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Hawks in the great escape

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Chief sports columnist and associate editor with The Age

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Hawks edge Crows in thriller

Hawthorn has booked a spot in next week's grand final after an almighty scare from Adelaide.

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IF LAST year's was the AFL grand final we had to have, this year's was so breathlessly nearly the finale that no one could have predicted.

When Adelaide nudged into the lead with just more than five playing minutes to go in the preliminary final against Hawthorn - and its disbelieving crowd - at the MCG yesterday, next Saturday's grand final stood to be contested by the Crows and the Sydney Swans, 14th and seventh last year.

Crow Patrick Dangerfield gets a handball away despite the pressure applied by Hawks Cyril Rioli (left) and Isaac Smith. Click for more photos

AFL Hawthorn vs Adelaide

Hawthorn took on Adelaide in the second AFL premilinary final at the MCG, winning by five points in a thrilling battle. Age photographers Sebastian Costanzo, Pat Scala and Paul Rovere were on hand to capture the action as it unfolded. Selected Images available from www.fairfaxsyndication.com Photo: Paul Rovere

For the Hawks, a familiar calamity loomed. Beaten by Collingwood by virtually the last kick in last year's preliminary final, they slaved and grafted this year to establish themselves as the minor premier and flag favourite - and as unbackable yesterday. But so often, the finals have their own mystifying logic.

In the end, Hawthorn's blushes were spared by two of the most charismatic players in the competition, two that help to set their club apart. First, the elfin Cyril Rioli, all 177 centimetres of him, clawed down a mark in the forward pocket and kicked a goal to restore the Hawks' lead. Then Rioli floated a handball for Lance Franklin to kick another, and this brace would prove to be enough, just. Franklin had been wayward this day, but the 11th hour is his by birthright.

Not the least grateful was defender Ryan Schoenmakers, whose indiscipline - augmented, it must be said, a pernickety umpire's decision to reverse a free kick that had been paid to Hawthorn - had opened what should have been a bolted door to the Crows. Poor Schoenmakers had a nightmare day-night, yielding four goals to Kurt Tippett, who had been invisible for a month before yesterday. Mulletted Taylor Walker also kicked four.

Lance Franklin celebrates the match-winning goal.

Lance Franklin celebrates the match-winning goal. Photo: Pat Scala

Here was Hawthorn's Achilles heel, bared, and Adelaide's dart almost had enough poison. Sydney, laying up in wait, will have taken careful note. All the vital signs, but most particularly the imbalance in inside 50s - 64-38 in the Hawks' favour - said that this should have been a resounding Hawthorn win. The scoreboard gave the lie to them.

Adelaide was devising another attack when the siren sounded. Almost to a man, the Crows collapsed to the MCG turf, like toy soldiers, a study in still, defeated life. Nor could the Hawks find it in themselves to celebrate; the spectre of the defeat they so narrowly

avoided still danced before their eyes. Atypically, the winners scurried from the stage before the losers. Hawthorn was grateful still to have business to attend to. Adelaide was left to please itself.

Darkness was falling like a gauze curtain as this match began, a reminder that it would be lights out this night for one. Finals are full of counter-intuitive developments. In the first quarter, there were two. One was that Hawthorn's waves of attack yielded it little. From 20 inside 50s, it kicked two goals. Adelaide, from nine inside 50s, netted four. The other surprise was Tippett, who bestrode the match, taking five marks and kicking two goals.

Weight of numbers told at last in the second quarter. Hawthorn claimed the lead as a feudal lord claimed tithes. Still, the Hawks squandered their chances and the Crows - scavengers by nature - took theirs. Three marks and three goals for Walker, the last after the half-time siren, regained them the ascendancy.

Hawthorn's four-goal burst in the first eight minutes of the second half should have settled this eliminator. It was an exhilarating cameo. Forward pressure did the trick, crushing Adelaide. The Crows sabotaged their own cause by giving away two goals by fundamental mistakes.

But their tall forwards, nothing if not resilient, persevered in the last quarter until Graeme Johncock goaled for the lead.

Hawthorn's profligate goalkicking, irritating at first, now looked disastrous. It ached for the cool of captain Luke Hodge, a late withdrawal because of gastro. It did not kick a goal until Rioli's in time-on. But it was enough.

Related Coverage

Hawks edge Crows in thriller (Thumbnail) Hawks edge Crows in thriller

Hawthorn has booked a spot in next week's grand final after an almighty scare from Adelaide.

2012 AFL Season. 1st Preliminary Final.  Hawthorn vs Adelaide at the MCG. Hawk forward Buddy Franklin celebrates after kicking a goal in the final quarter. AFL Hawthorn vs Adelaide

Hawthorn took on Adelaide in the second AFL premilinary final at the MCG, winning by five points in a thrilling battle. Age photographers Sebastian Costanzo, Pat Scala and Paul Rovere were on hand to capture the action as it unfolded. Selected Images available from www.fairfaxsyndication.com

Hawks find salvation in deadly duo

Deja vu can never have felt as chilling for any Hawthorn supporter than during the final quarter last night. It was happening again. A decent three-quarter-time lead in a preliminary final being squandered.

Fleet of foot prevails over big birds

The Hawks didn’t choke. Adelaide choked them.

Pain runs deep for brave Crows

Adelaide came to the MCG intent to shock and determined to mock expectations that it was the undeserving easybeat finalist. That the Crows came so close left the players in despair.

Cyril Rioli Fleet of foot prevails over big birds

Hawthorn didn't choke. Adelaide choked them.

Crucial move makes Rioli a trump card

Cyril Rioli was 'buggered' in the last quarter, when Alastair Clarkson made the game's most telling move, shifting the electric Cyril deeper into attack, where his jolts revived a flatlining team.

Buddy close

Hawthorn will next week play Sydney for its first premiership since 2008, after overcoming an inaccurate start and a nervous finish to beat Adelaide by five points.

We were off our game: Franklin

Hawthorn spearhead Lance Franklin says his club is emboldened by having reached the grand final despite playing below its best last night against Adelaide.

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