Venue: Melbourne Cricket Ground, Date: 28th September 2013, Time: 2:30pm AEST Opponents: Hawthorn vs. Fremantle Number of Opponents: 44 Prize: AFL Premiership Cup and eternal glory.
That is the situation that awaits the football world on the last Saturday in September.
Hawthorn is going for their 11th Premiership and their first in 5 five heartbreaking years while Fremantle will play-off for their first ever premiership in what has been a tumultuous 20 year history.
Grand Final week has so many angles that could be covered in a singular story.
This year some of the angles include the rise of the Dockers, Hawthorn’s quest for revenge, the potential of Lance Franklin leaving Hawthorn with a premiership, watching history as Stephen and Brad Hill becoming the first brothers in 100 years to play against each other in a Grand Final and in the feeling of fans going into a decider.
They are all good angles to focus upon but I want to talk about the two coaches that will lead their troops into combat.
Coaches are a bit like umpires, successful coaches don’t get a whole lot of attention while unsuccessful coaches get lumped with the voyeuristic tendencies of the media.
In the case of Alistair Clarkson, he is a member of the former.
When Hawthorn is mentioned in conversation or on television, the skill of the Hawks roster generally dominates any debate.
There is little discussion about the work of coach Alistair Clarkson and his role in the revitalisation of the club.
Clarkson was appointed in 2004 when Hawthorn – a power of the 1980s – was on its knees after years of mismanagement and complacency.
The club was told by Clarkson that he would deliver a premiership in three years, a prediction which sounded fanciful at the time (Hawthorn had finished 15th on percentage from bottom placed Richmond).
He was true to his word when in 2008; the Hawks upset the seemingly unbeatable Geelong.
While the hangover followed in 2009, Clarkson changed the furniture without demolishing the house (only 9 from 2008 will play on Saturday) and was able revitalise the team which culminated in making another Grand Final this year.
Clarko has moulded the Hawks and their style of football on his personality.
Hawthorn’s game plan is direct, quick, without fuss and in your face.
Clarkson’s mob is not the most liked side in the competition, but the reek of ruthlessness and success and don’t give a stuff about who likes them and who doesn’t.
If you indulge me while I delve into in a bit of amateur psychology, Alistair Clarkson strikes me as a man of intense personality contradiction.
Clarkson is a man that remains a dogged competitor while at the same, is recognised as a gentleman who has such a great awareness of the world outside football.
Clarkson is a man that calls a journalist a c—khead for asking a mundane question; yet stands in front of the media after losing a close Grand Final and reminds the murder of Jill Meagher is a greater tragedy than the Hawks losing the Grand Final.
He’s the type of man that gets aggro at local footy matches yet goes to hospitals to visit sick kids for hours at a time without any media attention or aggression.
Ruthless yet aware, aggressive but principled, Hawthorn will play in the mould of the man who remains a curious enigma.
The man that will sit in the coaching box on the Great Southern Stand wing in opposition could not be more different to Alistair Clarkson in personality and preparation.
The contents of Ross Lyon’s personality were best exemplified in his first press conference as the coach of Fremantle.
Western Australian journalists were baying for blood after the coldblooded axing of former coach Mark Harvey in 2011.
Their questioning of Lyon was brutal with each question layered with a level of bile and spite in the hope they could scare him into submission.
Lyon without any remorse or concern answered each question with a calm yet pugnacious and dismissive attitude.
He didn’t care for the theatrics and sentiment towards Harvey; he had come to Fremantle to make them a successful premiership squad.
24 months later, Lyon has guided the long-suffering Dockers to the MCG on the last Saturday in September.
The sceptics that were deafening on his appointment in 2011 have gone to ground as they’ve been proven wrong.
Fremantle under Lyon, have gone from being the Lonesome Loser to The Nightmare on Roberts Road.
While the Hawks supremo is presents himself as heart-on-sleeve and outwardly passionate man, Lyon always presents a personality of calmness and focus.
Bar the outburst at 3AW’s Shane McInnes after beating Geelong, Lyon rarely shows grievance or frustration, preferring to focus on the team and not on his feelings.
He also had developed a sense of humour and sardonic wit that has endeared him at Fremantle in comparison to his cold and prickly demeanour at St. Kilda.
Lyon believes in the supremacy of the unit and because of that, his Saints and Dockers sides play football as a team not as individuals.
He has built a very scary cult-like unit that is uncompromising and break opponents into submission in the same way the Ministry of Love broke the resistance of dissidents in Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Grand Final experience may be somewhat important but if Lyon can lift his troops they way he did against Geelong and Sydney, they will be unstoppable.
Two very different football teams led by two very football coaches will contest this year’s Grand Final.
These teams are built on the philosophies and beliefs of their coaches who remain the X Factors of tomorrow’s clash.
PS: I’m tipping Hawthorn by five points.