Subplots aplenty in a grand AFL story

There’s a plethora of fascinating subplots to the AFL’s next grand chapter.

Hawthorn, on the cusp of rare greatness by winning a third consecutive premiership, meet West Coast, the upstarts who had been written off.

This will be a grand tale, whatever the result.

And it’s a story that shreds the conventional wisdom that defence wins premierships – this decider features the league’s highest-scoring teams.

Besides the ultimate in team success, personal honours and accolades loom large.

Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson is pitted against a protege, Eagles coach Adam Simpson, who spent four years as his assistant at the Hawks.

Clarkson is on the verge of coaching a fourth premiership, surpassing Hawk legends John Kennedy Snr and Allan Jeans who won three each – though Jeans also coached St Kilda to their sole flag in 1966.

If Clarkson is successful, only four men have coached more premierships: Jock McHale (eight), Norm Smith (six), Jack Worrall (five) and Frank Hughes (five).

Clarkson’s on-field general Luke Hodge might become a triple premiership captain – only Michael Tuck, with four, has led the Hawks to glory more times.

And no player has captained more than four premierships – Tuck stands alongside Syd Coventry and Dick Reynolds.

Hodge also could become the first player to win three Norm Smith medals, for best afield in the grand final.

He has won the medal twice (in 2008 and last year) to sit level with Hawthorn’s Gary Ayres (1986, 1988) and Adelaide’s Andrew McLeod (1997, 1998).

But they’re individual accolades. Clarkson and the Eagles’ second-year coach Simpson preach this playoff will be all about team.

And this is where the Hawks are also positioned for undoubted greatness – only four clubs have won three flags in a row.

Collingwood is the sole club to claim four consecutive premierships, from 1927.

Melbourne have twice won three in a row – 1939-41 and 1955-57 – while Carlton (1906-08) and Brisbane (2001-03) have also achieved the feat.

Arguably, Hawthorn’s possible landmark would be the greatest achievement of them all – the current AFL, with its drafts and salary cap, simply isn’t designed for clubs to have such sustained success.

Hawthorn have bucked the system by becoming the competition’s destination club – shrewdly recruiting stars from rival clubs, luring them with the potential of premierships.

One-third of Hawthorn’s grand final starting line-up were established at other clubs – Brian Lake, Josh Gibson, Shaun Burgoyne, James Frawley, David Hale, Ben McEvoy and Jack Gunston.

Hawthorn’s status as perennial powerhouse undoubtedly is a massive factor in attracting recruits – but the Eagles have also managed to secure talent from rivals, albeit players of much lower profile.

West Coast’s goalkicking ace Josh Kennedy, Sharrod Wellingham, Elliot Yeo, Jamie Cripps, Josh Hill and ex-Hawk Xavier Ellis all began at other clubs – but none arrived in Perth with the fanfare afforded to Hawthorn’s signings.

But they all could help the Eagles become the first club to win the flag after missing the finals in the previous season since Geelong rose from 10th in 2006 to become 2007 premiers.

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