There was only 15 points between the two teams at the final siren in the grand final Saturday, and midway through the third quarter the margin was only 3 points. It makes it sound like an entertaining game, but I found it one of the more dull grand finals of recent years.
It’s rare the grand final actually lives up to its premise. Generally because there is so much pressure, real and perceived, it’s hardly ever a free-flowing, attractive game, unless one team gets on top early – at which times it can be a boring blow-out. The footy doesn’t have to be pretty to make for a great contest, however. Some of the more engrossing games are those dour affairs when the irresistible object meets the immoveable force. I love those matches. Unfortunately none of those conditions were met on Saturday.
Perhaps you can blame the weather for this game. All throughout the morning a strong wind blew. It had dissipated some by the time the match started, but remained flukey throughout. It made precision skills difficult. Still, there are plenty of games weather disrupted which turn out classic contests. Sure, the weather played a part, but the real reason this game wasn’t what it should have been were Freo nerves.
Grand final experience is always cited as a big factor in how these games play out. I didn’t discount it leading it, but for some reason thought that such a grounded coach like Ross Lyon would insulate his team from the worst ravages of big game nerves. That wasn’t the case. Hawthorn were the better team on the day, but there’s a good argument to suggest that nerves cost the Dockers the premiership.
The most obvious impact of nerves was on kicking for goal. Very early on Fyfe, one of their best players, and a future champion, took two very good marks about 35 metres out from goal and then proceeded to kick both out-of-bounds on the full. Quite aside from the loss of score – 12 points – it’s the psychological impact of early misses like that on the team as a whole. Score one early and there’s a sense of relief, and the pressure goes off; but if you miss the pressure builds until it infects the whole team. It plays with the mind, and as we’ve seen many times before, bad kicking becomes contagious.
That was the case on Saturday. Throughout the game Freo badly missed shots on goal that should have been straight-forward. If you look at the final scoreline then you have to think that Freo would have reversed the margin had they kicked what they should.
Nerves made ordinary players of good players – Ballantyne the obvious example; and other good players, such as Mayne, had uncharacteristic shockers. The defensive efforts of previous weeks were disjointed on Saturday, and not anywhere near as effective as before. Much credit should go to Hawthorn for that. There own defensive efforts were very good; they had the systems to bypass Freo, and the skills to execute. Fair to say though, that Freo was hamstrung in its attempts by their mental frailties.
The game got close on the back of a string of Fremantle goals, and briefly the possibility existed – except that Freo couldn’t follow through and Hawthorn prevailed. It seemed almost routine for such a big match.
For my part I enjoyed the festivities. I ate a lot, and drank way too much. I had kick of the footy, many laughs, and took my turn pontificating as the Tequila shots took hold. I don’t know what time I got home – it might have been 8pm, it could have been 10. I went straight to bed, with no thoughts plaguing this sleep.