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Footy Fix: It's the Big One!

Rohan Connolly licks his lips over the biggest day of the footy season.

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Waverley Park was (P) again on Thursday, and for Hawthorn that bodes well.

Hawthorn's Sam Mitchell centre during the final training day at Waverley Park.

Hawthorn's final training day at Waverley Park before the grand final. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

(P) in the fixture once denoted matches played at what was initially VFL Park, the league's gleaming new showpiece in the east. It was also shorthand for bitter rain, biting wind, mud and squelchiness underfoot, car parking nightmare and public transport wasteland, all of which will now be familiar to those who came down in more recent showers and innocently made the trek on Thursday.

(P), it turned out, had been built in a rainbelt.

Much has changed at (P) since 1970. It is now called the Ricoh Centre, which makes it sound as if it is in competition with Bunnings. It is no longer a competition AFL ground, but is instead a lavish training and administrative centre for Hawthorn.

The climate has changed since 1970, too, but not so much that (P) is not still one of the bleakest places in the southern hemisphere on certain days when the the wind begins to whip and the sleet blows horizontally. That deterred some on Thursday, though of course did not in the least dampen the enthusiasm of the 5000 or so who would always have been there, beanied and be-scarved. They are the committed.

One, though, was caught between commitment and protest. She held aloft a placard onto which were attached two authentic Victorian car registration plates that read ''I (heart) Buddy'', and beneath them the legend, more plea than offer, ''for sale''. She would, of course, rather there was no trade of any kind.

Thursday training is one of the rituals of grand final week. It always coincides with school holidays, and once coincided with the Show Day public holiday, too, until a certain premier and premiership president abolished it. Call it Kennett's other curse.

It is still show day, in the sense that what transpires is not so much training as exhibition. Nothing that Hawthorn could do this day would make a difference, but protocol demanded at least an appearance, and Abbott-style fluro vests made it striking. But the background noise was a most unfootball-like amiable murmur.

Not that the session was uninteresting. Some of the players never again will be at this peak of fitness, touch and stimulation. A four-on-two drill, in which the two strive to keep the ball off the four in a confined space, was especially eye-catching. But when the squad spread itself across the field for a routine ball movement drill, and three promptly fell on their backsides on the slippery grass, the pace slowed to the level of limb-stretching.

It is one thing to play the grand final before the big day, another to pull a pre-emptive hamstring.

Even the media conference is a set piece. Brendan Bolton and Brett Ratten did the honours on Thursday. In Hawthorn colours and cap, Ratten was almost unrecognisable, but coaching patois is universal. He and Bolton would have had us believe the Hawks were still mulling over the replacement for Brendan Whitecross, as if they did not know virtually from the final siren last Friday. Bolton added that he sensed in the Hawks this year ''a steely resolve'', and the day's rites and incantations were complete.

Alastair Clarkson briefly addressed the throng, but only after stopping to exchange felicitations with Greg Dear, once a triple-premiership ruckman for Hawthorn, now another fan with family. This year the Hawthorn players did not tarry to sign autographs. Either they had their eyes cocked to the approach of another freezing (P) shower, or they had made it policy that this year they would get their job done before propitiating others. Losers, they know, get to please only themselves.

(P) was ill-fated. It never was finished to its grand specifications, was always remote, geographically and in the affection of fans, was trapped in its own micro-climate, and after merely 30 years was decommissioned, without mourning.

But those three decades paralleled the greatest era in Hawthorn history, bringing seven of their nine flags between 1971 and 1991. Rugged days at (P), Hawthorn excellence and Kevin Sheedy were the givens of the age. Fremantle is in town to try to change the football landscape forever. Hawthorn's mission is to restore it.