Hawthorn will need to continue with it’s precision foot-passing to pick their way through Fremantle’s manic defensive pressure when the two meet in this weekend’s 2013 Australian Football League Grand Final. Meanwhile, Fremantle will aim to sustain their four quarter intensity on the wider reaches of the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Both will find this a challenge.
In the build-up, nervous, tense, excited, euphoric footy enthusiasts will be eagerly anticipating the outcome. They may be trying to dissect the teams prior to the match to find which will have the edge. All will have their favourite players. But, generally though, when the last Saturday of September comes around anything can happen as players lift beyond heights they have ever reached before.
Regardless of the outcome, the AFL Grand Final frenzy will hit its peak this Saturday (Sept 28).
While Fremantle and Perth has turned purple, large portions of Melbourne have turned brown and gold as footy fans’ passion bubbles over.
Bus loads of Fremantle fans are taking the 3-day trip from West Australia to Victoria across the Nullarbor Plain, with most of the Purple Haze arriving in time to participate in tomorrow’s traditional Grand Final Parade on the last Friday before the Grand Final.
The city will stop as Melbourne’s streets are filled and the colours of the two competing clubs will be everywhere, as the players of the clubs will be paraded in a cavalcade from Victorian Arts Centre (St Kilda Road) travelling along Swanston and Collins Streets to the steps of Victoria’s Old Treasury Building on the corner of Collins and Spring Streets.
The next day, Saturday, the streets of Melbourne and the surrounding suburbs will be dead quiet. The same can be said of Perth and Fremantle as Grand Final barbecues will be in full swing and televisions will be tuned into the broadcast.
Around the world people will be cramming into their local to watch the broadcast. While for those with the appropriate cable television, will be hosting their own GF parties.
Millions will be watching as the players take to the hallowed turf—Australia’s sporting mecca.
The MCG will be sold out—as it has for decades for this event—with some 100,000 spectators excitedly, tensely waiting.
But this is just preamble to the main dish.
At 2.30pm at The G (12.30pm in HK) the first bounce will hit the centre circle and two giants will charge at each other and leap to be the first to palm the oval ball down to his waiting team-mates.
And this is where the game will be won and lost—in the midfield.
Aaron Sandilands, Fremantle’s 211cm 117kg ruck man, will prove a stern test for Hawthorn’s Max Bailey (206cm, 101kg) and David Hale (201cm 104kg) when it comes to getting their hands on the ball first. While the extra 5cm over Bailey seems negligible, Sandilands’ additional reach and weight is not.
Sandilands will win most ruck contests, but palming the ball down is only the first part of the puzzle. Then it’s down to the mid-fielders.
From here the complexities of the match-ups become so varied that pages could be filled with the pros and cons of each team’s make-up.
Both teams boast superstar forwards—such as Lance “Buddy” Franklin for Hawthorn and Matthew Pavilch for Fremantle.
Can Hawthorn’s defence hold Pavlich, the electrifying Michael Walters, Michael Barlow, Nathan Fyfe, Chris Mayne and Hayden Ballantyne?
The battle between Pavlich and Hawthorn’s Brian Lake will be captivating, but it is Fremantle’s small brigade of forwards who will probably be more concerning for the Hawks.
Can Fremantle’s defence hold the mercurial Franklin, the equally damaging Jarryd Roughhead, the in form Jack Gunston and Cyril Rioli who can run a bit hot and cold?
Again, it will come down to supply from the mid-field. The team that can win and clear the ball from the ruck duel the cleanest will have the edge, which sits with Hawthorn.
Fremantle’s negator Ryan Crowley vs Hawthorn’s Sam Mitchell is a highly anticipated match-up and the game could hinge on it. Mitchell was superb with 38 possessions in their win last weekend.
Fremantle’s game is more about a defensive press that restricts their opponents, while Hawthorn’s is more about relentless attack. This isn’t to say that they both aren’t able to play well both defensively and offensively.
Last weekend, Hawthorn dodged a Geelong bullet by 5 points, with the Cats missing a shot at goal in the dying seconds that would have equalised the score and pushed the Preliminary Final into overtime. But it wasn’t to be, with the Hawk’s breaking the 11-match “Kennet Curse” in the best final so far this year. In a see-sawing affair, the Hawks were down by 20 points at the end of the third quarter and were fantastic to come from behind in the last quarter.
Fremantle’s 25 point victory over Sydney was more than convincing. The final score does not reflect the Docker’s dominance, with Sydney scoring six of the last seven goals after being down by 54 points mid-way through the last quarter. Fremantle had taken their foot off the pedal with their Grand Final berth already sealed.
Hawthorn had an extra week’s rest than Geelong and it was telling in the last quarter. Fremantle, likewise, had an extra week’s rest over their Preliminary Final competitors Sydney, but dominated from the first bounce and never looked back. That extra rest will mean little this weekend though.
Perhaps it will be the journey from Perth to Melbourne that is Fremantle’s undoing? The G being Hawthorn’s home ground not withstanding, the dimensions of the ground may prove difficult for the Dockers defensive set-up.
The MCG oval at 163.6m long and 138.3m at its widest has a larger playing area than Freo’s Patersons Stadium oval at 175m long and 120m wide. In particular, the extra width could make a decisive difference giving Hawthorn’s spread of runners more room to work through Fremantle’s choking strategy.
Regardless, unless one is a dyed in the wool fan of either team, predicting who will win can be daunting with favour swaying and leaning one way and the other.
It’s fair to say that most will be hoping that the Fremantle Dockers, as the rank outsiders and underdogs, can win in their first Grand Final appearance in their 19-year history, unless you are a Hawthorn Hawks fan.
The Hawks are out to ease the burn in the belly that has raged since losing to Sydney in last year’s Grand Final. It’s been evident all year that Hawthorn have been the best team in the competition, but they were last year too and failed to plant the Premiership flag in the mountain peak.
Fremantle just may surprise, but if Hawthorn get out to a good early lead the Dockers may crumble. Conversely if Fremantle get a good lead, Hawthorn has the power to come from behind and snatch victory.