So the preliminary finals have been decided and just like the mighty Brisbane Lions of 2001-2004, Hawthorn has now equalled this remarkable feat by qualifying for its fourth successive grand final.
After their 10-point defeat at the hands of Sydney in 2012, the Hawks are now seeking a club-record third successive premiership, as a result of their 27-point preliminary final win over Fremantle.
What is remarkable is that over the course of Hawthorn’s grand final era, a staggering 11 players have played in every final that the Hawks have competed in.
These players are the experienced Grant Birchall, Luke Breust, Shaun Burgoyne, Josh Gibson, David Hale, Sam Mitchell, Paul Puopolo, Jarryd Roughead, Liam Shiels, Isaac Smith and Ben Stratton.
Add to this list the proven stars in skipper Luke Hodge and 2014 best and fairest Jordan Lewis that have missed just the one finals game in the last four years, you have a core squad of players that are incredibly experienced and importantly finals-hardened.
With that sort of cohesion and certainty in selection, stage fright will not be an issue for the Hawks on grand final day.
In fact, it’s really not surprising that the Hawks will go into Saturday’s premiership decider as favourites, holding a 10-2 record in finals football since 2012.
Of the 11 Hawks to have played in all 12 finals across 2012-2015, 27-year-old Grant Birchall is one that will no doubt have a big say in whether the Hawks can defeat West Coast to claim a third successive flag on Saturday.
One of the most consistent Hawks over the last decade, the 215-game veteran has averaged better than 19 disposals in every year of his league career.
Birchall’s strength is undeniably his field kicking, where it is not uncommon for him to hit 80 percent or more of his targets per game.
In fact, since 2010, Birchall’s disposal efficiency from year-to-year has not dropped below 80 percent.
The 2015 campaign for Birchall has been a little frustrating, with a medial ligament strain in February causing him to miss the majority of pre-season, only returning to the seniors for the round two clash against Essendon.
He also missed three games from rounds nine to 12, as a result of a lingering ankle injury. Despite these setbacks, Birchall once again ranked in the elite category with his ball use, with 85.2 percent of his disposals hitting the target: again, his kicking remains as his greatest asset across the backline for his side.
Birchall has lined up in 20 finals for Hawthorn, playing in 15 winning sides. However, quite tellingly, the two losses Hawthorn has suffered in finals since 2012 (the 2012 grand final and this year’s qualifying final against the Eagles) has seen Birchall collect less than 20 disposals.
His creativity across the back line helps dictate the Hawks’ attacking moves and his sublime kicking often means that the midfielders can afford to run ahead of the ball towards goal, as the ball rarely comes back in the form of a turnover.
The fact that Birchall was held to just 11 kicks against the Eagles in the qualifying final, blunted Hawthorn’s run from the half back line, and was a part of the reason the Eagles banged in 14 goals against the usually miserly Hawthorn defence.
If Birchall is allowed to dictate terms with his hard-running and accurate disposal, it will be hard for the Eagles to contain Hawthorn to such a low score again. This is given extra credence with the game being played at the MCG, where Birchall averages 23 disposals and has a 76-32 career winning record.
In the Hawks 2013/14 flags, Birchall was one that stepped up to the challenge, with 26 (20 effective) and 25 (also 20 effective) disposals in the Hawks’ wins over Fremantle and Sydney respectively.
Undoubtedly Hawthorn has many players that West Coast will need to contain in order to claim a fourth premiership, but if Grant Birchall is allowed to create to the best of his ability, then the Eagles will find the Hawks tough to beat in the one final that really counts.