There’s something about grand final week that stops people from saying the blatant obvious – that they have no idea who will win. Here we have two sides that have finished next to each other on the ladder, split games against each other, and even had percentages that were pretty close to each other. Hawthorn and West Coast meet on Saturday as even as sides should be at this time of the year.
And so you would assume most covering the game would provide the sort of analysis that our favourite over at the Guardian, Russell Jackson did: on the strengths and weaknesses of each side and the limits of focusing on narrative based concepts and ‘the vibe’.
But apart from Rusty, we’ve been treated to tired old sporting truisms masquerading as analysis. The worst of these is being bandied around this week with reckless abandon.
Hawthorn will win because of their big game experience
It’s been pretty constant all week. We here at the Sportress heard it on ABC Grandstand, on various platforms on the Fox Footy channel. Even the Age’s esteemed journalists managed to mention it in their impressive interactive (ish) video preview for the grand final.
And it’s not exclusive to Australian Football. There’s a tendency across sport to trot out this particular truism. Rugby League loves the myth that you need to lose one to win one. In the National Basketball Association, it’s simultaneously used to explain the success of the San Antonio Spurs and ignored in the case of last year’s champions, the Golden State Warriors.
To be fair, I can think of occasions in recent AFL grand finals where it has seemed like the ability to handle the big game has mattered. Some people would tell you that Hawthorn, overawed at the moment of being back on the big stage in 2012, couldn’t find a way to kick true. And then the next year, memories of grand final debutante Hadyn Ballyntyne shanking a shot from almost in front, provided more fuel to the myth. People of a certain vintage may use Essendon’s loss to the Hawks in 1983, followed by the Bombers going back-to-back as an example of needing to get big game experience.
But those examples are just as easily counterpointed by victories like Hawthorn’s victory in 2008 over the much more experienced Geelong after 17 years between grand finals. Or Geelong beating Port Adelaide in 2007 after 12 years in the wilderness. Or Port beating Brisbane in 2004 in their first grand final.
If Hawthorn wins on Saturday it will be because their renowned ability to kick efficiently to players in space, as well as at the goal, overwhelmed the West Coast defensive ‘web’ larger Melbourne Cricket Ground. It will be because they are fit enough to handle to the West Coast web in the unseasonable heat. Their ability to do that is governed by their skill and preparation, but not their experience playing football in the last game of the season. Such a measure is arbitrary, outcome based analysis, and our commentators and journalists can do better.