Even though I was with the majority who thought Sydney would be too strong for Hawthorn in this year’s AFL Grand Final, I did note that if the Hawks won, they’d cement their place as one of the great teams of the modern era. The Hawks’ 12th flag moves them up to equal fourth on the all-time VFL/AFL winners list; but unlike the crusty old establishment sides ahead of them, whose flags are spread over 100 years, all 12 of their wins have come since 1961.
This equates to a premiership every three or so seasons since then. A pretty good ratio for Hawks fans, especially considering there are teams who are yet to have tasted success (well, there is only one team besides the two northern expansion sides – Fremantle), and teams who have only won one over a long period of time (St Kilda’s lone flag came in 1966 and the only time the Western Bulldogs/Footscray won it was way back in 1954).
Some solace to Dockers, Saints and Bulldogs fans will be that even the now-mighty Swans had a premiership drought of 72 seasons before their first of two recent flags in 2005. There is always hope.
But with their win on the weekend, the Hawks have stamped themselves as not only the dominant club of the past 50 years, but arguably one of the best of the 2000s. And that’s saying something, with the Lions’ triple premiership-winning side of 2001-2003 and the Geelong sides that won three flags in alternate years between 2007 and 2011 being the competition.
The 2014 Grand Final was one of the more surprising games in recent history. It’s been a while since one team – Sydney – was so heavily favoured before the match, yet was so comprehensively beaten. In fact, the game was virtually over if not by quarter-time, then almost certainly by halftime.
The Hawks played the complete game. What was most noticeable, particularly in the first half, was their pressure as the Swans kept turning the ball over in their forward half. The Hawks’ experienced campaigners led the way, with Sam Mitchell, Luke Hodge and Jordan Lewis all putting in plus-30 possession performances for the victors, and Hodge winning his second Norm Smith Medal as the best player on the ground.
I thought Lewis should have won the medal, but such was the dominance of these three over the hapless Sydney midfielders, it’s really splitting hairs as to who was best.
In terms of individuals, most of the talk pre-game was centred around former Hawks spearhead and now Sydney’s main man, Lance Franklin, and Hawthorn livewire forward Cyril Rioli, who was making his comeback to the AFL after a three-month injury layoff. Franklin was effective, but in hindsight, he was never going to be able to single-handedly save the Swans, such was the complete dominance of the opposition. The Swans just couldn’t get their hands on the ball, and when they did, it just got turned straight back over due to the pressure exerted by the Hawthorn players.
Rioli was that “nice to have” player for the Hawks; a player who they would have had some concerns over coming in, but is of such quality that they couldn’t afford to leave out, or even start on the bench for that matter.
And so season 2014 ends as 2013 did: with the Hawthorn Football Club achieving the ultimate success. All eyes now turn to the trade and draft periods, as Sydney and the other 16 clubs lick their wounds and start the daunting task of planning to overthrow what threatens to be the most dominant team in recent AFL history.