Illustration: Mick Connolly.
It was the easiest question of the match. In the comfortable and relaxed rooms, when Hawthorn forwards and officials were asked to explain the difference between a premiership this time and horribly narrow defeat 12 months ago, the answer was easier than picking Aaron Sandilands in a line-up.
This time, they'd kicked straight.
''I guess our kicking, our goalkicking helped us,'' said Hawthorn's stocky small forward, Paul Puopolo, explaining the difference between paradise lost and paradise regained. ''Last year, we missed a lot of goals and turned the momentum of the games. We missed four or five goals and, you know, they [the Swans] would go around and kick one. So you think all those opportunities and all that effort end up wearing yourself out for the end of the game.''
Illustration: Matt Golding.
One did not need to be a footy boffin to comprehend the ''difference'' between Hawthorn's heroes and the team that might have become the game's Greg Norman had they blown another major. On this one day in September, the Hawks nailed the shots that mattered. No yips this time.
Luke Breust, who had caught the inaccuracy contagion in the curse-killing preliminary final, also saw plain old-fashioned straight kicking as the single biggest difference between finishing first in 2013 and second in 2012. ''I think it is. You just look at the game. Last year, we won all the stats, but still lost the game. This year, Freo were inaccurate in front of goal and ultimately that's the only way you can get the score on the board, so it does cost you.''
This year, it was Fremantle's turn to miss the goals that had to be kicked. As Ross Lyon noted, the Hawks booted five straight from turnovers, while his team managed 2.9. ''I think we had four out on the full set shots and some missed ones,'' rued the Fremantle coach. ''So on a tight, tough contest, in the conditions that were there today, we all know, we've seen it, and it occurred again today.
Oh no: Nat Fyfe misses a relatively easy chance on Saturday. Photo: Pat Scala
''Would we have won? I'm not sure, but we certainly would have been able to put a little bit more pressure on them, particularly early and it would not have taken as much effort to come from behind like we did.''
Conversion has increasingly defined the grand finals of the past several years. In 2009, the Saints were 7.7 at half-time to Geelong's 7.1; arguably, they'd blown it then. Geelong had thrown away the 2008 grand final, as Cameron Mooney and others missed repeatedly and then last year Hawthorn was the highly skilled team that, nonetheless, failed largely due to inferior conversion.
Ever since the West Coast v Sydney finales, the last game has largely followed this script: Low scoring, heaps of pressure and tackling, highly contested footy and a close game. This game was very much of that ilk.
''Conversion is the number one thing in a tight game,'' said Hawthorn's opposition coach John Wardrop said. ''We took our chances and yeah, had a little bit of luck go our way - for a change. It was a totally different feeling [last year], we missed our chances and it costs you in a tight game.''
The difference between victors and vanquished was encapsulated by what happened to two of the best players afield.
For Fremantle, Nat Fyfe plucked two wonderful contested marks early in the match - including one he clunked from behind when he had a nice sit. But when he went back, with a wind that players considered swirly and tricky, he didn't even get close. Those first two marks, in fact, were sent out on the full.
Missing can be more virulent than influenza. The pressure builds, not only on the player who misses twice, but on his teammates. Someone has to kick one. And by the time the Dockers had put one through the larger sticks (Tendai Mzungu), they were reducing a four-goal margin to three, when - if they'd converted earlier (especially in that goalless first quarter), they might have been snatching a lead.
Fyfe's misses, sadly, established the match pattern. He missed another reasonable shots (45 metres, 45 degrees) in the second quarter. Even in the final quarter, after the Hawks raced ahead by 31 points, the Dockers' finishing stymied any chance of an improbable heist. The scores tightened and so did they. They kept missing, as Hayden Ballantyne - normally reliable, as the cliche has it - botched a couple.
Fyfe, too, is normally reliable when taking a set shot. But his accuracy was gone with the wind. One cannot know what part the unique pressure of a premiership on the line plays in the mind of the player taking the shot. It does not explain everything, but it is surely not irrelevant either.
If Fyfe was the one who missed, Hawthorn's Jack Gunston - who is entitled to be known, like the late racecaller Bill Collins, as ''the accurate one'' - nailed 4.1 from his five opportunities. This conversion rate - a continuation of his preliminary final - rightly earned him votes in the Norm Smith medal.
Why is Gunston so accurate? ''Because he wants it his hands, I reckon,'' said Wardrop. ''He loves kicking a goal. He's got a good routine, whether it's a set shot or whether it's a snap shot, he feels comfortable kicking goals.'' Breust added of dead-eye Jack: ''He puts time into it, he's got a very sound technique, he's got a great ball drop and not many things can wrong when he kicks it.''
Gunston said in the rooms that confidence was important to the art of conversion. ''We obviously work on it throughout the week and it does get brought up but it's just a matter of feeling confident on top your mark and going through your routine and kicking through the ball. And obviously today it was blustery and windy and we just made the most of our chances.
Gunston confirmed that the blustery breeze - a factor in the past two grand finals - had posed problems. ''Yeah it was, as you saw with Nathan Fyfe in the first quarter, you don't know where they're going to go. The wind was blowing very hard probably in the first half and you just have to try and kick straight and make the most of it.''
Jarryd Roughead entered the game with a simple concept for ensuring that opportunities weren't squandered: Kick straight at the goals - don't allow for a bend. ''I think we learnt in the last couple of weeks, you know, especially at the G, you don't give away the goals. Blowy as it was, we still had to kick straight at them. That was a focus going into the game - we said don't give away the goals because it's just swirly and normally when you aim straight, they go straight. You don't hang them out to the left and expect the wind to bring them back. You normally go straight here.''
Hawthorn went straight. The Dockers veered left and right. Chances begging 12 months ago were taken this time.