Should another flag find its way to Waverley Park in 2014 Hawthorn, not Geelong, will be remembered as the greatest side of this era, and possibly the greatest side of all time.
For five years, since the 12-point triumph over St Kilda in the 2009 Grand Final, Geelong has sat alone as the greatest side of the modern era.
The Cats’ claim to the title was only strengthened in 2011 when, after being written off on more than one occasion, Geelong won its third premiership in five seasons by beating reigning premiers Collingwood by 38 points, prompting some to say – as their theme song suggests – Geelong is the greatest team of all.
But now Geelong face a challenger to the crown in its most bitter rivals, Hawthorn.
It’s the most decorated and exciting rivalry in modern football, tracing back to the young Hawks causing an upset in 2008 by stealing the premiership from Geelong, who lost just one game in making it to the Grand Final.
As exciting as the clashes between the two sides have been thrilling to watch, in games that matter the record is skewed in Hawthorn’s favour.
In 2008 the Hawks put a sizeable dent in the Geelong dynasty before it was a dynasty, then in 2013, after 11 successive defeats to the Cats and just one in finals, Hawthorn rallied from 20 points down at three quarter time in a preliminary final to win by five points and go on to a Grand Final which it would win.
In the latest chapter on Friday night Hawthorn revealed the chasm that exists between the two teams that finished second and third on the ladder this year in a 36-point qualifying final win.
Historically speaking, the results of the first weekend in September leave two sides vying for the 2014 premiership: Sydney and Hawthorn, the two sides which for most of 2014 have stood out above the rest.
Success on the last Saturday of September this year would make it three premierships in seven seasons for Hawthorn – a testament to the club’s recruiting and ability to keep the core of this side together.
Furthermore it would make Hawthorn the first back-to-back premiers since Brisbane won three in a row from 2001 to 2003, another edge the Hawks will hold over Geelong, who were never able to win two in a row.
The 2009 and 2010 seasons no doubt count against Hawthorn where they crumbled under intense pressure to immediately establish a dynasty and subsequently finished ninth and seventh respectively – the latter ending in a five-goal elimination final loss to Fremantle just two weeks after beating the Dockers by 116 points – whereas Geelong hasn’t failed to register at least 15 wins in the home and away season since 2006.
2014 is by no means a do or die situation for Hawthorn, however, with an average list age of just 24 years and with crucial players Luke Hodge, Shaun Burgoyne, Sam Mitchell, Josh Gibson, David Hale and Brian Lake all looking like they have at least one more year left in them before the wizards of the Hawthorn recruiting team need to find replacements.
With a number of star players including Jordan Lewis, Jarryd Roughead, Luke Breust, Jack Gunston, Cyril Rioli and Isaac Smith with at least four years left in their careers, nobody would be surprised to see Hawthorn entrenched in the top four until at least 2017, especially if 25 year-old Melbourne defender James Frawley, who looks all but gone from the Demons, signs with the Hawks.
Geelong, on the other hand, look the weakest they have since 2006 – though still better than most sides best over the last decade – with arguably a greater reliance on the old guard in Bartel, Johnson, Enright, Kelly, Lonergan, Mackie and McIntosh than Hawthorn, and less young talent than the Hawks possess.
Of the group that caused a great upset in the 2008 Grand Final only seven players remain on the Hawthorn list in Hodge, Mitchell, Lewis, Sewell, Roughead, Birchall and Rioli.
Even the defection of the best forward in the game, Lance Franklin, at the conclusion of 2013 to fellow premiership contenders Sydney was barely noticed with the Hawks at times in 2014 looking more dangerous post-Franklin. It is a testament to the coaching and recruiting teams’ ability to turn the list over and blood kids, an ability which will see Hawthorn continue to compete for premierships for at least the next three years.