2012 Australian Football League Grand Final [Sept 29] Sydney Swans v Hawthorn Hawks.
The AFL grand final is probably the largest sporting event in the Australian calendar, which is already full of large sporting events. The National Rugby League Grand Final tries hard to be big, but outside of Queensland, New South Wales and some areas of Victoria (specifically Melbourne, and then only if the Melbourne team is in it) it barely raises a blip. Yes, rugby league’s new media deal makes it technically worth more money than the AFL, but, really, apart from the State of Origin series, who watches outside of those areas? The NRL claim it is more powerful than the AFL, but there’s more than money to power. [/rant]
To continue: The Australian Formula One Grand Prix is just there, growing less and less interesting to anyone outside of Melbourne as each year passes. While the Melbourne Cup is said to stop a nation, the interest in it occurs really only on the day, and two days later most Australians don’t remember the name of the winner. And the big V8 race at Bathurst is just too long for the majority of Australians to really take a great deal of notice.
And so that leaves the AFL Grand Final, the closest thing Australia has to a Superbowl. They have tried over and over again to create a down under Superbowl, but fail each time they go for it, including last year’s debacle where Meat Loaf fought a losing battle with a strained throat and really poor sound equipment to deliver an underwhelming performance that was actually not that visually interesting. However, the importance of the match to the Australian psyche rivals that of the Superbowl, for sure. And so we have game on.
The coverage is, as always, long, and, as usual, dull. Experts giving expert opinions about things that they always get wrong. Having said that, most of them chose Hawthorn to be in the grand final, but most also chose Adelaide to finish in the bottom half of the ladder (they finished 3rd), Greater Western Sydney (the new team this year) to win no matches (they won 2), and a whole heap of other things. And they insist on letting Brian Taylor talk when the guy hasn’t said anything worth listening to in at least 15 years.
They start with running races and kicking contests involving footballers – which still looks so amateur league-ish – and then comes the car parade that goes around the ground. First up this year were gold medal Olympians (not Paralympians, please note – they were obviously too successful and would make the over-hyped, whining Olympians feel inadequate) who came out to a decidedly lukewarm response, except Sally Pearson who got a warm round of applause. And then the standard retiring footballers, who got some sort of response for the most part.
We start only a few minutes late, after the 100th advertisement for Australia’s Got Talent, featuring a bunch of screaming women and generic, by-the-numbers boys attempting to “sing”. Already this feels like the Olympics coverage we had in Australia where the cross-promotional adverts made most thinking Australians want to punch every Channel 9 executive in the face. Twice. You’d think Channel 7 would have learnt from the public backlash about repeating ads ad nauseam, but they are the only ones with the broadcast rights, so they know they have the public by the short and curlies.
First, how the two clubs got there: At the end of the regular season Hawthorn were on top of the table and Sydney finished third. Both teams won in the first week of the finals, giving them the next week off, and then the preliminary finals came:
Sydney 13.18 (96) def Collingwood 10.10 (70)
Hawthorn 13.19 (97) def Adelaide 14.8 (92)
Thus was set up the grand final.
First score to Franklin, a behind, quickly. The opening quarter starts scrappy. Both teams look nervous. Good defence by both teams. Hawthorn also get the first goal, but Sydney responds with an amazing goal from an impossible angle by Malceski. Back and forth again. Wow. Intense start. Getting scrappy again as things get desperate early. Commentator Denis Cometti is in full-on wrestling allusion mode again today. “Like a cage match” indeed. Hawthorn slowly getting the upper hand, but inaccuracy in front of goal is haunting them. Franklin finally gets their second goal. Now Sydney also have the yips in front of goal. Some vicious tackling from both sides. Hawthorn with another goal. Sydney are looking a step behind them. And literally 30 seconds later Hawthorn score again. Sydney need to re-group fast. The siren stops another Hawthorn goal a minute or so later, end of the quarter. Sydney need to get their head back in the game over the break.
Hawthorn 4.5 (29)
Sydney 1.4 (10)
First goal of the quarter to Kennedy of Sydney. Maybe we have a scoring end, but with Melbourne’s notoriously fickle weather that could change any second now. Sydney’s changed tactics, adopting a man-on-man match-up, and they look more settled, but the intensity from both sides has not let up. Sydney with another goal, the Swans have steadied. Another goal to Sydney, one point separates them. Wow. Swans again, and they have the lead! Hawthorn have slowed a bit – maybe last week’s match against Adelaide took more out of them than they let on. Hawthorn chip around but it results in a behind. Sydney’s defence is solid. Rebound from defence and Sydney gets another goal. Excellent team-work sees another Sydney goal. Hawthorn have fallen asleep here. They just can’t keep up with the Swans. Again Sydney stops a Hawthorn attack. Back to Hawthorn and the wind must be playing havoc at that end of the ground as Franklin kicks out on the full from a set shot. Sydney win a series of contested marks until Hawthorn cuts off the attack. Hawthorn are trying hard to stop Sydney’s run. But the siren does the job just as well, and now it’s half time.
