by Lisa Albergo reporting for AFANA from Chicago
The Finals history between Hawthorn and West Coast is brief, with just two Finals matches and one Grand Final since the Eagles were admitted to the competition in 1987. The Hawks were a powerhouse throughout the 1980's with Grand Final appearances from 1983-1989. The Hawks won four of those seven matches, including two in a row in 1988 and 1989. At the time, West Coast was a fledgling team aiming high. While Hawthorn had many battle-hardened warriors, the Eagles were comprised of a few experienced players who had returned to Perth from the Victorian teams they played for to join the Eagles, players plucked from teams in the West Australian Football League (WAFL) and young players from the juniors' competition via the draft.While the Hawks were dominating the competition as usual in 1987 the Eagles surprised many in their first year by breaking even with an 11-11 record to finish in eighth position. At the time, the Finals were contested between the top five teams and this system would remain in place for several more years. Among the Eagles' 11 wins were victories over eventual Premiers Carlton as well as two wins against the Grand Final runner-up Hawthorn. In 1988, the Eagles bettered their record to finish with 13 wins, nine losses and fourth in the standings to book their first Finals appearance. They faced Melbourne, who had also finished the year on 13-9 but with an inferior percentage. The Eagles jumped the Demons early and had a comfortable lead at half time. Melbourne stormed back into the match with six goals to two points in the third term and looked home heading into the final term. However the Eagles rallied with their defense holding Melbourne to just three goals while they kicked five goals themselves, getting to within three points with just seconds left on the clock and an Eagle player lining up for one final shot at goal. Unfortunately, the kick was off target and the Eagles went down by three points and were out of contention while the first-placed Hawks took out the Premiership.
West Coast fell away badly in 1989 while Hawthorn again finished first and won their second Premiership in a row defeating the Geelong Cats. West Coast replaced coach Ron Todd with Mick Malthouse, a hard-nosed defender as a player and coach of Footscray since 1984. The Eagles also bolstered their stocks by drafting young tyros Dean Kemp, Ashley McIntosh and Peter Matera. In 1990, with an astute coach, smart recruiting and the right mix of fresh blood and experience, the Eagles were ready to challenge the heavyweights - and so they did, winning seven of their first nine games. They kept it up to finish equal with Collingwood and Melbourne with a 16-6 record. Due to percentage, they were sandwiched in third place between Collingwood and Melbourne, with Hawthorn in fifth. Hawthorn was bundled out in an Elimination Final against Melbourne while the Eagles had to contend with Collingwood. The game was tight throughout with just two points the difference at three quarter time. The contest remained close through the final quarter with both sides kicking three goals apiece, but the Magpies had also kicked two points to the Eagles' one and held a one point lead late in the game. Ace Eagle forward Peter Sumich had the ball in hand as the siren sounded but he was tight on the boundary at an angle and managed to kick only one point which tied the game and set up a rematch the following week. Collingwood regrouped better than the Eagles, perhaps due to the fact that the that the games were in Melbourne which meant the Eagles had to travel from Perth to Melbourne and back again twice in the space of one week. They were trounced by the eventual Premiers in the replay, while Hawthorn was eliminated in the first week. The Eagles were not done yet as they defeated Melbourne in a Semi Final but lost the Preliminary Final against Grand Final runner-up Essendon. Bring on 1991.
The AFL decided to expand the Finals series in 1991, with the top six teams to contest. Many did not rate Hawthorn saying they had an aging list of players. Indeed they did, with players who had been through the proverbial wars for years while West Coast was still a relatively young list who, by this time, had a taste of Finals experience. Both teams surged in 1991 and the Eagles embarrassed the Hawks early in the year with an 82 point drubbing and repeated the dose at the end of the year with a four goal victory to stake their claim as a League heavyweight. West Coast finished in first place, three games clear of the Hawks. The Hawks avenged themselves with a 23 point win in a Qualifying Final. Because it was only a Final Six, both sides had to contest in Semi Finals. Both won those games as well as their respective Preliminary Finals, thus setting up a meeting in the first Grand Final ever contested between the two sides. Many believed the old Hawthorn warriors had run their race and labeled them as "too old and too slow". Although the old veterans may have slowed down a bit, they still had plenty of experience and football nous to teach the young "glamor" side from the west a lesson and so they did. While the game started out close with the Eagles up by nine points at quarter time, the Hawks led by ten points at half time and three quarter time. The "old" Hawks then put the pedal to the metal, slamming through eight goals to one in the final quarter to take out their ninth Premiership.
One would think with such a loss burning in the guts, the Eagles would be fired up to come out with all guns blazing the following year. Instead they started the season slowly. A bye in the opening round was followed by a loss, a win, another loss and then a tied game. A come from behind win after that was less than pleasing with the team sitting in tenth position. Then the acceleration began and West Coast won the next four games as well as eleven more in a 24 round season. The extra rounds were due to the Adelaide Crows becoming the 15th team in the League, which created the need for bye games during the season. West Coast finished in fourth position with the Hawks in fifth. The Eagles knocked the Hawks out of contention in the first week of the Finals and went on to claim their first Premiership.
While both clubs have had their ups and downs since then, they have each contested Finals and won Grand Finals. However they have not met since 1992. The Hawks could claim bragging rights with Premierships in 2008, 2013 and 2014 while the Eagles have only the 1994 and 2006 flags to their name. There are similarities between the 1991 teams and the 2015 teams. The Hawks have a number of veteran stars and some young guns while the Eagles are a relatively young ream with only three players with Grand Final experience - Sam Butler, Xavier Ellis and Sharrod Wellingham. Butler played in the 2006 Premiership side while Ellis was with the Hawks in their winning 2008 team. Wellingham played for Collingwood in the 2010 tied Grand Final and winning replay.
No-one rated the Eagles at the start of the 2015 season when they lost three of their best defenders to season-ending injuries and one of their best forwards was unavailable due to injury. Coach Adam Simpson rejigged the defense and was able to fill the "holes" elsewhere on the field to have the team flying against all expectation. Now he has his team in a Grand Final against a team looking to become just the third team in League history with a "threepeat" (three Premierships in a row).
Can the "aging" Hawks repeat 1991 or will a hungry, determined and confident West Coast defy the odds and turn the tables?
Source: AFL Record Season Guide, Encyclopedia of League Footballers, The Clubs, 100 Years of Australian Football, Every Game Ever Played 1897-1997
Article last changed on Thursday, October 01, 2015 - 7:50 PM EDT