Seen as the heir apparent to Geelong’s throne all year, the Hawks lost their way ten minutes short of the final hurdle. Sydney quietly, without fanfare, climbed the ladder and remained in the top echelon all season before finishing the year covered in glory.
Win/loss record: 17-5
Ladder position: 1st (Lost to Sydney in the Grand Final)
Spurred on from their heartbreaking loss in the 2011 Preliminary Final, this year was meant to be one of redemption for the Hawthorn Football Club. An opening round win over Collingwood set them off on the right track, but losses to Geelong, West Coast, and Sydney in quick succession stunted their momentum.
After their 62-point loss to the Tigers in Round 9, the Hawks looked far from premiership contenders. However, this game acted as the wake up call for the Hawks and their form, at times in the second half of the season, was positively awesome.
Geelong still proved to be Hawthorn’s Achilles heel, as the Hawks lost both encounters with their long-time rivals, despite being in winning positions late in the game in both Rounds 2 and 19.
Ultimately, the Hawks may just have peaked their runa little early as they spluttered in to the Grand Final with a narrow win over the unfancied Adelaide Crows, before letting a two-goal lead slip away in the last ten minutes in the premiership decider against the Swans.
Former captain Sam Mitchell was at his inspirational best all season and thoroughly deserved his equal second placing in the Brownlow Medal, despite the snub from All-Australian selectors. First-time All-Australian Grant Birchall, along with Luke Breust, Josh Gibson and Brad Sewell, can also be well proud of their contribution though the entire season.
Livewire forward Lance Franklin enjoyed an inconsistent year. His best performance was a 13-goal haul against the Kangaroos in Tasmania, but his year was tempered by his 6-week absence from the side through injury and illness late in the season.
Cyril Rioli, while at times brilliant, was controversially awarded an All-Australian berth, and the Hawks had to cope with their influential skipper Luke Hodge missing substantial parts of the year through persistent injury.
Looking forward to 2013
Another two goals in the last quarter of the Grand Final would be a good start. A key area of improvement needed is goalkicking efficiency, particularly from Franklin, as his efforts in the last two finals arguably cost the Hawks a flag. It needs to be ironed out over the off-season.
Importantly, the core playing list of the Hawks are still young, with soon-to-be 30-year-olds Sam Mitchell and Shaun Burgoyne as their oldest players active on Grand Final day. The team also has plenty of improvement coming from their talented younger players such as Liam Shiels, Ryan Schoenmakers, Jack Gunston, Ben Stratton and Matt Suckling.
The core group of senior players can be considered to be in a similar place to Geelong in 2010, where they have time to win a flag but the window for doing so is beginning to narrow.
It is distinctly possible that the near misses in 2011 and 2012 could spur the Hawks on, as they were arguably the team of the year. Given the nature of the competition in recent years, a second consecutive Grand Final berth is not beyond them.
Hawthorn, and in particular coach Alastair Clarkson, will be hurting and angry at the lost chance this year, for premierships don’t come around all that often in this tough competition; they wasted a golden opportunity in 2012. This should provide all the motivation the Hawks need to go all the way in 2013.
Sydney Swans – premiers
Win/loss record: 16-6
Ladder position: 3rd (Defeated Hawthorn in the Grand Final)
To say the Swans’ ultimate triumph in 2012 was unexpected at the beginning of the season would be a massive understatement.
After their Semi-Final loss to Hawthorn in 2011, second-year coach John Longmire had the task of guiding the Swans back into the top four for the first time since 2006, the year of their previous Grand Final appearance.
The year began well for the boys from the Harbour City as they easily accounted for new cross-town rivals GWS in the inaugural Sydney derby, before recording victories in their first five matches, including a 37-point belting of Hawthorn down in Launceston.
However, the injury of co-captain Adam Goodes during their Round 6 match against the Crows contributed to a loss of form, as the Swans lost three of their next four matches. Once this little hiccup was overcome, the Swans put together some consistent winning form to reach the head of the ladder by Round 19.
With the continued media assessments of Hawthorn, Collingwood and Geelong as the real flag contenders, Sydney was still not seen as genuine threats, and the three late-season defeats to bona fide finals contenders had many experts questioning whether the Swans would exit the finals in straight sets.
However, the Swans still had exceeded expectations by qualifying in third spot and earning themselves the vital double chance. Defeating the Crows in Adelaide was a great start to their finals campaign, earning the week off before overcoming their Magpies hoodoo in the Preliminary Final, booking their place in the Grand Final.
To come from behind twice against Hawthorn and pinch the premiership, which most considered to be signed, sealed and delivered for the Hawks, will live on as one of the greatest ever achievements for the Sydney Swans in their turbulent history since moving from South Melbourne.
A number of the Swans had outstanding seasons, none better than former Hawk Josh Kennedy as he enjoyed a breakout season, earning himself an All-Australian berth. Defender Ted Richards also earned his first All-Australian selection as reward for a fine season.
Other key contributors included livewire forward Lewis Jetta, the experienced trio of Jarrad McVeigh, Jude Bolton, and Ryan O’Keefe, along with the youngsters Kieren Jack and Dan Hannebery, who also gave their all for the Swans all season.
Looking forward to 2013
Sydney will now have to cope with being the target for all 17 clubs to chase in 2013. While they slipped under the radar quite successfully this year, the Swans will not have this luxury next season, as every move they made in 2012 will be well scrutinised from the other clubs in order to find a chink in their armour.
Admittedly, the Swans have a core of senior players that will carry on this legacy for many years to come, but the worrying fact is that veterans Adam Goodes, Ryan O’Keefe and Jude Bolton are nearing the end of their careers. However, the future seems bright for the Swans with young stars Sam Reid, Lewis Jetta, Luke Parker, Dan Hannebery, Alex Johnson, Nick Smith and the returning Gary Rohan all yet to reach their true potential.
It is an exciting time to be at the Swans and they will give their premiership defense a great shake in 2013. Blessed with the astute leadership of John Longmire and a talented playing list, rest assured that Sydney will be giving their all to be the first side to defend their title since the Brisbane Lions of 2001/02/03.
Given the culture and work ethic of all involved at the Sydney Swans, a premiership in 2013 should definitely not seen as big of a shock as it appeared to be back in March this year.