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The greatness of Hawthorn: born, achieved, thrust upon

How to measure the greatness of Hawthorn? With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, let us count the ways.

They've won three premierships in a row, but that's the least of it. They are the oldest side to win the flag, and on the hottest grand final day on record. Supposedly, they would be like Napoleon's army in Russia, killed off by the weather. Evidently, repeat premierships are the secret of eternal youth. Come presentation time, all still were bounding onto the dais.

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They made a mess of what was, in prospect, a perfectly good grand final, but they won't apologise for that. It is up to others to rise to the occasion and their level, not for them to lower themselves. Those who say they are over Hawthorn might as well say they are over football. The Hawks aren't great because they keep on winning, they keep on winning because they're great.

They ride the bumps. This has been the most challenging year in their run. They lost seven games, including one to Greater Western Sydney. Coach Alastair Clarkson had his challenges, and assistant Brett Ratten suffered a personal tragedy; it was he to whom Clarkson turned first at the final siren. They were thrashed in the qualifying final by this selfsame West Coast.

Different day, ground, occasion. Hawthorn wore the white shorts, but in all other respects were at home. "Our house, our rules," read their banner, and so it proved. Much was made in the prelude of the West Coast's patent defensive system, the Weagles web (too much, said coach Adam Simpson). This day, they discovered that a) the web doesn't stretch across the bigger expanse of the MCG and b) Hawthorn's exquisite kicking skills are like Rentokil, deadly to web-spinners.

They are inspired, and inspirational. There was Luke Hodge's one-step banana goal from the forward pocket. "I was born to play in grand finals," roared Robert Dipierdomenico, minutes after the 1986 siren. So is Hodge, who is also a born captain. In the last quarter, he was gesticulating to a defender to punch; the Hawks were 62 points in front then. There was Isaac Smith's screwball from a different pocket. There was Brian Lake, daring Josh Hill to try to kick past him, then diving like a goalkeeper for the save.


But above and beyond, there was Cyril Rioli. Wherever he went, the pattern of the match suddenly bent out of its previous shape, like a computer graphic. He came off the ground to tackle Mark Hutchings to make one goal, and from the clouds to steal a handball for another. He was the most alarming sight on grand final day since Michael Tuck in short sleeves in the last hot one, 1987. The crowd crowned him as Norm Smith medallist before the voters did, and so did Sam Mitchell, who stopped by for a hug in the last quarter; the play was looking after itself by then.

This was the icing. The cake was the Clarkson method. When they were on top, they were ruthless. When they were not on top, they were at least efficient. It has been so for years, and was again this day, comprehensively.

They stick. Ryan Schoenmakers missed one premiership because of injury and was dropped for the next, and generally was the Hawthorn crowd's whipping boy for a long time. He might have left, they might have sent him on his way, but no, he persevered and persevered and this day played as if out to win three premierships in one day - no puppy with a ball has had as much fun as this - and the crowd (fickle creatures always) cheered his every touch, and the last, his receipt of a premiership medallion, loudest.

They have made themselves a so-called destination club. Six players from other clubs featured this day, most of who had come for less money and more glory. Defenders James Frawley and Brian Lake were outstanding, Frawley in his vigil on Josh Kennedy, Lake with his own, patent, quirky brand of defence, whose chief virtue is that the ball mostly ends up in his hands. Beforehand, most worried that there was no natural match-up for Lake in the West Coast side. In the running, he dealt with that mostly by playing on no-one, brilliantly.

What is left to count for West Coast? Much from the season, but nothing on the day, unless you itemise stage fright. All right, we will. It began before the start, when they almost forgot to shake hands with the umpires, as per protocol. They missed passes, and moments, and kickable goals. Jack Darling dropped a sitter when in tap-in range. Luke Shuey had options left, right and straight ahead, and kicked it straight to Taylor Duryea. Nic Naitanui had three kicks for the day. Josh Kennedy, posited as the key to the game, didn't kick a goal.

Some might add to the list Jeremy McGovern's un-grand-final-like compassion on the three-quarter time siren when he helped up Hodge, who he had just bowled over. I wouldn't. The game was well lost by then. Life-and-death could wait for next year.

More generally, the Eagles were sloppy as never before this season. Slip, slop, slap works against the sun, but not the Hawks. But this also was Hawthorn's doing, their pressure, actual and implied. In their assessment of other clubs' lists, they rank the Eagles highest, above even their own. To reduce them to the rabble they became this day was another measure of Hawthorn's greatness. There can be no greatness without respect.

Enough Browning. Now for Shakespeare, with apologies for the mangling. Hawthorn, shall we compare thee to ... all the other Hawthorn sides since '61. Thou are more replete, and now, more repeat.