Geelong. Simpkin played that weekend for Box Hill in the VFL Grand Final, won a Premiership medallion and was best on ground. In a twist of fate, seven days later he was in the mix for a second Premiership. Ross Lyon decided to follow Alastair Clarkson’s tactic and substitute his own second ruckman Zac Clarke as Lachie Neale entered the arena. Mundy continued his impressive performance but the momentum swung the Hawks’ way. The Dockers continued to play into their hands with inefficient disposals forward to an impenetrable defensive wall led by Lake and commanded by Hodge. Brad Sewell moved the ball on to Isaac Smith on the 50 meter line. Making everything he could of the opportunity, Smith launched an enormous kick through the goal posts. This was a game-defining moment and the Hawks knew it. Luke Breust pounced on a Sandilands tap at a stoppage in the Hawks forward pocket and charged through the pack with intent, kicking an excellent goal and giving the Hawks what looked to be an unassailable 24 point lead. Fremantle players knew the time was now or never and went forward - only to find Lake on the end of a mark again. Paul Duffield mounted an excellent running attack for the Dockers, kicked long and - no surprise - it was Lake marking again, seemingly with the ball on a string. The sealer came when a fast sprint through the lines to the goal square by Brad Hill ended with him ramming home a goal. Two late goals to Pearce and Pavlich reduced the margin but, although Fremantle threw everything they had at Hawthorn in a last ditch effort, the Hawks defended relentlessly and ruthlessly.
Hawthorn ran out 15 point winners and richly deserved the win, playing a disciplined team game and having been the best team all season. Fremantle was not disgraced with the players’ endeavor and effort on clear display. However they were outsmarted with a game plan designed to foil the style of play that had seen them defeat both Geelong and Sydney in the Finals campaign. Some of the Dockers’ exhibited big game nerves that contributed to a slow start and, with the 2012 disappointment in the forefront of their thinking, the Hawks never looked back once they had the game in their grasp.
Brian Lake’s departure from the Western Bulldogs twelve months ago was all about the chance to taste the ultimate success as an AFL player. He celebrated doubly with the Premiership medallion and the Norm Smith Medal for best afield in the Grand Final.
The postscript to the game has been the departure of Lance Franklin from Hawthorn. The subject of conjecture all season the story had a sting in the tail as Franklin – in one of the most surprising revelations of the 2013 season - apparently had an offer from both the Giants (Greater Western Sydney) and the Sydney Swans. In the past few days it has been revealed that Franklin has accepted an offer to play with the Swans (2012 Premiers). There is a great deal of debate about how the Swans have been able to afford to recruit two high profile (and costly) players within 12 months (Kurt Tippett moved from Adelaide to the Swans at the end of 2012). However this story ends, Franklin’s move to Sydney will make the Swans stronger and that is a worry for all teams in 2014.
Scoreboard Hawthorn: 2.3 5.5 8.8 11.17 (77) Fremantle: 0.3 1.6 6.10 8.14 (62) Best players Hawthorn: B Lake, J Gunston, J Lewis, B Hill, L Hodge, G Birchall, C Rioli, D Hale Fremantle: D Mundy, N Fyfe, M Johnson, R Crowley, M Barlow, T Mzungu
Article last changed on Tuesday, June 12, 2018 - 4:15 PM EDT