As former premiership coach Denis Pagan has written repeatedly throughout this finals series in his Footy Record columns: it’s not the best team of the season that wins the Grand Final, it’s the best team on the day.
He should know: his North Melbourne team lost the unloseable grand final to Adelaide in 1998, but the following year won the unwinnable premiership when Essendon was clearly the standout side.
And so it came to pass on Saturday. Winning 42 of their last 44 games was no guarantee that Geelong would claim the contest that really counted: Match No.45. And, of course, they didn’t, brought undone by their own clumsy, impotent forward line and Hawthorn’s greater tenacity and more efficient use of the ball.
In fact, it was the wet-behind-the-ears Hawks, who fielded only one player with grand final experience, who kept their composure on the big stage while Geelong completely fluffed its lines.
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The Cats’ second quarter performance of 1.9 bore comparison with the Kangaroos 2.11 in the same quarter of the grand final 10 years earlier. The Roos were red-hot favourites that day, too. Like them, Geelong was made to pay heavily for its profligacy.
The match only served to underline the absurd claims of those pundits who, after every grand final, are happy to declare it as the start of a dynasty for the just-crowned champions. How often did we hear it last year, and all the way through this season? The Geelong dynasty has just begun: it will win three or four or maybe 10 flags in a row.
As anyone will tell you at Essendon, who dominated the competition for three years between 1999 and 2001 while winning just one premiership, it just doesn’t work like that.
Still, Hawthorn’s story over the past 12 years has been a remarkable one. Its ability to pick itself up from the rubble that night at the Camberwell Civic Centre in 1996, when the membership voted to stave off a merger with Melbourne (where there was considerably less resolve and backbone: the Demons’ members voted for the amalgamation) has been astonishing.
But the journey to the top of the mountain has not been without its tough times.
All last week, we heard how Shane Crawford had been the team talisman, how the Hawthorn players in the grand final were going to “do it for Crawf”, the 300-gamer, Brownlow Medallist, club stalwart and TV japester.
But, not so long ago, in September 2004, the people at Hawthorn were not talking about “Crawf” in such glowing terms. In fact, they thought he was a selfish pain in the neck and there was talk of him leaving the club at the end of that year to join Sydney.
What aggravated the hell out of many was Crawford’s decision to use The Footy Show to announce his retirement as captain, having refused Hawthorn’s request to make the announcement at a media conference earlier that day.
He felt his obligations to Channel Nine and The Footy Show, which employed him as a panelist, were greater than to the club which made him captain. Little wonder that so many Hawks felt betrayed by this gross act of self-serving nonsense.
Even AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou felt the need to weigh in, saying the Hawks deserved better from their captain.
“I don’t think that’s good enough,” Demetriou said.
“I just think that Shane’s first obligation is to the football club. He’s the captain and they would have looked after Shane … I just think it’s an obligation that all captains or all people that have been at a club should go through.”
Similarly, Clarkson’s appointment as coach at about this time — at the end of 2004 — did not exactly meet with unanimous approval. There were many club officials and high-profile supporters who knew little of Clarkson and couldn’t understand why a former Hawthorn great such as Gary Ayres or Terry Wallace or Rodney Eade, who were all looking for work, did not get the job.
On the Channel 10 news in Victoria on the night of Clarkson’s appointment, sports anchor (and heart-on-sleeve Hawk) Stephen Quartermain finished his wrap of the day’s events when the newsreader Mal Walden turned to him and asked what he thought of the left-field appointment.
Quartermain rolled his eyes, grimaced slightly and shook his head. It was the most damning assessment he could make without saying anything. And Clarkson had been in the job for all of six hours.
One wonders what Quarters thinks of the decision now, and whether he’s ever got around to apologising to Clarkson for the affront.
Anyway, enough dwelling on the past. Premierships have a happy knack of washing away the bitterness, rancour and lingering grievances — as surely as if they’d been doused in a stream of ice-cold champagne.
For now, Crawf and Clarko are true living heroes in the eyes of everyone at Hawthorn, their place on the Hawks’ honour roll — even Hall of Fame — now assured.
So to the victor the spoils. The Hawks played mighty well, and thoroughly deserved their win. In fact their record in grand finals is daunting: 10 wins from 15 starts.
But, please, no more talk of dynasties, or eras , or epochs. Hawthorn won the flag this year, no more and no less. And next year, in all likelihood, it will be another team — wearing a slightly more palatable colour scheme — parading the cup around the MCG.
Visit Charlie Happell’s blog to see who won Crikey’s bumper GF tipping comp.