The final Saturday in September is upon us. There’s only four quarters of footy left to decide who will be champs and who will be chumps. So – will it be Hawthorn or Sydney? We at Mike or the Don take an in-depth look at the final game of the season. And for those who don’t know Jarrad McVeigh from Jarryd Roughead, we took the time to canvass every area so you can be the guy (or girl) with all the inside knowledge at your Grand Final BBQ!
I guess the Hawks’ performance last Saturday against the Crows could be summed up pretty simply as ‘just barely good enough.’ The game reminded me of the Cats-Magpies preliminary final of 2007. One team was massively backed, the other was hardly given a chance. Early on – in both games – the heavily favoured team dominated possession and territory yet choked in front and around goal, uncharacteristically fumbled the ball and generally looked a shadow of their usual calm and composed selves. On the few occasions when the other team went down their end, they kicked goals. As such, both Geelong and Hawthorn ultimately only just limped over the line when the result could easily have gone the other way.
Sydney will be hoping Hawthorn have a similar case of the wobbles. The likelihood is that Hawthorn have played their bad August-September game – you know, the game everyone says a good team needs to play to absolve themselves of the ‘Premiership favourite tag.’ Furthermore, it’s quite rare that a good team – especially a team as good as Hawthorn – plays two bad finals games. So whilst their immediate form is less than desirable, the fact is that Hawthorn comfortably beat Collingwood in Week 1 of the finals and finished the season strongly – which included beating the Swans at the SCG in Round 22 and the Eagles in Round 23.
Luke Hodge missed the preliminary final with a bad bout of gastro and it will be a much slimmer and energy-deficient No. 15 that will take the field on Saturday. The last time Hodge played in a Grand Final he went in with a cracked rib and duly won the Norm Smith Medal for best player afield so I wouldn’t expect him to be less effective although he will spend more time on the bench. Clearance kings Sam Mitchell and Brad Sewell will be important to ensuring the Hawks get good ball into their forward line, where they will be hoping Franklin, Rioli, Breust, Gunston and co will finish off their hard work. With so many forward options the Swans need to limit the supply further up the field, starting with the midfield but extending to the backline where Suckling, Gibson, Young, Burgoyne and Birchall provide run and carry in the back half to split open the field for their teammates up the field.
Alistair Clarkson has been here and done it already when he guided the Hawks to their 2008 flag over the Cats. The 44-year old has now racked up 8 seasons in the top job and is mainly famous for bringing the rolling zone defense to the AFL, which then developed into the forward press that is now used by all teams. As a coaching personality he is well-known for his angry moments – punching a wall at the MCG was his most notable moment this year – but all in all, he knows how to get the best out of his troops.
When Lance Franklin was sidelined for 6 weeks this season he reshaped the focus of his forward line to devastating effect as the Hawks racked up goals without their star forward. He has also done well to minimise the losses of Brent Guerra, Michael Osborne, Brendan Whitecross, Stephen Gilham and Luke Hodge this finals series.
Isolating Buddy Franklin as much as possible is key to making sure the Hawks can get their main man some good looks at goal. Stopping Ted Richards coming third man up at contests to cut off attacking thrusts is pivotal to this. Maybe Hawthorn’s defenders can attempt to mark the ball on the odd occasion to limit the amount of stoppages the Swans get in their forward 50. It’s quite doubtful, but we can all dare to dream.
But mainly, the Hawks need to be a little selfish around goals. Too many times against Adelaide did Hawthorn players try to pass the ball from 40-50m out only for it to fail and an opportunity to be missed. Hawthorn’s most devastating asset is their ability to kick goals from long distance – think Suckling, Young, and Birchall drilling goals from 50m and beyond. It breaks the hearts of the opposition.
So hopefully guys like Rioli and Lewis can take a leaf out of those player’s book and line up the big sticks when the opportunity presents. Mainly as it’s so frustrating to see players not want to but not even consider taking a shot at goal to ‘do the team thing’ and pass when sometimes ‘doing the team thing’ is actually kicking a goal. Unless you’re Buddy Franklin – then you’re annoyed he didn’t pass it to the three guys wide open in the goalsquare.
