Hawthorn are through to the 2012 AFL Grand Final after edging out a brave Adelaide side by five-points at the MCG last night.
The Hawks survived a giant scare and withheld a late Crows fightback to win 13.19 (97) to 14.8 (92) in front of 69,146 people.
Had the Hawks lost, they would have only had themselves to blame. They went inside fifty 26 more times than their opponents and had 10 more scoring shots. Yet they couldn’t put the Crows to bed and almost paid for their inaccuracy in front of goal. Lance Franklin was the main culprit, kicking 3.5 as well as hooking one set shot out on the full.
Hawks skipper Luke Hodge withdrew from the game just hours before kickoff with a case of gastro, with maligned defender Tom Murphy taking his place in the side.
Despite Hodge’s absence, Hawthorn’s forward pressure and fantastic spread from midfield looked evident from the start. However some wayward kicking didn’t help, and after booting three behinds to open the scoring, Adelaide made them pay.
Kurt Tippett was on fire early, taking strong contested marks and slotting the first goal of the game, which was soon followed by a long Ricky Henderson goal.
Hawthorn responded through Clinton Young and Liam Shiels as the match began to ebb and flow nicely.
Rory Sloane made a dashing run from midfield and put the Crows back in front, before Tippett slotted his second from a tight angle to open up a seven-point buffer at quarter time.
Brenton Sanderson, in just his first year of senior coaching, was delivering a masterclass throughout the first quarter. His structures across the ground were fantastic, and had stopped Hawthorn’s usual run and carry through midfield brilliantly.
The second quarter typified what finals footy is all about, with neither side giving an inch to their opponents. The defensive pressure around the ground was unbelievable, with several smothers and loads of tackles being applied across the field.
Adelaide kicked the first of the quarter through Taylor Walker, but was then made to withstand a Hawks onslaught.
Hawthorn looked reminiscent of the side backed in at $1.60 favourites for the flag, and profited with three quick goals from Franklin, Luke Breust and Shaun Burgoyne.
Yet Adelaide wouldn’t go away, and Walker steadied the ship before marking 50 out on the siren with the chance to put the Crows in front at the main break. Just as he had last week against Fremantle, Walker kept his composure and banged in a long goal that fired up Adelaide’s travelling fans.
While goals on the stroke of half time usually inspire the side that has kicked them, they did the opposite in this case.
Hawthorn came out firing in the third term, and booted four unanswered goals in just nine minutes to go to a 20-point lead.
Franklin was inspiration in this Hawthorn burst. His smart centering kick from the boundary found former-Crow Jack Gunston, when many would have been excused for thinking he may have blazed away from a similar position in the past. He then ran the ball from 50, taking a bounce before handballing over the top to Breust for a second in as many minutes. Matt Suckling unloaded from outside 50 for Hawthorn’s third before Franklin finished the run with a goal of his own.
Brad Sewell and Sam Mitchell had also turned it on in the middle of the park. Sewell’s 12 disposals and four clearances in the third quarter changed the course of the game. He ended with 28 possessions and seven clearances, while Mitchell amassed 29 touches and seven clearances.
Hawthorn’s fans were up and about but Nathan Van Berlo kicked a real captain’s goal to steady the ship for the Crows.
Adelaide were holding on by the skin of their teeth, with Tippett and Brodie Smith replying to goals from Gunston and Cyril Rioli to limit the margin to just 16-points going into the final quarter.
Both sides activated their substitutions, with Adelaide’s Graham Johncock coming on for Jared Petrenko, while Hawthorn swapped Paul Puopolo with Shane Savage.
Hawthorn had chances to take the game away from the Crows however continued to butcher their opportunities in front of goal. Burgoyne missed an early one on the run, while Franklin opened the quarter by kicking two behinds and missing one completely.
Adelaide then applied the scoreboard pressure. Tippett continued his dominance in the forwardline by nailing his fourth, before the game’s most controversial moment threatened to change the complexion of the finals series.
David Hale marked strongly in defence for the Hawks and copped a whack from Jason Porplyzia while he was at it. Ryan Schoenmakers then took the issue up with Porplyzia by knocking him over off the ball.
Umpire Matthew Nicholls then reversed the decision of a free kick to Hale, instead putting Porplyzia within scoring distance for the Crows. It was a soft free kick, however the contact was needless from Schoenmakers.
Porplyzia went back and drilled the goal, which had Adelaide within a goal and had Hawthorn fans in uproar.
Patrick Dangerfield, who had been criticised for a quiet finals series, stood up when it mattered. His last quarter was inspirational, as he ended the match with 28 disposals and nine clearances.
The Crows took the lead when Johncock made a huge impact off the pine, running into goal from 40-out and watching it sail through the big sticks.
All of a sudden the momentum was with Adelaide, and the Hawks looked stunned.
However Hawthorn responded immediately in the best possible fashion. A quick clearance from Burgoyne fell into the hands of Rioli, who kept his composure and saw the lead swing back in Hawthorn’s favour. It was as simple as that for the Hawks.
Franklin then brought the house down when he snapped around his body to open up a 10-point lead at the 25-minute mark, yet the Crows just wouldn’t die.
Van Berlo found Walker on the 50-meter arc, and he went back and drilled his fourth to bring the Crows within a kick yet again.
However just 16 seconds remained, and once Hawthorn won the clearance the match was as good as over. The final siren sounded to the relief of Hawks fans. They’d survived the spirited Crows comeback to book a spot in the Grand Final against Sydney.
Adelaide were heartbroken, however after a bottom-four finish last season, they can be proud of the fantastic 2012 season they had produced.
Hawthorn, meanwhile, can wipe their brow and being preparations for their second Grand Final in four years next Saturday.
5 – Brad Sewell
4 – Sam Mitchell
3 – Cyril Rioli
2 – Kurt Tippett
1 – Luke Breust
Riley Beveridge is a first-year Bachelor of Sports Journalism student at La Trobe University. You can follow his AFL views on Twitter: @RileyBev.