I should preface my comments by admitting I have a huge anti-Hawthorn bias. In large part that’s historical. I’m an Essendon supporter and through our great rivalry of the 1980’s we came to hate each other, and that’s pretty well carried on from then. We don’t like them, they don’t like us and I’m happy to cop that.
I’m biased against them too because they’ve won the last two flags and because I want them to lose, and because – as pretty well any Victorian will tell you – Hawk supporters have become an awfully smug lot. It’d be nice to wipe their complacent smiles off their face.
Having said all that Hawthorn rightly go into today’s game against the Eagles as rightful favourites. My head says Hawthorn. They’re the reigning champion, the most professional club in the league, the most seasoned and experienced. Most importantly, like all great teams, they win the big moments. For all of those reasons I’m hesitant to tip against them, but I have a feeling there might be a surprise today.
I have a lot of time for the West Coast Eagles, and they’re certainly they have the game to beat Hawthorn. These teams rank first and second both offensively and defensively this season. There’s no doubt that these are the best two teams playing it off for the big prize.
State parochialism plays no part for me when it comes to AFL footy. I know it’s a different story in WA and SA, but I think for most Victorians, brought up with fierce tribal loyalties – and hatreds – the club is nearer than the state. I’ll always barrack against Hawthorn, Carlton and Collingwood. It’s a no-brainer that today I’ll be cheering on the Eagles.
It should be an interesting game. More than most grand finals there are some unique features of today’s contest which will go a long way towards deciding who the winner is.
The first is those is the weather. The forecast is for 30 degrees today, and possibly higher. It’s hottest game of the year. From a pure weather perspective the Eagles have the advantage. They’ll be better acclimated than Hawthorn having played and trained in Perth, warmer than Melbourne. They have younger legs too. Hawthorn is a relatively old team, and are further disadvantaged by having played something like their last 8 games either at night or twilight.
That plays into selection. I was surprised to see Hawthorn drop a small – a speedster in Hartung – for a tall. Gunston is a good in, but it makes them tall. Normally you would suggest they would have aerial dominance on a day like today for that reason. The trade-off is less run, which possibly more than most games will factor today with the heat. Come the last quarter you need runners, particularly against such a good running side as the Eagles.
It’s warm today, but it’s also windy. That negates to some extent the height advantage Hawthorn have gone with. The wind will swirl in the MCG, making marking more difficult. It may also mess with Hawthorn’s precision kicking skills.
My read on this is that it’s risk Hawthorn are taking, and possibly an unnecessary one. I’m willing to suggest that if the Eagles are within 10 pints at the last change then they’ll win, assuming teams remain unchanged (regardless, I think they’ll finish the better in the heat). I wouldn’t be surprised if Hawthorn make a late change. My take is left field – Lake out for Hartung.
For the Eagles to win they can’t let Hawthorn get away from them. The first 20 minutes will be critical. Hawthorn will come out hard and tough. They’ll try to monster and intimidate the Eagles. If the Eagles can withstand that they’ll go a long way towards winning. They have to play their own game though.
Hawthorn are good all over the ground. It’s their precision kicking that kills you. The Eagles need to disrupt that, as they did a couple of weeks ago, to win. I also think they should look at tagging Mitchell. If he gets away Hawthorn will be hard to beat.
Eagles need to make the most of their strengths – Nic Nat in the ruck, and Kennedy, the best forward in the land. If the Eagles get dominance in the centre square and around the clearances they’ll win. They have the tools to achieve that particularly with Nic Nat and Priddis. Then there’s Kennedy. If he kicks a bag then the Eagles should win. He should kick a few, he’s that good. If he kicks 5 or better then advantage Eagles. He’s actually my tip for the Norm Smith.
We know what we’re going to get from the Hawks. To some extent the unknown is the Eagles. It’s a big variable. It used to be that finals experience used to be the crucial difference. I’m not sure it’s as critical as it used to be, but it’s possible that today it will be. Hawthorn have it all over the Eagles in that regard.
What do I tip? Hopefully a good game, and definitely a few beers. I know the Hawks won’t go away, but the heat, and the youthful enthusiasm of the Eagles might carry them over the line. End of the day, it might come down to whoever takes their chances best. It does generally.