Whilst their finals form has been quite brilliant – a 29 point win over the Crows in Adelaide then backing it up last Friday night against their bogey team – the Magpies – at their bogey ground – ANZ Stadium. Looking back a little further and it makes for a little different reading. Three out of their final four home-and-away games were losses – to the Magpies, Hawks and Cats with a comprehensive win over the Bulldogs their only win in that period. It won’t mean much come Saturday, of course, but it does give a deeper indication into how they have fared over recent times.
The Swans in finals games however have been quite impressive. The Crows proved to be a formidable opponent for even the best team in the league and the Swans put them away quite easily in the end, and in enemy territory to boot. They can also look back at their Round 5 demolition of the Hawks with some confidence as well as their ability in Round 22 game against the Hawks to kick clear by more than 6 goals early in the game. In that game their lead was hauled in as they eventually lost by 7 points but they can go into the Grand Final knowing their best can do plenty of damage to their opponents.
The form of Ted Richards and Lewis Jetta have been very strong with the latter able to spark the Swans seemingly when required – most effectively so when he ran half the length of the field against the Pies leaving Nathan Brown in his wake to boot a team-lifting goal.
Richards has been a rock in defense by continually chopping off attacks with a reliving mark or timely fist. He will be carrying a leg injury into the game, yet he aggravated the injury early in last week’s game and was able to play with it without any significant drop-off in effectiveness.
If the Swans are to win Adam Goodes will need to be at his best, either in the midfield or up forward. The Crows let him loose a few weeks ago to their detriment so the Swans will look to isolate him in one-on-one situations as much as possible. Sam Reid will need to perform better than his last few games if the Swans are to exploit the Hawk’s defenders weakness to defend effectively in one-on-one situations. Also, former Hawk Josh Kennedy has had two dominant games against his former team this year, polling 5 Brownlow votes. If he can keep his form going into Saturday then Hawthorn will have their hands full around the contests.
John Longmire has only been in the hot seat for two seasons and has performed exceedingly well in the job. He has done well in bringing along a fairly young group, including Alex Johnson, Nick Smith, Daniel Hannebury and Lewis Jetta who have all come along in leaps and bounds over the last two seasons.
Josh Gibson has had a fantastic season for the Hawks. Most notably, he has nullified his team’s weaknesses in defense by assisting his teammates in aerial contests to spoil the ball. Whoever the Swans have on Gibson must keep him in check to make sure their fellow forwards can get a clear shot at marking the ball. Adelaide did this well last week as Taylor Walker and Kurt Tippett got free to continually mark the ball in contested situations. The Swans must also pressure the Hawks backline and midfield as much as possible to force turnovers and not allow easy delivery into their forward line.
Shane Mumford and Mike Pyke will need to take control of the ruck where the Hawks have a clear deficiency as neither Jarryd Roughead nor David Hale are dominant ruckmen. If they can give the Swans first use of the ball more often they will go a long way to kicking a winning score. Also, if Rhyce Shaw can use his run and dash to move the ball quickly out of the backline the Swans will create more options going forward.
The Swans record at the MCG this year is pretty disastrous – they have not won in their last 9 games at the home of footy. However, they have only played once this year at the venue – a 29 point loss to Richmond. The Hawks have won 12 of their last 15 games at the ‘G – their only losses being to the Cats (twice) and the Tigers – the only teams they have been unable to defeat this season.
The predicted wet and cold conditions shouldn’t favour either team as both are strong around the stoppages.
There is no doubt the Swans have the ability and strength across the ground to win this Grand Final. The problem is that I believe they will have to rely on the Hawks to underperform in order to do so. Simply put, if both teams play at their optimal level then the Hawks win, and even if the Hawks aren’t at their best they have shown an ability to win when playing poorly – a quality the Swans have lacked this season. The Swans should keep pace with the Hawks but in the end the brown and gold will prevail.
In summary: Hawks by 11 points
Norm Smith Medal: Sam Mitchell – the clearance king will get a lot of the ball and will probably bob up to kick an important goal or two when it matters most.