It’s the final for the fans, the die-hard true believers; a last chance hotel where the tenants endure the nightmare of their own heartbeat from the partying room upstairs of 4 quarter anxiety. It’s often the loudest final too – beyond this final hurdle lay the Grand Final where club members are fans are squeezed in favour of the dollar attracting corporates and socialites who can rarely be heard from behind their waiter domained glass shelters.
Theres a sense of destiny about this pair of preliminary finals revolving mostly around Lance Franklin, whom it’s said by some, began the delicate negotiations with Sydney just days after his own Hawks had fallen to them in the 2012 Grand Final. His crossing to Sydney in the throes of 2013 Flag celebrations cast a pall over his teammates achievement.
Fears inside the Sydney camp multiply on this gamble their much vaunted less explained tight knit “Blood Culture” under threat from Buddy’s 24/7 party antics. But it’s not to be, after a week or two of acclimatisation, Buddy settles into the club exploding into a Coleman medal and giving the Brownlow a damn good shake. The only step back is when Buddy inexplicably loses control of his girl friend Jacinta Campbell’s Jeep down a quiet suburban street taking out 5 bystanding vehicles as if they were hapless the Melbourne half back line ensemble attempting to put a spoil on one of his infamous runs. Apparently one of those hit was owned by a life long Hawk supporter. You can view the carnage here as you ask yourself “How” and “Why?”
Meanwhile, our brave Roos fly to Sydney to play at that Olympic cavern in the far west of the city on the Friday night. Buoyed by overcoming the burden of inconsistency, they’ve strung together finals victories over Essendon and Geelong to contend for that last Saturday. By pre-game they are again distracted by serial reportee Brent Harvey whose high hit on Cat Selwood in the lead up final cops him a preliminary final denying one week’s suspension, having just clocked back in after 3 weeks on footy remand for a prior offence against the Dogs. Rather than Roo positives dominating the agenda, it becomes about Boomer and his successful appeal. It’s Wednesday before he’s finally off the front page and as it transpires with hindsight, the dissipation of club energy and momentum is complete. The Roos are competitive for about 10 minutes before cistern leaks trickle goals from full and centre half forward. The manpower to deal with talls Buddy, Goodes, Tippet and Reid is overwhelming and by the final siren with the Swans coasting, North are in arrears by 77 points, another belting to add to their finals pain in recent years.
On the Saturday The Hawks really shouldn’t be here. Losing multiple key players in Mitchell, Lake, Rioli, Gibson for large chunks of the season, in caretaker mode under Brendan Bolton as Clarko takes sick leave for a mysterious back condition, having the toughest draw of the top 8 teams while confronting that most dreaded of footy club malaise – the Premiership hangover.
In the penultimate show down against Port Adelaide, along with 20,000 fans who’ve trekked the border in search of manna. They’ve traversed from tarps to near triumph, filling the new Adelaide oval to the brim and adopting INXS’s “Never Tear Us Apart” as their beacon for action. Just 2 years back from checking out of footy’s nursing home, the club is rejuvenated and playing swarming, powerful running football. More than a wild card, a genuine contender having disposed of Richmond before shocking Freo on their home turf with a courageous come from the death win. They’re young, brash, tough and run all day.
The game is a street fight of contested possession and defence. Port fans are making such noise that the hovering helicopter over the ground is drowned out. For the first time today, I’m grateful for this presence fans should hang their head for not overwhelming their presence acoustically. We’ve had it good and are complacent. I try to model good practice here for our supporters by hanging over the balcony edge and pouring abuse on the their cheersquad. I feel warm inside, like I’d just dropped a tenner into the Church collection plate and whipped out $5 worth of change.
After half time, with the Hawks 11 points up, the Hawks assert their authority in the clearances, sweeps off defence and forward pressure. Roughead kicks 3 for the quarter, one from 65 metres on the run to get the Hawks out by 22.
In the final quarter, Gunston goals to see the Hawks up 28 and seemingly hosed if not home. Port however have come for the prize and in and astonishing 7 minutes of football secure goals from Monfries, Wingard from the boundary and Polec. With Port split the Hawk defence to honour a clean lead from Monfries who converts, it’s just a 3 point deficit with 2 minutes to play. The within use-by memory of their gallant come from behind storming victory over Freo the week prior get’s a sniff out of the carton in the desperate hope that it’s off.
With one final roll of the dice, Port . A campaign defining smother from Captain Luke Hodge and subsequent tackle that wins him a dubious holding the ball decision steadies the ship before one last Port sortie that ends with Lake juggling the contest at Port half forward on the siren to see the Hawks into their third straight Grand Final. Honouring history, it’s the ninth time in Hawthorn’s 14 Preliminary finals decided by a margin smaller than two goals.
Sated, for now, we head into the members ballot without the comfort of a secured seat and fortunately score 3 standing room. We’re back in the bay we bunkered down in for the 2012 Grand Final, also between these two teams. This additional chapter in the boys own annual of former friend now foe with scores to settle narrative awaits up with bookmark, beer and bonhomie!