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AFL Round 4: Hawthorn vs. Geelong

AFL Round 4: Hawthorn vs. Geelong

Monday Afternoon, 17th April 2017 at the MCG

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What they don’t have, I think, is the quality of some of our players; they don’t have the psychological drive we have. We’ve beaten Geelong when it matters.

Jeff Kennett, 2009

The Kennett Curse as it would become known, originates from a pre-game interview Jeff Kennett (the Hawthorn President at the time) gave to the ABC’s Offsiders program in 2009. The game in question was the Round 1 encounter between Hawthorn and Geelong – the re-match of the previous year’s Grand Final in which Alistair Clarkson’s Hawthorn had outwitted and outplayed the all-conquering Geelong side to snatch a premiership (Geelong earning the unfortunate record of winning the most games in a season without winning the premiership). Despite winning that 2008 premiership Hawthorn were not ready to dominate the AFL, as they suffered a Grand Final hangover and missed the finals altogether in 2009. But entering the 2009 season, Jeff Kennett was certainly bullish about Hawthorn’s prospects against Geelong by making his famous boast about the psychological superiority of his players. Mark Thompson, the Geelong coach at the time certainly felt Kennett’s comments were ill judged, later reflecting that it was a stupid comment by a club president, an idiotic comment [1].

As it turned out, Geelong would not only win that afternoon in early 2009, but also go on to win 11 consecutive contests between the two teams, a period spanning 5 years and 2 premierships for Geelong. Hawthorn would have to wait until they eventually broke the Kennett Curse in 2013 before adding to their premiership collection. How do we explain the winning streak? Was it a curse? Was it a psychological advantage? Was it just a reflection of the better team over those 5 years? Or was it just pure luck?

Figure-1 presents the match results between Hawthorn and Geelong between the Grand Final of 2008 and the Preliminary Final of 2013, a period to which I refer to as The Kennett Curse Era. The first of the questions we can put to bed is the notion that the 11 consecutive games was just a reflection of the better team. Based on the match odds, on average Geelong was considered a 54% chance of winning a given match to Hawthorn’s 46%, with Hawthornthe favourite in the last 4 of those matches. This combined with the fact that 9 of the 11 games were decided by less than 2 goals would suggest that a random sample of 11 matches between these two teams should have resulted in at least one win to Hawthorn.

 Figure-1: Hawthorn versus Geelong Match Results (The Kennett Curse Era)

Figure-1: Hawthorn versus Geelong Match Results (The Kennett Curse Era)

So do we then attribute the winning streak as a psychological advantage or just luck? In truth, it is probably a combination of both. Watching through the closing minutes of these games one after the other is remarkable viewing (unless you support Hawthorn) as it provides credence to this view. However, by far the best example of the absurdity of it all, look no further than the final 2 minutes of the Round 19 2012 clash between the two teams.

Hawthorn enter the last 2 minutes 3 points in front – another goal to the Hawks or if they run down the clock and they win. In those 2 minutes the ball remains in the Hawthorn forward half until the very last play of the game. 92 seconds to go, Hawthorn lose Sam Mitchell to the blood rule at a key moment. 70 seconds to go, should that have been holding the ball on Mitch Duncan from Cyril Rioli's tackle directly in front of goal? 62 seconds to go, Clinton Young hits the post on the bounce. 50 seconds to go, Brad Sewell takes an advantage from a holding the ball free kick, was that the right decision? 40 seconds to go, Paul Puopolo tries the miracle goal kicking the ball out of mid air when he had the time to take possession – a lack of composure? 27 seconds to go, Sewell attempts a spoil on Joel Selwood, when all he needed to do was hold him up on the mark. 23 seconds to go, Tom Hawkins marks on the 50 m line, thinks about the pass, chooses not to waste possession. Then after the siren Hawkins kicks the long goal to win the game! The Rioli umpiring call and Young hitting the post were unlucky. Sewell and Puopolo made poor decisions under pressure in key moments. Whilst the Hawkins goal was clutch, especially with the siren sounding a second before he kicked the ball. An incredible ending.

This final 2 minutes of this one game summed up the Kennett Curse Streak. Both teams were capable of winning, but a combination of luck and composure (or lack thereof) under pressure giving Geelong the win each time. But was this composure under pressure a direct result of a psychological hold Geelong maintained over Hawthorn, with confidence building after each win, meaning that in the key moments Geelong had the belief that they would get it done and Hawthorn did not? With 9 of the 11 games decided by less than a goal, there appears to be some truth in that. However, after 11 consecutive wins for Geelong over Hawthorn, the time came for the two teams to face each other in a do or die final. The preliminary final of 2013 played almost to script – a match that would once again go down to the wire.

