AFL Grand Final

So it all comes down to this one day in September, and in this case, Hawthorn  v Sydney . The mighty Hawks - favoured for much of the season, and especially last week - face a team which has emerged and developed beautifully during the home and away season and into the finals.

And what a volatile season it has been for punters. About a dozen sides have had their moment of glory: Carlton for a while early on, Essendon as they looked to have improved enough to challenge, Geelong when they surprised Hawthorn (twice), the Western Australian duo, the brave Crows, Collingwood, North who could outrun anyone on their day, and even Richmond (who registered wins over both Grand Finalists).

But it is the best two teams of the year, and we are now left to sort out which will be the premier.

Take yourself back a week, and recall the conventional wisdom: just hand the Cup to Hawthorn and bring on the Spring Carnival.

A week is a long time in football. How that orthodoxy has been challenged.

Firstly the Swans showed how versatile they are in beating Collingwood. They were able to pressure the Pies, win a good share of the contested ball, flick it around with sharp handball, and then break clear. Once out and running they looked superb. Equally, they could shut it down with tight scrimmaging, and defensive checking. Their backline was solid, led by a proppy Ted Richards, and they had options up forward.

Then, on Saturday evening, Adelaide showed that the Hawks were not invincible as they scared the billy goats out of them by keeping in touch on the scoreboard. The Hawks had many more shots at goal, and seemed to be in control for a good portion of the match. But they could never break clear, and the Crows kept fighting back. There were some worrying signs for Hawthorn. When the Crows attacked through the corridor they really exposed the Hawks defence. Had they used the footy better on some of the fast-breaks out of half-back in the first half they may have put even more scoreboard pressure on. As it was, they found targets well in the clear, and when they lobbed it into Tippett and Taylor they were too big.

Now, Sydney don’t have a Taylor Walker (who is going to be some player), but they do have a range of talls who provide quite a forward-scape. Reid, LRT, Mumford and even Adam Goodes himself (isn’t he in sparkling touch!) will provide good targets. And then there is the most unlikely potential hero: the Canadian Mike Pyke.

The question is: can the Swans win enough ball in the mid-field to make that advantage matter? The Swans should control the ruck, but the Hawks on-ballers are used to sharking the taps of opponents, and, once they have it, they are tremendous users of the footy. Sam Mitchell is very important in this game, as is Brad Sewell.

If those hardnuts can feed the runners (and Hawthorn have a squad of them) then the Hawks will be hard to contain.

A heartening thing for the Swans might be the performance of the key Crows backmen last week. A few youngsters were able to hold Roughead, Hale and Gunston, and Buddy Franklin was in and out.

The more you look at it, the more this is a terrific contest, and more even than the betting suggests. Which makes Sydney the value, and the line a really good prospect.

One final observation: some of the Hawks really felt a burden of pressure last week and when Graeme Johncock put the Crows in front near the death, quite a few Hawks heads dropped. It took their champs to get them over the line. Luke Hodge’s leadership will provide a very important steadying influence. His return is key.

It’s all set up.

I reckon the Hawks will get out of jail in a tight won, against a gallant Swans. Hawthorn by 8 points.

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