Geelong and Hawthorn have one of the great rivalries of the modern era, two of the most successful clubs in recent years and on each occasion that they meet a new chapter in their history is formed.
Despite a history of close encounters and thrilling matches, the modern day rivalry truly began following the 2008 Grand Final. Reigning premiers Geelong went into the game solid favourites against a young Hawks side. Geelong had been the best side all year, winning the minor premiership, as well as the past year thumping Port Adelaide in the previous Grand Final by 119-points. While the Cats led by three points at half-time, the Hawks defeated Geelong in a massive upset that ultimately forged the start of one of the greatest rivalries in the modern era. Cue the ‘Kennett Curse’.
Following the Grand Final win over Geelong, then Hawthorn President Jeff Kennett stated, “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.”
Those words would haunt Kennett and Hawks supporters over the next five years, as Geelong went on to win 11 straight games over the Hawks. The victories included the 2011 Qualifying Final, which saw Geelong go on to defeat Collingwood in the Grand Final and win their third premiership in five years. Former Geelong star Paul Chapman later revealed that a ‘pact’ had been made between Cats players after the 2008 Grand Final defeat, that they would never lose to Hawthorn again.
The games were as thrilling and fast finishing as they come. Of the 11 straight wins, nine were decided by 10 points or less and four times by two points or less.
The Hawks came so close to breaking the infamous curse, but every time it looked as if the curse would finally be lifted, the Cats uncanny ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat would always prevail.
The first win came in Round 1, 2009. The Grand Final replay saw the Cats hungry for redemption and the Hawks out to defend a title many thought they could not win. The Cats had a 37-point lead going into the final quarter, which even got out to 43 at one point in the last, before the Hawks started to kick their way back into the game. It looked as if Kennett’s comments were legitimate and the Hawks would run over the Cats late, but the Cats found a way to win.
In Round 17 of the same year, the sides played a thriller. The Cats trailed by 28 points in the fourth quarter before clawing their way back into the game to be one point down with just minutes remaining. With the ball was trapped in the Cats forward 50, star midfielder Jimmy Bartel had a running snap at goal but kicked a point, locking the scores at 98 a piece. The game looked destined for a draw but with only moments left in the game, Geelong’s Joel Corey put a high wobbly kick into the Cats forward line. Who else but Jimmy Bartel was camped underneath, with the siren sounding seconds after he took the mark. Bartel, on a tough angle only needed a point to win and with 64,804 fans watching on, he ran in and kicked a behind to the left of the goals, only to be engulfed by his teammates in celebration. The Cats win lead them into the finals with plenty of momentum. They went on to win the Grand Final against St.Kilda. Whilst Hawthorn was unable to make the top eight, finishing in ninth place.
By 2012, the Hawks still couldn’t find a way to get over the line. They lost to the Cats in the 2011 Qualifying Final and then lost by two points in another Easter Monday classic. Fed up, the Hawks went to put an end the curse once and for all.
In the Round 19 blockbuster, Hawthorn trailed by 51 points in the second quarter, however rallied back to hit the front late in the last. With just one minute remaining on the clock, Hawk Clinton Young hit the post and gave Geelong a kick out with a chance to reset for one last roll of the dice. After a kick long from Enright, the ball was quickly kicked back in by Hawthorn. Hawthorn’s Paul Puopolo attempted to kick the ball out of mid-air for goal that would seal the game, however it would not register a score. Geelong rebounded out of the half back line, swiftly moving down the wing with only thirty seconds remaining. An inboard kick to Selwood who marked strongly overhead, played on and kicked to the leading target of Tom Hawkins, who marked 50 metres out from goal. The Cats, four points down, in need of a goal to win the game watched as Hawkins took a shot just after the siren. He ran in and launched a drop punt from beyond fifty, straight through the middle, and once again the familiar sight of the Cats players celebrating and Hawks players in utter disbelief of what had just happened.
In 2013, the rivalry grew. Coming off a 10 point Grand Final loss to Sydney, the Hawks would once again have to face to the Cats in Round 1. As per usual, the game come down to the wire. Geelong won by seven points despite being down 20-points at the main break.
The sides would meet twice more in the 2013 season, first in Round 15 and then in the Preliminary Final. Hawthorn won the minor premiership and the Cats were placed in second on the ladder, only one win behind the Hawks. The teams would face off in a thrilling Prelim, as they looked towards September success.
In an another epic encounter, the sides battled for the lead throughout, but the Cats went into three-quarter time with a 20 point lead. The Hawks, with an extra weeks rest came out strong in the final term and forced their way back into the game. They took the lead late in the final quarter courtesy of Burgoyne’s third goal. The sides exchanged behinds in a nail-biting final few minutes. With 30 seconds remaining, Cat Travis Varcoe had a chance to tie up the game and send it into extra-time but missed, leaving the Cats down by 5 points.
Finally, after four years, eleven months and twenty-four days the Hawks were able to overcome the ‘Kennett Curse’, moving on to their first Grand Final since the 08′ victory. The Hawks defeated Fremantle the following week in the first of three-straight premierships, with the defeat of Geelong allowing the Hawks to clinch greater success.
Now, three seasons later both clubs are very different teams to those that kicked off the rivalry a decade ago. Both Geelong and Hawthorn have seen a transition from the senior players of the past era into strong sides boasting talented young players that they see as the future of the football club.
In 2016, Geelong brought in Patrick Dangerfield from Adelaide and his impact was enormous. He won his first Brownlow and alongside captain Joel Selwood, they pioneered the Cats to another Finals campaign. However, the experience of premiership heroes Jimmy Bartel and Corey Enright is now gone, with both men retiring from the game. The Cats also lost Steve Johnson, as he joined Greater Western Sydney in the 2015 off-season. The one notable inclusion the side has been Zach Tuohy (Carlton) who has shown great signs early in the 2017 season. The main issue with the Cats, that has derived from last season is the heavy reliance on Dangerfield and Selwood (Dangerwood). It remains to be seen whether the Cats middle-tier players, such as; Duncan, Guthrie, Horlin-Smith, McCarthy, Thurlow, Murdoch, Motlop, Menzel, Blicavs can up their game and support the midfield duo. What better chance for these players to show themselves than in this very game.
Hawthorn went big in this year’s off-season and although only early days, it looks as if the triple-premiership Hawks are not the side they used to be, losing the first three games of the season to be 0-3. In the offseason, the Hawks decided to let go of two of their premiership veterans. Jordan Lewis went to Melbourne and Sam Mitchell to West Coast and with them went 571 games of experience. In hopes of replacing the star duo, the Hawks went hard for Jaeger O’Omeara (Gold Coast) and Tom Mitchell (Sydney), whilst also bringing in Tyrone Vickery (Richmond). O’Meara and Mitchell have been good in the opening games but not outstanding, whereas Vickery hasn’t shown much from the games played so far. Once again, if there is any stage to earn your colours at a new club it is on Easter Monday at the G’.
There is no doubt that the Hawks and the Cats have had one of the greatest rivalries of the modern era. Whether it continues remains to be seen. Two clubs with so much history, in a game that means so much, both transitioning into a new era, a new chapter will be written. The Cats vs the Hawks, another classic on Easter Monday at the G’.