In footy, there are few things that speak louder than statistics. One of those things is the psychological side of football.
Our game has always been played 90% above the shoulders. Your headspace dictates your actions more than any game plan, tactic or stat.
The bottom line is this: Hawthorn lose to Geelong on Friday, they will not win the flag.
A certain mental fragility will come to the forefront again, only plaguing the Hawks with more doubt than ever before.
As it’s been noted to me by someone who has a keen eye for football, there has been no bigger ‘sliding doors’ moment in the 2012 season than the final quarter of the Hawks/Cats game on Easter Monday. The Hawks peppered the goals, failing to kill off an opposition who just knew how to win even when they weren’t supposed to.
Every single one of those five behinds failed to bring the kill shot that Hawthorn have searched for since that glorious spring day in 2008, and may have turned this topsy-turvy season into what it is now.
Losses against Geelong in this streak, often have more repercussions than most realise. After Jimmy Bartel stole the game for the Cats in Rd 17, 2009 with a point after the siren, the Hawks won one more game for the season against a lowly Tigers outfit and missed the finals. Shocking performances in games they were expected to win, can only put down to a sides confidence being completely shot.
Whatever instigated the now famous preliminary loss to Collingwood, may have manifested in their Qualifying Final against the Cats. Hawthorn dominated the first quarter, blowing many chances to create a strong lead in wet conditions and allowed the Cats to climb out and roll them once more. They walked off the ground, a confused and crushed bunch.
The Cats exhumed so much energy and mental strength in that last quarter of the Easter Monday game. They looked spent for the next couple of weeks. They were resoundingly beaten by North Melbourne and only just scraped home against the Tigers at their fortress the following week. The after-effects of these encounters are felt by both sides, battle scars of a titanic encounter.
The Hawks lost confidence in themselves and had two inglorious losses to the Swans and Tigers, where they looked mentally broken and physically beaten. They were questioned about putting bodies on the line at the contest, something that come finals time is the last thing you need exposed.
In a Bound for Glory interview the weekend before the fated Easter Monday game, Mitch Duncan discussed what the new generation were asked of by the older players.
“We don’t like losing to them… and it’s now a part of the culture of the club that we have to embrace”.
Duncan wasn’t there on that fateful day in 2008, but he spoke in a manner that suggested he was more than a little nervy about the upcoming game. The Cats’ perceived dominance over the Hawks was slipping after the results of Round 1 (Hawks toppled the Magpies – confirming everyone’s assumptions of flag favoritism, whilst Ross Lyon’s Dockers beat the Cats in a heart-stopping shootout).
Of course, how things panned out were different. The ladder positions and form of each side is now meaningless.
If Hawthorn wins, the elephant in the room can be led outside, leaving them to bunker down and strive for glory once more.