*Guest Post by Windy Dill.
In a game that will long be remembered, football’s greatest rivals of the last decade went head-to-head in the weekend’s first qualifying final. The result was determined by the final kick of the night with Hawthorn’s Isaac Smith missing his set shot after the siren, handing Geelong a two-point victory and a preliminary final spot.
Heavy skies loomed over Melbourne for much of the day and there was plenty of speculation that the weather would have a say in the final make-up of each team. In the end, the only change to either team was made through necessity. Hawthorn’s enigmatic young forward James Sicily failed to recover in time from an unspecified illness and was replaced by defender Daniel Howe.
The game was played with plenty of spirit, and the opening term had seen blood shed by both Selwood brothers. A typically belligerent Hodge was keen to leave an impression on the game, however, his temper reached a tipping point early, delivering a free kick and 50 metre penalty to Joel Selwood off the ball. The resulting Geelong goal provided critical in the context of a tight and torrid affair. While Geelong had the early ascendancy, their lead never exceed two goals in an antagonistic contest that netted a dozen goals for each team.
Dangerfield was prolific in the first half, yet his ball use was tempered by the frantic pace of the match. Both defensive units pushed up high to the ball carrier, and the pressure created meant that few players were able to take possession in open space.
In the third quarter, the game opened up as tired legs were unable to get to the same places on the ground that they had earlier. It appeared as if were about to witness the re-telling of a familiar September tale as Hawthorn took control of the game. Dangerfield was doing his utmost, winning more of the ball and using it to greater effect, however his influence was matched by the performance of Lewis in Hawthorn’s engine room.
A fierce tackle by monolith Tom Hawkins late in the third sparked a Geelong outfit that managed three consecutive goals late in the third quarter to wrest back control of the game. At the conclusion of the penultimate quarter, Geelong led by two points.
Defying convention, Hawthorn has managed to win plenty of football games in recent times despite conceding the contested ball count in most matches. Geelong dominated this statistic with Joel Selwood and Dangerfield the most influential players on the ground, but if it weren’t for Smith’s after the siren miss, talk would again be of Hawthorn’s system triumphing over inspiration and toil.
Geelong was able to engineer several favourable matchups that proved critical to the end result. Scott Selwood ran with Mitchell, and while Mitchell was prolific, his impact was subdued by the dogged younger Selwood. Similarly, Bartel was able to curb the influence of the important Josh Gibson in an unlikely battle of wills between the two veterans. Cam Guthrie had the better of Rioli despite conceding two goals in a contest that could have gone either way. While Rioli threatened at times to tear the game apart both in the air and on the ground, Guthrie’s scored a goal of his own and gave plenty of drive from defense.
In the end, another thrilling chapter was added to a rivalry that history will regard as one of the greatest ever. Hawthorn, left to lick its wounds and ponder the ‘what ifs’, should not be written off. It is only twelve months since Hawthorn lost a qualifying final, only to raise the Premiership cup three weeks later. A confident Bulldogs outfit shapes as an intriguing matchup for the Hawks next week.
Meanwhile, Geelong will watch the Sydney versus Adelaide match with interest. The AFL’s baffling decision to schedule a bye the week before finals means the Cats will have only played one match in three weeks. Time will tell whether this proves to be a help or a hindrance.