For just under 100,000 fans packed into the MCG and millions of TV viewers in Australia and around the world, the anticipation and tension in the lead-up to the 2014 Grand Final was mouth-watering. Experts had the Swans as outright favorites for the Premiership Cup, bolstered with an unchanged team and by expensive recruits and big men Kurt Tippett and Lance “Buddy” Franklin. Teamed up with athletic giants Adam Goodes and Ben Reid, the Sydney forward line loomed large and many thought unstoppable. The added drama of a Grand Final clash between ex-Hawk Buddy and his old teammates - with whom he won a Premiership only 12 months ago - laid the ingredients on the table for an outstanding contest. Most predicted a win by the Swans and only a few could mount an argument for the Hawks by the very smallest of margins, such was the perceived might of the Swans after their demolition of North Melbourne in the Preliminary Final.
Early in the first quarter both teams seemed slightly over-awed by the occasion, Hawthorn a little more so than Sydney with some untidy ball handling. Sydney’s Josh Kennedy was the first to score a goal. Buddy Franklin looked lively and a fine smother by Ted Richards saved an early Hawthorn major. Paul Puopolo marked and sent through a goal for the Hawks and it was eight points apiece, with the teams looking evenly-matched. Franklin took a good one-on-one mark and kicked truly before Luke Breust, one of the most accurate kicks in the Hawthorn line-up, scored an excellent goal. At this point the Hawks suddenly seemed to get on top of the Swans. A poor defensive decision by Heath Grundy to spoil - instead of mark - and then punch the incoming ball into the corridor - instead of to the boundary line - gave Brad Hill an opportunity on goal and he didn’t disappoint Hawk fans. Minutes later a bone-crunching but fair hit on Dan Hanneberry by Hawthorn forward Jarryd Roughead provided an early turning point. The ball jolted loose, Jack Gunston swooped, ran into goal and put the Hawks two goals up. The Swans were unsettled and decidedly wobbly in defense as Hawthorn attacked with a ferocity which took everyone by surprise. Minutes later Will Langford scored another six-pointer and the Hawks took a 20 point lead into the quarter time break. The Grand Final was now the Hawthorn’s to lose. The Swans badly needed to compose themselves after wilting under the Hawks’ dazzling pressure and off the charts physical and mental intensity.
A flying start was needed by the Swans in the second term and they were the first to score after Ben McGlynn kicked a wonderful goal from outside the 50 meter arc. The Hawks rebounded but missed two shots in a row and fans were reminded of previous costly and wasteful Finals’ performances. Unfortunately for Sydney, the Hawks soon found another gear and their kicking boots. Sensational attacks netted goals to Breust, David Hale, Langford and two to Captain Luke Hodge playing his 250th game in style. Again the Swans looked rattled and completely off their game as the Hawks soared to a 47 point lead. Adam Goodes, Swans’ veteran and 2014 Australian of the Year, potentially playing his last game at the age of 35, tried to mount a single-handed challenge, taking a mark and kicking the goal. When Franklin took a terrific juggling mark and goaled shortly after, many thought Sydney may be able to get back to a decent margin at half-time. The Swans threatened but the Hawks settled. Enter the mercurial Cyril Rioli, out of the game since Round 15 and a risky inclusion after so long away recuperating from a hamstring injury. With sheer brilliance, he intercepted a wayward Swans’ handpass, handballed off then received the ball back in a sensational double play before getting the ball to Roughead who goaled. It was an early nail in the coffin as the Hawks took a 42 point lead into half-time.
It was an excellent first half by Hawthorn players who left nothing on the park in their determination to throw everything they had at the Swans. It was a very even contribution overall but Hodge, Langford Sam Mitchell, Jordan Lewis and Shaun Burgoyne were unstoppable. The Swans had less than half of their team performing at a level to compete with the opposition. Franklin, Goodes, Ted Richards, Josh Kennedy and Nick Malceski were all putting in the effort but against the tough and uncompromising football the Hawks had produced it was nowhere near good enough.
Anything can happen in a Grand Final of course. After the half-time break Coach John Longmire said he had told his players he wanted to see “bodies flying” in the second half, no doubt referring to the relentless aggression shown by the Hawthorn team in the first. The class of the Hawks began to show with a magnificent smother by Rioli leading to a Roughead goal. A terrific contested mark by Gunston saw another on the board quickly. Sydney regrouped with a great snap on goal by Keiren Jack followed by a long goal by Franklin that evened the scoring out. However it was the Hawks who kept on doing the little things that inspire and create opportunities - a defensive mark over the pack by Brian Lake, small forward Puopolo chasing at all costs, a bullet-like foot pass from Hill to Roughead and the goal of the Grand Final by Langford from as deep as he could be in the forward pocket. In a moment which showed the Hawks had the ball on a string and the game in their keeping, Langford chased the ball to the boundary line, not allowing it to go over and slung the ball on his boot. The football careered low along the ground and bounced high on its end through the goal posts, too high for the Sydney defender to touch it.
The final quarter was more of the same. Senior Hawks players led the way and produced one of the most lop-sided results in recent AFL history. It was a staggering victory, not just because the Hawks were so good but because the Swans had been so highly-fancied and yet looked second rate against the powerhouse display which the Hawks conjured up. It was a coaching coup by Alastair Clarkson whose “risky” strategy of recalling Rioli and ruckman Ben McEvoy for the big game paid off big time. It was compelling viewing and the Hawks avenged their defeat at the hands of the Swans in 2012 as well as the loss of Franklin at the end of 2013. While the loss will hurt the Sydney players in the short term, it is unlikely to do lasting damage. They simply did not find their groove and folded under a tough and aggressive Hawthorn in a performance no-one saw coming.
Scoreboard Sydney: 2.3 5.3 8.5 11.8 (74) Hawthorn: 5.5 11.9 16.11 21.11 (137) Best players Sydney: Franklin, Goodes, Malceski, Kennedy Hawthorn: Hodge, Mitchell, Lewis, Burgoyne, Langford, Roughead
Article last changed on Monday, September 29, 2014 - 8:46 AM EDT