The scare Hawks had to have
Hawthorn has the fundamentals in place to win the flag.
FEW teams in football history have been so superior to their rivals that they've bulldozed their way through a season, then a finals series, to waltz away with a premiership.
There's always some sort of hiccup. The key to an eventual triumph is in the response that follows.
Key Hawk: Lance Franklin at a news conference. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
No side in recent times has looked as dominant come the pointy end of the season as did Geelong in 2007. The Cats would thump North Melbourne by more than 100 points in the qualifying final. They'd win the flag by a record 119 points against Port Adelaide.
But in between they were given one hell of a fright on preliminary final night by a pumped-up Collingwood, finally prevailing in an absolute nailbiter by only five points. And there were echoes of that game in Hawthorn's near disaster against a gallant Adelaide on Saturday night.
Not that the Hawks, having survived, are now going to do anything like the sort of beat-up job Geelong did on grand final day five years ago. Unlike the Cats, in Sydney they'll be taking on an outfit more highly rated than was the Power then, the Swans more consistent in performance levels.
Key Hawk: Cyril Rioli celebrates a goal. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
Sydney's September has been near faultless, two authoritative wins thus far, and with the added confidence of having already beaten Hawthorn once this season, and pushing it to the brink in the return bout.
But, from the Hawks' perspective, if there were any lingering doubts about Alastair Clarkson's team's psychological mettle, the preliminary final should have put them to rest.
That ''choke'' label was getting a bit of a workout in football circles during Saturday night's final term as Hawthorn looked a real chance to succumb to the Crows in similar fashion as it had against Collingwood 12 months previously. But not for the first time recently, the Hawks found something a little extra when it mattered most.
Instantly, in fact. At the centre bounce immediately following Adelaide snatching the lead, a seamless bit of clearance work from Shaun Burgoyne found Cyril Rioli right in front of goal. It was followed only a minute later by Ben Stratton's game-saving tackle on Patrick Dangerfield headed goalwards, the rebound producing the match-winner.
The Hawks of 2012 have a harder mental edge than the version of last year. And that might well be the difference between an 11th premiership on Saturday, and more September heartbreak.
Since an ordinary start to the season left them sitting 2-3, they've won 17 of 19 games, by an average of nearly 10 goals. In one of those two losses, against Geelong, they hauled back a deficit of 51 points to lead until after the final siren. And against Sydney three weeks ago, first retrieved a 38-point gap, then after trailing by five points with two minutes left on the clock, kicked the last two goals to clinch the win.
Rioli was one of a few Hawks after Saturday night's epic who conceded they'd suffered a flash of deja vu about the 2011 preliminary final. At least now, should the last few minutes on Saturday present a similar line-ball struggle, they can draw upon more recent experiences of finding something in those clutch moments.
What issues did present themselves on Saturday night were of execution and structure. While 32 scores to 22 should have resulted in a comfortable win, a 13.19 score was an extravagance Clarkson's side can't afford this week.
But 64 inside 50s to just 38 is some comfort that the opportunities should be there again, and wins in the contested ball and clearance stakes, along with a 59-39 win in the tackle count, enough evidence that Hawthorn has its hard game at enough of a peak to cope with Sydney's renowned intensity.
The concerns are down back, chiefly key defender Ryan Schoenmakers' confidence levels and vulnerability to the one-on-one marking contest given successive finals maulings at the hands of Travis Cloke and now Kurt Tippett.
The good news there is that in an out-of-sorts looking Sam Reid and Lewis Roberts-Thomson, Sydney doesn't possess targets quite as intimidating.
Hawthorn has this season allowed scores from only 47 per cent of opposition inside 50s. On Saturday night, that figure soared to nearly 58 per cent. Hawks' defensive coach Luke Beveridge might be burning the midnight oil a little longer than some of his colleagues this week.
Sydney, as it did a few weeks back, will throw the kitchen sink at the Hawks in midfield. But so did Adelaide, and Sam Mitchell, Brad Sewell, Jordan Lewis and co survived that barrage to offer their usual prolific returns.
Hawthorn will need to tidy up its normally crisp disposal efficiency a little from Saturday night's levels.
The fundamentals are in place for a flag win. And in terms of mindset, Saturday thriller might well prove the scare Hawthorn had to have.