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Anatomy of a grand final heist

Final siren: Ted Richards celebrates victory.

Final siren: Ted Richards celebrates victory. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Sydney's team of 'no-name' players pulled off a heist of Shakespearean proportions.

SHAKESPEARE'S classics have a three-act structure. This masterpiece had four, taking abrupt turns that were dramatic and unexpected. An unpredictable match reflected an unpredictable, up-for-grabs season.

In act one, the Hawks dominated, but botched chances to build a larger buffer. Act two was longer, stretching from the opening of the second quarter until early in the third term. This was Sydney's turn, a counteroffensive that saw it boot eight goals without reply.

Illustration: Mick Connolly.

Illustration: Mick Connolly.

Just when we were penning the Hawthorn obituary, the Hawks sprang into action - sparked by decisive centre-square clearances and Lance Franklin. Act three lasted until early in the final quarter.

Then, came the fourth act, when the Bloodstained Angels - and they did shed some - finished with more poise and run to wrest away a premiership that had seemed Hawthorn's to lose, both on the day and throughout the season.

Statistics can be like Oscar Wilde's cynic - they tell you the price of everything but the value of nothing. In this game, the most basic numbers suggest that Hawthorn ought to have won and that the Swans have pulled off a grand heist. We're told you have to win the contested ball. The Hawks won it by 26 - almost as significant a margin as Geelong's edge over Collingwood (31) in last year's grand final.

Crunch time: Swan Daniel Hannebery (top) is sandwiched by Hawthorn's Shaun Bourgoyne and Lace Franklin.

Crunch time: Swan Daniel Hannebery (top) is sandwiched by Hawthorn's Shaun Bourgoyne and Lace Franklin. Photo: Paul Rovere

They say you need to win the clearances. Again, this was a sphere that the Hawks owned; in a match that began as rugby and gradually opened up, they cleared the stoppage scrums 23 times more than Sydney. Usually that would translate to a thrashing.

They say the team that wins the inside forward 50-metres entries is heavily advantaged. Hawthorn's edge in this key stat was enormous - 61 to 43, though it should be noted that they had an even greater advantage in the preliminary final against Adelaide (plus 26) and was nearly upset then, too.

The Swans lost all these facets, yet won. How they did this will be the subject of an inquest at Waverley Park.

Sam Reid takes a mark.

Sam Reid takes a mark. Photo: Pat Scala

If Sydney was taken to the cleaners in stoppages, entries and contested ball - areas where Hawthorn's talent edge was evident - it did dominate in the pressure parts of the game. The Swans applied an extraordinary 109 tackles to Hawthorn's 83. This meant that many of those contests the Hawks won were neutralised.

Dan Hannebery said pressure was paramount for the Swans. ''The main thing is whatever happens, we feel if play poor or bad, it's related to our pressure. So if our pressure's up, it doesn't matter what happens. If our pressure's up, doesn't matter what stat you lose, you generally come out on top. And today was up and we won.''

Just as crucially, the Swans handled what can be the most crippling pressure of all in a grand final - shooting for goal. Their 21 scoring shots netted 14.7 and, unlike the Hawks, there were few instances when they badly botched an opportunity.

As Sydney chief executive Andrew Ireland noted in the joyous red-and-white rooms, converting chances ''makes a huge difference, especially when you're coming to an environment like this, when the pressure's on''. The same applied in Adelaide in week one of the finals.

While the Hawks had the ball in their attacking territory more often and for longer, the grand final repeated the pattern of the close shave against Adelaide seven days earlier; then, as in the grand final, the Hawks won the centre clearances, had more inside 50s, were wasteful and were highly vulnerable to the opposition's counter-attack from defence. Alastair Clarkson noted they found it difficult to defend Sydney's ''slingshot'' - the fast rebound into space.

Hawthorn was the most potent scorer; Sydney the best defensive team of the season. Again, the team that could pressure and defend prevailed over the one that possessed the greater offensive artillery. Mick Malthouse and Ross Lyon will feel vindicated.

Sydney's victory was also one for the spurned and no-name player. Rhyce Shaw and Josh Kennedy were unwanted father-sons from the Pies and Hawks, Marty Mattner a refugee from Adelaide, Ted Richards flung from Essendon, Lewis Roberts-Thomson a clumsy convert from rugby. But the most improbable ex-rugger bugger, Canadian Mike Pyke, was startling. He plucked three contested marks - one that led directly to super-critical Adam Goodes' snapped goal in act four - and had 29 hitouts. Pyke compensated for Shane Mumford, whose sore back/hamstring meant he was unable to train much before the game and was subbed out late.

Mitch Morton has never been seen as a competitor. His questionable mettle led Richmond, hardly a club overburdened with talent, to delist him. But he has a knack for snapping a goal, as he did twice in act two. Neither goal, however, was as impressive, or surprising as his effort to neutralise a contest against two Hawks, creating the Kieren Jack goal that levelled the game with eight minutes left, as act four built to its denouement.

Hannebery would say of Morton: ''He said to me, 'It doesn't matter what's happened to me in my career. This is one of the greatest feelings ever.'''

