Grand finals day is one of my favourite days of the year, regardless of who is playing. The day after rarely is though and I usually go through as many painkillers as the Sydney Roosters in their off season. This year is a bit different. As I have written elsewhere I am in the midst of recovery from an injury that has had significant impact on my life. As a result I am on an alcohol ban and I am able to actually watch the whole game and record it for those like me who often don't remember much after half time.
You have to give credit to both finalists for their performance over the season. Like Malcolm Turnbull, Hawthorn have ground inexorably towards their current position and it seemed almost unthinkable that they wouldn't be here today, while the eagles have come from the clouds (sorry) to exceed almost anyone's expectations.
I have expected the lack of height in the West Coast to be exploited like a 7-11 worker all season, but they have continually proved me wrong. Would today be the day they were found out? On the Hawthorn side there were fitness questions over Gunston and Hodge so it was going to be interesting to see how they ran out the game in the unaccustomed heat.
Naitanui looked like he was going to be important from the outset, winning the opening bounce and a ball up soon after in the eagles' forward line. The eagles missed their first kick at goal, but soon after, Schuey won a slightly dubious free kick for a high tackle by Lewis, which the umpire took longer to call than Eric the Eel takes to swim 50m. Kicking from a slight angle, he made no mistake.
Having had a lot of the early play the eagles would have been disappointed with how easily they gave up their first goal. Darling gave away an unnecessary 50m penalty at half forward, allowing Lake to kick long into the forward line where Roughhead ducked a tackle that was as ineffective as Joe Hockey's promise to stop high earners avoiding paying tax. He hit the ball to Rioli who snapped accurately.
Much of the first half was a good battle in the midfields with key players on both sides getting plenty of the ball (except for Masten who had a poor start to the game). The difference was what happened in each forward line. The hawks' defence shared the same miserly attitude that the Saudi government has towards Syrian refugees. They generally held up well, assisted by some poor kicking and decision making from eagles’ players. In one example Shuey broke free, running towards the behind line and should have given the ball off to an open player in the square. Instead he tried to dribble the ball through from a tight angle and missed.
At the other end, the eagles really struggled stop their opponents from scoring, with Rioli a constant threat. Their transition from defence after causing turnovers into attacking play was too good for West Coast. Shoenmakers took a strong mark in the middle of the ground, which set up play for Smith to kick long and McEvoy to mark. I had the sound off, as I could only imagine how over-hyped the commentary team would be today, but I could hear Brian Taylor in my mind, as the Hawthorn ruckman's kick sailed through the goals.
When Rioli marked with no one near him and converted his kick, the Hawks had kicked three straight to one goal three, which I though boded poorly for the eagles' kicking game. I had no idea.
Aside from the goals there were a few other noteworthy moments in thus quarter.
Sharrod Wellingham put in his contender for the toughest piece of play for the day (not something I would expect to say about someone trying that hard to look like Legolas) when he bulldozed through three opponents in succession like Greg Hunt through environmental protection laws.
Naitanui tried to pull his side back almost singlehandedly. He won another ball up outside 50, got hold of the ball and brushed off tacklers before kicking a long kick for goal, which Sinclair might have done a better job protecting considering his size.
A shocking turnover by Darling gave Hawthorn an opportunity they did their best to stuff up but eventually ended in a goal after some clever play by Mitchell to steady them. Just before quarter time, Lecras fumbled on the wing and once again the hawks broke away. Rioli found Hill alone close to goal after another quick running play and when he ran into the open goal, Hawthorn had five straight for the quarter.
The game wasn't over at the end of the first quarter as the eagles had shown they had the capacity to match it with hawks and hurt their opponents when they got things right, but a better composure with the ball and a bit of tweaking in defence would be needed. Whatever Simpson tried to do, it backfired badly in the second quarter when the hawks ran away to a match-winning lead in less time than it took Tony Abbott to renege on his pledge not to destabilise Malcolm Turnbull’s government from the backbench. While he couldn’t do anything about the continued skill errors, there was also a problem at the strategic level. Hawthorn were playing a loose man in defence, but still seemed to find a player loose in midfield sitting off the back of most contests, while the eagles’ players seemed to be almost too intent on the ball at times and leaving players free to receive the next pass. I thought at one point they might try to go hard man on man all over the ground, but perhaps didn’t think they would score enough to get back into the game that way.
Hodge opened the quarter with an almost impossible to replicate banana goal from far out on the boundary line, after Puopolo had kept the ball in play and shrugged a tackle weaker than the mining tax. West Coast kept coming, but kept getting killed on the turnover. A lot of their play was as one-dimensional as Senator Leyonhelm (seriously, does that guy think about anything other automatic shotguns?) and the hawks were able to channel their opponents effectively and anticipate where they would kick to, force a turnover with numbers and then open them up on the rebound.
When they ran with the ball more, the eagles could be dangerous. A quick chain of possessions ended with Hurn marking straight in front, only to miss the set shot. From the kick out, the ball went straight down the other end where Rioli marked and got it to Gunston close to goal and straight in front. There would only be one result from there.
