In looking at Hawthorn’s recent history, I am a firm believer that Jeff Kennett was the difference between winning and losing the 2012 Flag.
The Hawks finished the Home and Away season as minor premiers , which should have seen them earning a top seeding in the finals. It would have represented a crucial advantage in Preliminary Final week where the Hawks would have been given the early game rather than the later one. When Sydney gained that benefit (after finishing third in the Home and Away Season) it made all the difference because the extra recovery time gave them an enormous advantage and played a huge role in their eventual Grand Final win.
There is no way the AFL would have pulled this if Kennett was still President at the Club. The former Victorian Premier was always known for his vocal outbursts, often intrusive, disruptive and ill advised. He was a force to be reckoned with, and he gave the impression that anything going against the Hawthorn Football Club would have consequences.
This decision was shamelessly biased towards Sydney. It would have been greeted by Kennett going on a war footing with the AFL, to the extent that he may have taken legal action against the AFL.
The irony is this demeanour is not “the Hawthorn way”, a term coined by the immortal Ron Cook whilst serving as President (1980-87). He defined the culture of the club with his old fashioned sternness and was a completely modest and selfless figure. He was the driving force in so many capacities for the Club. A stand out example was beating the Blues in the recruiting war over Peter Hudson in the 1960’s.
The famed sausage sizzle was Cook’s doing, on face value a small event. But what it symbolized was profound, as it underpinned the Hawks reputation as the “Family Club”. There were no boundaries between star players to the people from the back blocks.
Cook was behind procuring Allan Jeans as coach in 1980. He was also pivotal in getting Ian Dicker to command the fight against the Melbourne takeover of the club in 1996, both of these instances highlighting the modest character of both men. Both figures were averse to any flashiness, further defining the “Hawthorn Way”.
Kennett on many levels defies this. His return to the club as President in the wake of current events leaves me torn. Kennett has been re-installed after a previous 6 year term as President (2005-11). After the current President Richard Garvey tendered his resignation, the failed venture of Tracey Gaudrey as the club’ s CEO was pivotal in Garvey’s departure.
In regard to the running of the club, Kennett will be exceptional. The concern I have with him is from a cultural viewpoint. As the club sits now there needs to be a real focus in mending the fracture felt in the supporter base.
The news of Luke Hodge joining Brisbane on a two year contract after retiring from the Club leaves a bitter taste, and one question remains as to why the club was willing to let him retire, rather than knowing about his desire to play on. In a time of transition for the club with many youngsters still green, he still would have been a pivotal figure in their growth. Instead, he will serve the same role for the Brisbane Lions. The same concern existed last year in response to the Club shunting other legends, Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis out the door.
This will not be easy. It will rely on Kennett delving into some old style Hawthorn values or getting some real Hawthorn people into the Club to assist.
Despite these concerns, no doubt there will be many fans happy to have this colourful but professional leader back at the helm.