Sport AFL Akermanis: Why Hawks can still do the three-peat
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Akermanis: Why Hawks can still do the three-peat

Hawthorn AFL premiership 2013
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Winning three premierships in a row is nearly impossible.

But one team, Hawthorn, has a chance to do it this year – just 12 years after the last time it was done.

I played in the last team that won three straight premierships and I often get asked how we did such an amazing thing and if it will ever happen again. It could.

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Hawthorn are just three wins away from equalling such a mighty feat. Yes, they lost to West Coast in the qualifying final, but they are still alive and of course are capable of still winning the flag.

But first they need to win a preliminary final to get into a grand final – and that can’t even happen until they beat the Crows at the MCG on Friday.

Hawthorn have the talent. They have the mental and physical understanding of what it takes to do it.

The roads to the previous grand finals have been different than this year for the Hawks, though.

Doing it the hard way

Our Brisbane side of 2003 lost the qualifying final – as Hawthorn did last week. We lost to eventual grand final opponents Collingwood in a low-scoring affair. And like Hawthorn, the road was getting tougher by the week.

We finished third, like Hawthorn, and we also had a home final against Adelaide at the semi-final stage.

We were in no mood for a close game and had a big win.

lions-hawks3That set up an away preliminary final in Sydney against the Swans at ANZ Stadium.

At three-quarter time, the Swans were coming and had just kicked a goal to have everyone in the stadium thinking that Sydney would win with their momentum.

But for some reason, the Swans stopped. They stopped running hard and stopped doing the things that they were doing to have them in the contest.

Mentally, they started to look ahead … thinking of what might be. But we kept our level of intensity up. We kept on winning our own ball and pushing it into the forward line.

We didn’t get carried away – maybe because of our experience – and it would become one of our most famous victories.

All of a sudden, we were in our third straight grand final and revenge was on our mind.

The decider

Collingwood were different from the year before. Mick Malthouse added a lot more leg speed than they had in 2002, when they nearly upset us.

On that occasion, their big bodies were well-suited to the very cold and wet last Saturday in September.

Ashley McGrath and Jason Akermanis
Ashley McGrath and Jason Akermanis celebrate with the premiership cup after beating Collingwood in 2003. Photo: Getty

But that grand final of 2003 was unexpected.

We made them pay dearly for turnovers in the second quarter and set up the win then. It was a game of mental failures and execution problems from Collingwood.

What had changed from the three weeks prior when we played last? By luck or by design, as the weeks went by, our group actually got healthier.

In week one, we had our concerns with players and injury. Just like the Hawks with Isaac Smith and Jack Gunston.

By grand final day, the only injured player of note was Nigel Lappin, who had a couple of broken ribs and, unbeknown to us, a punctured lung thanks to a Friday afternoon tackling test from first emergency Aaron Shattock.

Mentally and physically, the Lions were peaking.

The grand final week was very relaxed. Like the Hawks might be this year, we were experienced with what the week brings.

No one wasted any energy worrying with the activities of the week and we only concerned ourselves with the game. And I can tell you – that’s not an easy thing to do if you have never been to a week like grand final week.

Comparing the Lions with the Hawks

The biggest difference that I can see between the two teams isn’t so much on the field. Both teams have most of their best players fit and healthy.

For mine, the biggest difference is the coaching staff.

I am sure the current coaches and players would say everything is great at Hawthorn – but it is the coaches who are not there that, I think, is why the three-peat could be in trouble.

If you think about it, the Hawthorn culture and game plan has been sold off in stages.

Brisbane Lions 2002
The great Brisbane Lions side wins the flag in 2002. Photo: Getty

Leigh Matthews pretty much didn’t lose any intellectual property during our time at the top. No coaches took any of our trade secrets to another AFL club during that period.

And trust me, we had some trade secrets.

Luke Beveridge, instrumental in making Hawthorn’s famous defensive set-up nearly impregnable, is now at the Bulldogs. If they could kick straighter, the Dogs would still be alive.

Adam Simpson has taken the same defensive style to West Coast and has driven his team into the top two – and a home preliminary final – with talent, tackling and defensive ferocity.

And now Brendon Bolton has left, immediately, for Carlton, leaving his ex-employers a man short in the box.

Then just when you think all that coaching talent has gone and things couldn’t get worse, senior assistant Brett Ratten lost his son in a tragic accident. It can’t be easy to focus on footy when more important things in life like that come up.

Hawthorn people may just shrug their shoulders at all of that and say it doesn’t matter and that it won’t stop them winning.

That is what I like to hear them say anyway. It’s a good attitude.

If they win down this road, it will be the one premiership that sticks out.

They could not have had a harder road to travel.

Looking back at what we were able to do at Brisbane, that third premiership was the most rewarding of them all.

Jason Akermanis played 325 AFL games, including 77 for the Western Bulldogs from 2007-2010. He won three premierships with the Lions and the Brownlow Medal in 2001.

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