Hawthorn 4.6 (30)
Sydney 7.4 (46)
A tale of two quarters, for sure. The weather is clearly having an impact at one end of the ground, but Hawthorn did start to look slower in that second quarter. As I said, Hawthorn’s preliminary final against Adelaide may be having an effect. That and the fact Sydney got an extra day off (because Collingwood was supposed to win that one, and the AFL does everything in its power to give Collingwood every advantage; don’t believe me? try looking at how many games Collingwood plays ‘away’ compared to every other team in the league…) is playing to the Swans. The Temper Trap are our half-time entertainment, and this is a band I had not even heard of until 2 days ago, where a brief look at them on YouTube told me they were yet another in a long line of generic looking and sounding Australian rock bands. At least they play good music and have a singer who can actually sing, but they are not a stand-out. And considering they’ve been around for a few years, I thought I would have at least heard of them before now. Australia has a habit of churning out these bands and only a few are actually unique enough to be seen as any good. At least they’re not generic boy bands or screaming divas, and at least they write their own songs. Cool multiple-percussion sound. They have a New Romantic vibe with better guitars and no synthesizers going here. Okay, yes, I’m enjoying them but why are they half-time at a football grand final? That wind is blowing them around a bit. Nice guitar work. I like that the lead singer is back-up percussionist. Geez, I really am enjoying this band! Not a flashy half-time show, just good music. That’s it? The teams are coming back? Wow, short, sharp and shiny, for sure. And thank goodness. They’ve toned down the Superbowl-wannabe and just given the audience something entertaining to listen to while they get a beer and a pie, go to the toilet, or even just stretch their legs.
Channel 7 seemed to have backed off on the self-promoting adverts. Thank goodness! Just the sponsors (most of the time).
Hawthorn with the first chance to score (again, that weather thing), and they only get a behind. That’s gotta be demoralising. Second half is starting scrappy, and not in a good way, with the weather clearly favouring one end. And then, as if to prove me wrong, Sydney go and score the first goal of the quarter. Ball goes into Hawthorn’s forward line a few times, but Sydney’s tackling just stops them before they can score. And sure enough, the Swans rebound out of defence to score another goal. That’s 8 goals to 2 behinds (Sydney’s way) since quarter time. And Sydney hit the post for a behind, breaking the run even as I type it. An apparently technical free kick gives Hawthorn their first goal in too long. Swans back in attack, leading to a nice Reid mark, but Hawthorn rebounds to a Franklin goal at the other end. Hawthorn have found their legs again and now Swans are playing the defensive role. A few behinds to Hawthorn, and now another goal, and Hawthorn are closing the gap again. Sydney’s playing a little undisciplined and Hawthorn are trying to take advantage. Time’s ticking down, and Sydney are playing like they just have to hold on. Franklin goals again and Hawthorn are 2 points down. Less than a minute later Hawthorn goals again, and now they have the lead back! Silly 50 metre penalty by Hawthorn puts Sydney into attack, and the momentum is broken a little with a Sydney goal to get the lead back. A free kick to Hawthorn slows everything down, especially when the ball is taken back, no advantage paid. A behind to Hawthorn, one point in it. What a game! Good defence from Sydney stops another score. Back and forth into and out of the Hawthorn forward line, sirens sounds… Whew. We need a breather.
Hawthorn 9.10 (64)
Sydney 10.5 (65)
And the quarter starts with Hawthorn scoring the first goal quickly. Sydney now look tired. And a minute later Hale gets another as Hawthorn look like they’ve got all the legs in this last quarter early. Some more scrappy football until Franklin is tackled high. The skill level has degenerated quite a bit in this last part of the game. And as if to prove the point, Franklin misses, scoring a behind for 3.4 for the day so far. Another questionable decision goes Hawthorn’s way, back and forth again. Silly 50 metre penalty again, this time by Sydney, sets up Hawthorn. (Free kicks in Hawthorn’s favour by a huge margin.) Another behind. Sydney now 2 goals behind. And, sure enough as I type that, Sydney score a goal to bring it back to one goal difference. Long period of back and forth as the intensity manages go up a notch until Sydney scores and the scores are level with 8 minutes to go. Oh dear God, not another tied grand final?! A Sydney behind puts them one point up. And Goodes bounces a goal through for Sydney, giving them a seven point buffer. Wow! Great game! Gunston has a chance to draw Hawthorn up, but he hits the post! A minor score. Sydney still by a goal. Mistake on the kick in, but Sydney marks on the last line of defence. Desperate scrappy football in Hawthorn’s forward line. Another point to Hawthorn, less than a goal in it. And another. Sydney need to clear the ball. Crowd for the game is announced at officially 99,683. That’s huge, almost 100,000 people at the ground. And as I type that Sydney somehow score another goal through Malceski with 30 seconds left! And there’s the siren! SYDNEY WINS!!
Hawthorn 11.15 (81)
Sydney 14.7 (91)
The Norm Smith Medal for best on ground goes to Ryan O’Keefe from Sydney, everyone gets their awards, we have another concert and that’s it. One of the most intense, back-and-forth grand finals I’ve watched. Maybe not the most technically perfect match, but catch it on replay if you can – well worth your effort.
Tags: AFL, Australia, Australian Rules Football, sport