Rioli won a holding the ball decision with a terrific chase and tackle soon after. The free kick went in deep and a clever overhead tap (might have been McEvoy) gave Gunston space to kick his second.
Smith kicked a long goal that I thought Yeo could have made a better effort to touch on the line soon after and a blow-out was on the cards.
West coast finally got their second goal when Josh Hill roved the spillage of his own poor kick inside 50, picked it up at full speed and kicked it through from an angle. It was a harder effort than the six or so his teammates had already missed to kick themselves out of the contest.
Looking at the score, you could have been mistaken for thinking West Coast were putting as much effort into the game as Ellie Goulding did to singing (or lip-synching) pre-match, but that would be unfair on both teams. Every hawks’ player was playing their role well in a very strong team performance, whereas the eagles were trying hard but just killing themselves with their errors. Priddis, Naitanui, Schofield and McGovern all did a lot of work but weren't seeing much reward. Other team members however were changing the game about as much as Malcolm Turnbull has changed government policy since becoming prime minister. A really heavy block by Naitanui allowed the ball to be kicked inside 50 and Yeo to mark and goal, but really I was waiting for the half time sprint to see any sort of contest.
I showed my doomsday cultist-like predictive powers looking at the competitors for the half time sprint. I know Majak Daw is a magnificent athlete, but thought he had to be too tall and heavy to be a good sprinter. I commented that I couldn't believe North Melbourne had selected him to a friend only to look as well-informed as a climate change denier, when the big Sudanese player took it out easily.
West Coast came out hard after half time. A nice early build up saw Gaff chip to the lead of Lecras who missed his set shot. Soon after, Hurn kicked to Darling and this time they were rewarded with a goal. They should have had two more goals soon after, which could have been a four goal start to the term, but contrived to mess them up. First Shuey ran through 50 with teammates either side and kicked straight to a defender, misinterpreting where his forward was running. Then darling dropped a chest mark in range of goal and then fumbled the ball trying to pick it up.
When the ball got up the other end it was a different story again. Shoenmakers finally goaled despite the desperate efforts of an outnumbered Schofield. Hutchings got one goal back with a quick snap, after some unusually effective forward pressure from the eagles, but that was the only positive sign in the latter half of the quarter.
A long kick inside forward 50 was marked uncontested by Gunston when Butler didn't stay close to him- which would make him a pretty poor butler- and converted for another goal. For my mind, Rioli had already won the Norm Smith Medal by now, but he underlined it with a piece of absolute brilliance soon after. He intercepted a handball with quick reflexes and ran out of a pack to kick perfectly for Gunston running at full speed between two eagles. Soon after, Smith, who was also having a good game, roved a ball in the pocket and bounced it through, while Gunston was on the end of a quick hand pass/throw from Mitchell out of congestion to snap his fourth.
The eagles' best attempt at scoring in this period when the ball was kicked to Darling one-out with Lake, but the ball was kicked low to the defender's advantage and all Darling could do was crash into the larger Lake (probably the best place you could crash).
With the margin beyond 50 points, the final quarter had lost interest to all but the most sadistic hawks fans (which is still 95% by my estimation). Sinclair had done little for the game, so it was no surprise to see him subbed off, but when McGovern was forced to pinch-hit in the ruck he looked terribly outsized.
Just like in the previous quarter, Lecras marked and missed to open the quarter. It was little surprise to see the ball whisked back to the other end where Rioli kicked a long ball that Roughhead marked on the goal line. Not even Will Hodgeman could have kept a straight face saying he wasn't sure if it was going through, but no one begrudged him taking the goal.
The next goal came when Luke Breust copped a tackle that was about as legitimate as the tackle by an NYPD officer on James Blake, but Isaac Smith played on and snapped his third.
Adding a touch of comedy, Josh Hill gave up one of the worst certain goals I have seen, jogging towards an open goal with two teammates and a single defender around. For whatever reason he kept it low and allowed the defender (Lake I think) to make a diving touch. The camera shot to Clarkson trying not to laugh was well-timed. The eagles got a couple of consolation goals in the final minutes of the game, through Lecras and two to McGovern, before the siren finally went and the Hawks could celebrate their remarkable third premiership in a row.
There was only ever one BOG today. The hawks played really well as team, without a single weak link I could see. They were also well-coached, so Clarkson himself should get a mention here, but clear best on ground was Rioli, who was dangerous all game- especially early when it was still a contest- and involved in many of his team's goals. It was no surprise to see him awarded to Norm Smith Medal.
The Snickers award could have gone to a few players. Sinclair struggled to have much impact when he was on and the forward line was terribly ineffectual as a group, in terms of both their movement patterns not creating space and their shooting having the accuracy of an Andrew Bolt article. Still they were also let down by their teammates with some terrible service. As coach, Simpson needs to take responsibility for a game plan that did not deliver either. All up though, I gave a Snickers to Lecras (with Darling as an honourable mention), who actually had some decent service but missed set shots he should have nailed, as well as being noteably fumble around the ground.