Hawthorn will contest their fifth consecutive Preliminary Final in a challenging situation against the dogged Fremantle in Perth. Their previous four Preliminaries have all been decided by less than a goal, perhaps indicating the illusory, random nature of success versus failure in our rabid, win-or-chump times.

While Hawthorn’s two most definitive matches have been their two Grand Finals against Sydney, all four of these previous Preliminaries are modern-day classics and indicate the evolution of Hawthorn this decade.

 

2011

Collingwood 2.3, 3.5, 5.6, 10.8 (68) defeated Hawthorn 2.4, 4.7, 7.11, 9.11 (65)

This is prehistory, the last time Hawthorn were intrinsically inferior to an opposing team. It was a final that resembled those of last decade, where defensive focus was iron and unbreakable, 68-60 scores were the norm and breakthrough goals came about as frequently as Halley’s Comet.

I remember Josh Gibson repeatedly huddling the Hawk defenders for strategy chats between quarters. The focus from the defence had to be total, second after second, minute by minute, and must have been incredibly taxing mentally. It broke in the last quarter.

This match has a number of similarities with the cataclysmic 2012 Grand Final and even the victories over Adelaide in 2012 and Geelong in 2013: terrible missed set shots by the likes of Hale and Co which ultimately condemned the Hawks when they couldn’t maintain their lockdown dominance over the intrinsically superior Pies in the last quarter.

That Hawthorn rectified this in 2014 indicates a correlation between the unconnected technical skill of goalkicking and winning mentality.

The goat here was Ryan Shoenmakers, the defender who dropped a defensive chestmark with three minutes to go leading to Luke Ball’s winning snap. Shoenmakers was something of the symbol of the powerful but fallible Hawks of pre-2014, injured and phased out when Hawthorn finally got their minds together.

Buddy scored what would have been, if Hawthorn had held on, in impossibility and importance the greatest goal of all time with four minutes to go.

Regarding the losses to Collingwood and Sydney, which type of loss hurts more? Being superior but unlucky on the day to a higher-placed team, or its opposite, blowing a season and a gimme opportunity in two hours to a more committed opponent?

 

2012

Hawthorn 2.6, 5.10, 11.14, 13.19 (97) defeated Adelaide 4.1, 7.3, 10.4, 14.8 (92)

This was a stone-cold choke, almost exactly repeated a week later against the Swans.

Hawthorn had arguably not improved from 2011 but juggernauts Geelong and Collingwood had declined, opening the way to a cheap premiership. Hawthorn played this season in bursts, winning this Prelim with four quick goals after half-time but wobbly the rest of the match, along with other bizarre fade-outs that season.

This match indicated that Hawthorn could not rely on set shots from the likes of Buddy and Cyril Rioli in the crunch. It was maybe the beginning of the move away from hero-ball towards the mellow, reliable likes of Jack Gunston and sharing the load up front.

Shoenmakers again had his issues, but the new likes of Shaun Burgoyne was the hero here. He would go on to be a symbol of the shared-load, Buddyless Hawks.

This match and the subsequent loss to Sydney arguably convinced Hawthorn to go up a gear in the years to come and keep striving for new levels, rather than resting on the laurels of a fortuitous 2012 Premiership. In a way, all was well that ended well… eventually.

 

2013

Hawthorn 3.5, 7.8, 10.10, 14.18 (102) defeated Geelong 4.0, 7.4, 14.6, 15.7 (97)

The match that defined an era. Geelong had famously narrowly beaten Hawthorn eleven times in a row, and for a fateful hour it seemed it would be twelve.

Hawthorn had begun as if they should steamroll these plucky upstarts, yet the magic of the Curse inexplicably worked itself again as the third quarter was coming to an end.

In those long minutes in the last quarter as Geelong clamped down on a 96-77 lead, we were watching a historical phenomenon far greater than 44 dudes running around a field. A Hawthorn mate admitted to despairing thoughts that Hawks would never think again: that he suddenly understood, felt the terrible feeling that, say (in my case) Bulldogs supporters deal with, watching years of work trickle away on a few terrible matches, year after year after year. If Geelong had held on for fifteen more minutes the entire Hawk era of greatness would have been drowned in the womb in a slew of nightmare, heartbreaking results.

But Geelong’s taxing finals series took its toll and suddenly space was opening up where there had been none, and Geelong defenders Bartel (wasn’t that a weird experiment) and Rivers were having to take death-or-glory marks on the goal line. Then the dam broke, and Hill, Gunston and Burgoyne came through with the winning strikes.

They were the new players who would symbolise the new Hawthorn, where everyone shouldered some of the burden of winning a football match and the likes of Shiels, Birchall and Breust contribute as much of the unsung greatness as Hodge and Mitchell. Buddy was already being phased out before he left the club.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more joyous winning celebration than that of the Hawk fans on the siren. It was a different feeling, one of incredulous, ecstatic catharsis. We actually, finally beat these guys. There was something else in that celebration, an undertow of the all the knocks and frustration that the Cats had steadily given to those Hawk fans.

In the ‘Geelong’ portion of the last quarter, a Hawk had missed a shocking set shot from twenty metres out. But this result changed everything, and after it Hawthorn never had problems with goal kicking nor with confidence again.

 

2014

Hawthorn 2.3, 8.4, 13.6, 15.7 (97) defeated Port Adelaide 3.9, 5.11, 8.13, 13.16 (94)

A fascinating duel against a bunch of loveable kids who almost pulled off a shocking miracle.

Hawthorn were a different team now, unflappable in the face of difficulty. So what on earth happened those last fifteen minutes? The Hawks, who had bloodlessly kicked straight and headed for a professional win – the opposite of yesteryear – were just swamped, overwhelmed by Port’s manic running game. Port, down by 29 points with ten game minutes left, scored the final four goals and missed two slight chances to grab the winner in the last minutes.

Hawthorn virtually won no clearances in those last ten minutes. It screamed ‘end of an era’ for the Hawks, until apparently it wasn’t. Ah Port, you were fun while you lasted.

 

2015 (updated)

Hawthorn 5.2, 7.2, 11.3, 15.4 (94) defeated Fremantle 2.1, 4.4, 8.4, 10.7 (67)

 

 

Marty Gleason