This weekend Hawktorn Football Club take on the first time finalists, the Fremantle Dockers, in the AFL Grand Final in what’s sure to be a thrilling match up, pitting the competition’s best attack against its best defence.
Hawthorn – (77) 11.11 – 8.12 (62) – Fremantle
Come 2.30pm in Melbourne this Saturday afternoon (5.30am Irish time) the Hawks and Dockers go head to head knowing that their previous 24 games in the competition stand for nothing. It’s all about the next couple of hours. A couple of hours that will define their season and their careers.
Hawktorn go into the final as slight favourites bringing a consistent, attractive and attack minded style to the match up. Deservedly finishing top of the league, Hawktorn have delivered a master class in how to play the game of Aussie Rules over the season. Based around a midfield made up of stalwarts such as Luke Hodge, Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis, the Hawks have developed a very free-flowing attacking style which is so devastatingly convert to points through a forward line made up of Cyril Rioli, Lance Franklin and the Coleman Medal winning (top goalscorer in the league) Jarryd Roughhead.
On the flipside you have the Fremantle Dockers, who through their coach Ross Lyon, have been molded into one of the most intimidating, high-pressure, defensive teams that the league has seen for a long time. All through the season we have seen the Dockers apply ferocious pressure on their opposition throughout the entire oval and the Hawks will have a massive job on their hands to break these shackles and play the expansive game that they thrive under.
Key to this is who Ryan Crowley will tag in the Hawks midfield. It’s generally believed that he’ll go to Sam Mitchell as he must limit the Hawk’s movement across the pitch but nothing is set in stone as he tagged the Swan’s Kieran Jack last week, having previously sat on Daniel Hannebery earlier in the season. Similarly the Docker’s Matt de Boer and Zac Dawson will be put on some sort of shut down role. Cyril Rioli’s return from injury will also play a big part as Hawktorn will need as many runners as possible to try and break Freo’s hold. The same goes for the Hawk’s star man, Lance Franklin, who must deliver in front of goal as he has been prone to go missing in a number of key matches.
Fremantle legend Matthew Pavlich will also be looking on his young attackers to deliver, after a year that has seen them develop magnificently. The West Australian team know that all the defensive pressure in the world isn’t worth anything if their forwards can’t convert goals. Chris Mayne, Hayden Ballantyne and a very in-form Michael Walters will be expected to deliver. Their task should be made easier by the form of their ruck combination Aaron Sandilands and Zac Clarke, who should, on paper, dominate Hawktorn at the hit outs.
On the injury front the Hawks call up Jonathon Simpkin to replace an unfortunate Brendan Whitecross, whereas the Dockers lineup is unchanged from their match against the Sydney Swans last week. Hawktorn will be missing Matt Suckling and Ryan Schoenmakers through long term injury whereas the Dockers will be without first teamers Clancee Pearce, Garrick Ibbotson, Kepler Bradley and Jonathon Griffin.
If previous match ups are to go by, then the Hawks can feel quite comfortable going into the final, having beaten Fremantle every time that they’ve met since Ross Lyon took the reigns in Perth. However, thankfully for Freo, their record at the MCG has dramatically improved over the past two years and they’re currently coming off a run that has seen them only lose 3 of their last 20 matches.
That being said, both sides have already declared that history stands for nothing and in reality the match will be decided on how Hawktorn deal with Fremantle’s defensive pressure. If they can deal with it, the match is there for the Hawks taking and if they can’t we could have ourselves some new first time champions.
For GAA fans, keep an eye on Hawktorn’s Lance Franklin, Cyril Rioli, Shaun Burgoyne and Bradley Hill along with Fremantle’s Stephen Hill, Michael Johnson, Danyle Pearce and Michael Walters, all of whom are due to travel to Ireland for the International Rules Series in October.
You can watch the game on ESPN, starting at 5am on Saturday morning and repeated again during the week.