MELBOURNE // The Hawthorn Hawks roared to a 63-point upset win over heavy favourites Sydney in the Australian Football League Grand Final in Melbourne on Saturday to defend their title in style and avenge their bitter loss in the 2012 decider.
Hard-bitten Hawks captain Luke Hodge won the Norm Smith medal as best-on-ground and forward Jarryd Roughead kicked five goals as the Hawks marched to their third title in seven years in front of 99,454 fans at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
The 137-74 victory was among the sweetest of the Melbourne team’s 12 premierships in top-flight Australian Rules football, coming after a testing year in which key players spent long spells injured and head coach Alastair Clarkson missed five matches after falling ill with a rare auto-immune condition.
“Not in our wildest dreams did we anticipate it was going to be a 10-goal victory,” Clarkson, who celebrated his third championship in charge, told reporters.
“We had to confront a fair few challenges throughout the course of the year.
“To overcome them and get a victory on Grand Final day is a very, very special feeling.”
Having staggered into the clash after a nerve-jangling three-point win over Port Adelaide in the semi-finals, few backed Hawthorn against a Swans team that charged in on the back of a 71-point demolition of North Melbourne.
The Swans had finished the regular season top of the table and boasted a forward line stocked with mammoth forwards, including the brilliant Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin, the competition’s leading goal-kicker who crossed from the Hawks in the off-season for an Australian record A$10 million ($8.76 million) deal.
The AFL’s poster-boy finished with four goals from his limited opportunities but was one of a precious few that could hold their heads high from a side that were outclassed from start to finish.
The Swans were stunned by their opponents’ tackling and fierce attack on the ball in the opening quarter and Hodge and fellow midfield enforcers Jordan Lewis and Sam Mitchell dominated the rucks to set up the victory with a 42-point halftime lead.
Quick goals after the break from Roughead and fellow forward Jack Gunston, the latter slotted from 50 metres out on an angle, all but sealed the trophy but the Hawks continued the feeding frenzy right to the final whistle.
They celebrated only their second successful title defence in their nearly 90-year history in the indigenous game’s top-flight, the last completed by the 1988-89 champions.
“The feeling you get after a final loss and your season’s over, it sits in your guts a long time,” said Hodge, looking back at the team’s shock 10-point loss in the 2012 Grand Final when raging favourites against the Swans.
“We’ve got a lot of competitive guys in our team ... We’re going to come back with some pretty high targets next year.”
Ashen-faced Sydney coach John Longmire was at a loss to describe his team’s failure to turn up on the most important day of the season.
“I’m just so disappointed we didn’t give ourselves a chance,” he said.
“To Hawthorn’s credit they just kept the foot down ... That’s what good teams are about.
“They’re a bit beyond a good team now, they’re a great team.”
The match played out under a heavy security blanket, with the number of police doubled at the stadium in the wake of counter-terrorism raids across Australia last week.
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