The broader question rival clubs must ask, again, is how do the Swans turn chaff into wheat? Hannebery said of the Sydney culture, which has been seamlessly transferred from Paul Roos to John Longmire: ''We've got a game plan, we've got a culture, we've got a behaviour system that you've got to buy into. We train for it. Everyone buys into it and if you buy into it, you're a chance to get a game. And that's what our culture is about.''

In the anatomy of a heist, the other factor that shouldn't be discounted is while Hawthorn won contests, Sydney won the more momentous ones. It is easier to recall Sydney's stunning moments - the Morton contest against two, a couple of Goodes' small efforts that created goals, including a soccer to Morton (act two), a smother or two and, before the curtain fell, Nick Malceski's snap over his shoulder.

Hannebery owned the match's greatest act of courage - a mark in a pack when he ran recklessly into the path of marauding Hawks and somehow emerged with the ball. This happened in the first quarter, as the Hawks held sway; it was the first sign, perhaps, of what was to happen in act two.

Hannebery, fittingly, borrowed from Hawthorn coaching legend John Kennedy's - ''don't think, do'' speech, in describing his mark: ''I thought I've hardly got near it, I've got to impact something, I've got to do something. Funny the old 'do something, don't think, do'. So I just didn't think, I just did it. I took a mark and went from there.''

The coach's box also played a role. In act one, the Hawks had Hodge loose, in a move that worked in their favour. At quarter-time, the Swans opted to man up Hodge and make it plain old man-on-man footy.

''We just got organised after quarter-time, with Hodge back early, played him back, once we got ourselves organised,'' said Sydney's veteran assistant George Stone. ''We went man-on-man, we just played with seven forwards, it works into our style of game.''

Later, in the game, however, Longmire sent LRT back to help Richards with Franklin and fill some space. This was necessary, according to the Swans, because Goodes was heavily restricted by his hurt posterior cruciate ligament; they needed a player to support a besieged back line.

''It was a game of inches,'' said Hannebery. The Swans fought, and won, the inches that counted most.


  • I think it would be unfair on both Hawks and the Swans to suggest that the Hawks lost this grand final. The Swans won it, they beat the Hawks. Both teams deserved to win.

    And the Hawks did everything to win. You can raise the kicking for goal, but that is offset by their good luck with the umpires, which fell their way a by a long margin.

    So when it's all balanced out, Hawks didn't lose it, Sydney won it.

    Date and time
    September 30, 2012, 1:01PM
    • Hawthorn had an even better run from the umpires the week before! Lucky to have even been in the GF!

      Viv R
      Date and time
      October 01, 2012, 12:07AM
  • In a season with no stand-out team, the honest journeymen from Sydney deserved their victory over the team with unfounded delusions of grandeur.

    We must also remember that in 6 matches against Geelong and Richmond during the season, the 2012 Grand Finalists could only manage 1 win between them - Sydney's 1 goal win against Geelong in Sydney in round 13.

    Michael Rogers
    Date and time
    September 30, 2012, 1:01PM
    • Yeah right, Richmond the best team in the competition with their season spoiled by an unfair draw. If only they had made the grand final they would have won it, that is of course unless they came up against the Gold Coast Suns!

      Richmond, Carlton, Essendon, mid table teams that were all ridiculously over-rated in Melbourne in 2012!

      Viv R
      Date and time
      October 01, 2012, 12:05AM
  • Hawks choked, and mr delicious Rioli ( more Mr Softie) was found out to be the biggest softie, he was your weakest link in a team of chokers..... Hawks are gone...and good riddance. Umps got you over the line against the crows, you choked against Collingwood the year before, you've blown your chance again HAHA... Go CATS

    Date and time
    September 30, 2012, 1:53PM
    • At least we didnt choke against Freo here.......
      Look forward to you propping up the bottom of the ladder for a while.

      Will Turner
      Date and time
      September 30, 2012, 7:52PM
  • A big heart and a bit of luck goes a long way. 50 m penalty due to Mitchell not throwing the ball back correctly gives Swans easy shot and goal and allowed Swans to lead at 3/4 time; easy shot missed midway in the last by Buddy to put Hawks 17 points up instead of 12; blattant throw in the ball missed against LRT allowed Hannebery to goal in crucial last quarter. Hawks had more of everything except heart. If your opponent is a bit careless, heart will give any team a big chance to collect the prize. Well done Swannies!!!

    Date and time
    September 30, 2012, 4:03PM
    • The flighty flighty hawks chocked. Try and angle it anyway you want, but they entered the MCG expecting someone to hand them the cup. Their arrogance directly led to their downfall.

      Date and time
      September 30, 2012, 8:58PM
      • The most exciting day of my life so far, with the exception of my wedding and the birth of my two children. This is a club and team to be proud of in every way. Jake, I think you've penned an excellent summary, except maybe for Morton. He has bought into the Swans philosophy body and soul and reaped the rewards, both tangible and intangible. He is no longer the man of questionable mettle. His last month or so have been outstanding in a very Swans' way, not like a Buddy or a Cyril, but doing his role 110% and reaping the reward.
        Sydney (and South Melbourne too) love these guys who are never too good for them and who live the Bloods values.
        So richly deserved.
        Looking forward to 2013 when the great show all starts again.

        Date and time
        September 30, 2012, 10:09PM
        Comments are now closed

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