Paying the price
Illustration: Mick Connolly
HAWTHORN could have treated the 2012 grand final as the aberration of an otherwise superb season. The Hawks could have accepted the popular view that it was their failure to convert that denied them their 11th premiership.
They might have blamed the unusually gusty conditions. Or the absence of Brent Guerra. They could be pointing to a bounce of the ball, to injured players. They might have scapegoated Clinton Young, now a Collingwood player. They might have let themselves off the hook with that most convenient explanation: ''Had a bad day.''
Hawthorn's response to its grand final defeat has been forensic and measured.
The Hawks have clutched at none of these straws. Their view of the grand final is that, while it's true they might have kicked straighter, there were other foibles that were evident when they scraped past Adelaide in the preliminary final. The response to the defeat has been forensic and measured.
The recruitment of Brian Lake was the first sign that the Hawks were willing to embrace change, that they would not sit still.
This desire to rectify, rather than stick with the status quo, began at the top, at board level, and is shared by coach Alastair Clarkson, his assistants and the players.
Hawthorn president Andrew Newbold said the club took the view that it hadn't been good enough. ''If the footy world thinks that Hawthorn are sitting back and saying we were unlucky not to win last year, were only a couple of kicks away and therefore if we do the same thing and luck goes our way we'll win it … that's not our attitude.
''Our attitude is we weren't good enough when it counted and we're working bloody hard to work out what areas we need to improve in.
''We can't do the same thing and expect a different result. Some would say to do that is the definition of insanity - and we're not insane. We recognise that in the two last games of the season we didn't play well, and in the last game of the season we weren't good enough when it counted, and we need to turn that around.''
Newbold said Clarkson and the coaches had ''undertaken a pretty forensic exercise on our strengths and weaknesses and the areas we need to improve in and, you know, how we need to take the next step''.
''It's not we had a bad day … How do you ensure that next time we're in that position we'll execute better? We've got to get there yet. If we are lucky to get there, how do we execute under that sort of intense pressure that Sydney, a side like Sydney, brings to a contest?''
In many ways, the Hawthorn failure echoes Geelong's 2008 catastrophe, when the Cats had many more forward entries and blew their opportunities - particularly early in the grand final - allowing the more efficient, underdog opponent to take a flag.
Hawthorn didn't blow it as badly, when one considers that the Cats were some distance clear of the pack in 2008. This year, the Hawks were first among five or six equals during the regular season, but Sydney had superior finals form.
The question of where the premiership was won and lost has been examined, not simply by Hawthorn and Sydney, but by 16 other clubs, some of which have completed their own CSI grand final to prepare for season 2013. In war, the victors write the first draft of history. In football, the victors write a script for others to follow and the grand final itself becomes a teaching tool for everyone else.
Hawthorn won most key statistics - it had a huge lead in forward 50-metre entries, contested ball and clearances, and more shots on goal. Conversion aside, it was beaten ''on the spread'' by Sydney, which also had superior defence - down back and everywhere else.
In both the preliminary and grand finals, the Hawks were highly vulnerable to daring counter-attacks when they turned the ball over in their front half. The Crows, in particular, took some chances on the rebound and were willing to use the corridor to catch the undersized Hawks defenders one out, before the midfield cavalry could arrive.
Hawthorn covered for its small back line, in part, by outnumbering the opposition at the contest. Josh Gibson had the role of ''sagging off''', in coach-speak, leaving his opponent to intercept or spoil. But by the preliminary final, the Crows had devised a successful Occupy Gibson movement, namely, kicking to Taylor Walker on the lead and leaving Ryan Schoenmakers exposed on the larger Kurt Tippett - who will be manned by Lake when Hawthorn plays Sydney next year.
Lake will change Gibson's role and the way Hawthorn organises its backline. He will take the monsters, permitting Hawks to risk more one-on-one contests in their defence.
Jarryd Roughead's role, too, seems likely to change. In 2012, Roughead was successfully deployed as the second ruck. By the finals, however, Roughead was labouring with a sore ankle; he was tired and his output dwindled. Clarkson and Co have grappled with the question of whether Roughie ought to return to being a permanent forward, with Max Bailey brought in to ruck and David Hale playing the forward/ruck role. The odds favour Hawthorn going back to the future on Roughead.
In the grand final, Sydney exploited the defensive limitations of Hawthorn's midfield more than it did the small Hawthorn defence. In 2012, the Hawks liked to set up with six forwards, which isolated their excellent strong-bodied, ball-winning mids at stoppages. Problems arose - again, in the game that mattered - when they turned the ball over or didn't win it.
One way to prevent the ageing midfielders being exploited defensively is to push a half-forward upfield to provide another handbrake when the opposition takes off. It would be surprising if Clarkson did not look seriously at this type of insurance.
Tempting as it must have been to see the premiership as gone with the wind, or a simple story of kicking yips, the Hawks are looking elsewhere for answers. In their minds, the fault lies not in the stars, but in thyself.