Hawks confirm AFL greatness

Hawthorn are the oldest, hottest and among the very best AFL premiership teams in history.

Saturday’s 46-point grand final win over West Coast at the MCG confirmed the Hawks as among the game’s greatest dynasties.

The 16.11 (107) to 8.13 (61) win on the hottest grand final day in AFL history made the Hawks the first team since Brisbane from 2001-03 to win three premierships in a row.

They are only the sixth AFL team to achieve the feat.

Coupled with the upset 2008 grand final win over Geelong, it made Alastair Clarkson just the 11th four-time premiership coach.

But Clarkson, Hawthorn’s first four-time premiership coach, said he was not interested in his place in history.

He was more keen to talk about the challenges the Hawks faced this year on the way to the flag.

In particular, the club was rocked when the son of assistant coach Brett Ratten died in a car accident.

Clarkson made a point of paying tribute to Ratten on stage after the match.

“The last three (flags) in particular … we’ve had an enormous amount of adversity,” Clarkson said.

“The adversity we had to endure this year was a different type again – it was around tragedy and death.

“That’s really hard to cope with, because it really affected our playing group … it was all about humanity.

“We’re enormously proud of their resilience … they’re were just a really, really proud group.”

The Hawks also won this one the hard way, becoming the first team since West Coast in 2006 to play in four finals and win the premiership.

The grand final was unrecognisable from West Coast’s win over Hawthorn three weeks ago in a qualifying final.

That loss meant they had to travel twice to Perth in this finals campaign.

Six Hawks are now four-time premiership players, while Shaun Burgoyne also has four – one with Port Adelaide and three at Hawthorn.

Several of those veterans played crucial roles, with captain Luke Hodge and Sam Mitchell high among their best players.

Another of this select group, Cyril Rioli, was the popular choice as Norm Smith Medallist for best afield.

The damaging small forward is the sixth indigenous player to receive the prized honour – and half of them are from Tiwi Island.

His uncles Maurice Rioli (Richmond, 1982) and Michael Long (Essendon, 1993) are also Norm Smith Medallists.

Saturday’s peak temperature of 31.3 degrees beat the 30.7 in the 1987 grand final.

But Hawthorn did not wilt, despite speculation the heat might suit the Eagles.

They withstood West Coast’s challenge either side of halftime for a convincing win.

West Coast’s defensive pressure – the much-vaunted ‘Weagles Web’ – was clinically picked apart.

After an outstanding season, the Eagles were unusually tentative and paid for poor ball use.

Moments after Hodge snapped a freakish goal early in the second term, Eagles captain Shannon Hurn crucially missed a much easier set shot at the other end.

And in the third term, with the Eagles pressing, Luke Shuey botched a pass into attack.

Jack Darling then dropped a simple mark and they proved crucial errors.

“They are the moments you need to take,” said Eagles coach Adam Simpson.

“We need to improve but we let an opportunity slip today.”

The question now is how long the Hawks can stay the AFL’s superpower.

“We have to do some really strong work with our list,” Clarkson said.

Of their ageing stars, Clarkson added they would not shove them out the door just because they were around 30.

“Our dilemma and challenge in the weeks, months and certainly years ahead … is just to balance how we inject some youth into our group at the same time as when some of these guys finish their careers,” he said.

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