Geelong had the game won at Three-Quarter Time, but then Hawthorn made their charge in the last quarter and deep into time-on they had the lead by 5 points. Let’s think about this for a moment. How does the psychology of this play up in the minds of the Geelong players? We have won all these games in a row, but what if we lose this one? The most important of them all!  Enter the last 2 minutes and on cue, who else but Jeff Kennett appears on the television screen. Dennis Cometti in commentary: He can’t watch. Well he caused it! 52 seconds to go, Motlop plays-on from a mark but slips! But was Motlop then held on to too long? The umpires call says No. 35 seconds to go, a Varcoe shot on goal to tie the game? He misses. Hawthorn then maintain their composure and hold on. Luck and a lack of composure were missing from Geelong when they needed it most. The Kennett Curse was finally broken. Or was Jeff right all along? We’ve beaten Geelong when it matters. The rest is history, Hawthorn go on to win 3 successive premierships in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Fast forward to 2016 and Hawthorn win all 6 of their games in the regular home and away season that were decided by less than 2 goals, as presented in Figure-2.

 Figure-2: Hawthorn Matches decided by less than 2 goals – 2016 Home & Away Season

Figure-2: Hawthorn Matches decided by less than 2 goals – 2016 Home & Away Season

Superlatives in the match reports from these games included:

And what a clutch football side this is.

Hawthorn found a way, as Hawthorn does.

Massive come back. So Hawthorn.

The Hawks knew what to do in the final quarter, they didn’t panic.

Paul Puopolo had ice running through his veins.

As they so often do, the Hawks found a way to win.

The Hawks were classy when it counted and calm and collected in the final minutes.

Is all the above true? Does Hawthorn have a superiority in close games just like Geelong did in the Kennett Curse Era? This run of games does differ from the Geelong rivalry in one key point in that it was not against the same team. The psychological advantage Geelong had over Hawthorn was built up from the history between the two teams. So was it just luck them? Well, I don’t want to downplay the qualities of the Hawthorn players, but if they did possess the experience and the nouse to always win the close games, then they were certainly late learners. Figure-3 presents all the games Hawthorn were involved in from the 2015 season that were decided by less than 2 goals. They won 1 and lost 4.

 Figure-3: Hawthorn Matches decided by less than 2 goals - 2015 Season

Figure-3: Hawthorn Matches decided by less than 2 goals - 2015 Season

Which brings us to the 2016 Qualifying Final between Geelong and Hawthorn. The old rivalry back together again in September and possibly for the last time with this generation of players (certainly Hawthorn’s start to 2017 would suggest so). And on cue again, the game is on a knife’s edge with only a minute to go. Geelong lead by 3 points.

39 seconds to go, Steven Motlop tries the miracle goal. All he needed to do was force the stoppage. 34 seconds to go, Hawthorn have possession from the kick-in. Jordan Lewis marks in defensive 50, tries the torpedo punt and shanks the kick. Luckily it falls into the arms of Shaun Burgoyne. They bring it forward and Luke Breust marks on the 50. But he then kicks into the man on the mark. But luckily the ball falls back to him and he coolly finds Isaac Smith unmarked inside 50 with 7 seconds to go. Poor decision making from Geelong and composure and luck from Hawthorn. This is all pointing to a famous Hawthorn win. Does Smith draw upon all their experience in the close games and enhance their bulging reputation in these scenarios or does that reputation hang over him like a burden in their biggest game of the year? When it really matters. In the words of Bruce McAvaney:

Isaac Smith. To put Hawthorn into the preliminary final for the sixth consecutive year. A wry smile, heart thumping, chest beating. Steady hand. Good looking kick… but he has hooked it! Geelong have won!

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TIP: Geelong 3-0. Hawthorn 0-3. Hawthorn is coming off a thumping 86 point loss against last week’s crisis club Gold Coast. How does this week’s crisis club now respond? It is the end of an era perhaps, but they still have some very good players and on paper a decent starting 22 despite the loss of Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis in the off-season. So it would be foolish to completely write off the Hawks, but they would need to avoid another second half fade out. As for Geelong, they are sitting pretty with three consecutive wins without ever truly convincing. In particular they have been reliant on Dangerwood having big final quarters in the last 2 weeks. Are they too reliant on their star players? Regardless, I expect a hard fought close game between the two teams. But when the game gets tight at the end of the last quarter, which team handles the pressure better? The team desperate for the win or the team high on confidence?

Geelong to win by 1 point.

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Post Match Comments:

Final Score: Hawthorn 6.12.48, Geelong 20.14.134

Geelong blew the game open after half time, kicking 15 goals to 4 in the second half, including 11 in the last quarter. The 86 point final margin was Hawthorn's second successive 86 point loss. Far from a classic, the match marked the end of an era for the memorable rivalry of the past 10 years.

Most impressively for Geelong they achieved the win without an over-reliance on Dangerwood. Sam Menegola, Mitch Duncan and Steven Motlop their most valuable contributors.

As for Hawthorn, Jeff Kennett was at it again. A week after publicly backing Alastair Clarkson, he now believes Clarkson's time is up, speaking on Radio SEN's breakfast program:

"I've always believed … a leadership position should normally be occupied between six and nine years. If you haven't achieved what you want to in that period of time, you might as well give it away for someone else. If you have achieved what you want, then you ought to give it away, so that someone else can keep the momentum going. Clarko has been there a long time, Eddie McGuire has been (Collingwood president) longer than the Ark – is this all good for those organisations?"

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[1] Thompson, M. (2016). “Bomber: The Whole Story”, Penguin Random House Australia.

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