Hot weather always skews one’s senses. Hence, given Melbourne’s recent high temperatures, I thought I would list my choice of the best ever 22 players for Hawthorn based on my 46 years of watching the club.
During this period, Hawthorn has won 12 premierships with many great players. This, in a sense, makes this a futile exercise, that will more likely be remarked upon more for who I leave out, rather than whom I include.
My chosen team is:
B: Burgoyne, Moore, Ayres
HB: Hodge (c), Langford, Knights
W: Geoff Ablett, Sam Mitchell, Dipper
HF: Buddy, Brereton, Buckenara
F: Dunstall, Hudson, Crimmins
R: Scott, Tuck, Matthews
Int: Platten, Rowlings, Crawford, Mew
The choice of Shaun Burgoyne might surprise. In my mind he is one of the most complete players I have seen at the club. In the era in which he has played, swingmen have been all the rage and he is amongst the very best. Burgoyne doesn’t play in the typical key positions of both back and forward, but, rather, he can play on any line in both attacking and defensive roles.
The preference of Chris Langford over Chris Mew (once nicknamed “BP – the quiet achiever”) at CHB will most likely raise some eyebrows. Mew is in the Hawks team of the century at CHB and Langford’s reputation at full back was gained only after being shifted there in 1986. I selected Langford in the role due to his iconic duels from that era. The standout was against Carlton’s Stephen Kernahan who had touched up Mew in the 86 second semi only to have the tables turned when Langford was shifted from his customary FB position to CHB for the Grand Final. This game was the first of many epic tussles against Kernahan. My bias for Langford also stems from an incident during the ‘merger match’ against Melbourne in 1996. It was a pivotal time for Hawthorn as the club was being faced with extinction. By selecting Langford for my top 22, I wanted to pay homage to that memorable moment when he raised a Hawthorn jumper up to the crowd after this match. It was an iconic moment in our club’s history.
The rest of my choices are without question:
Kelvin Moore – he was one of the best full backs the game has ever seen. He was elite in his reading of the play and brilliant in the customary one on one duels from that era. He was a great spoiler and was equally adept at out-marking his direct opponent.
Gary Ayres – (aka ‘Conan’) was as tough as teak and huge as an on-field leader. Like Moore, he was a brilliant reader of the play. He was as slow as a wet week but still negated the many small forwards from the era. In a sense, they thought they were the fox, but Ayres was always the foxes tail. He was very capable in the midfield as his dominant display on the wing in the 1986 grand final showed. He won the Norm Smith Medal for his brilliant play on the wing, controlling David Rhys Jones’ influence as well as having a huge impact on the game. Ayres is one of the best big game performers I’ve seen play for the club.
Luke Hodge – Do I have to say anything?
Peter Knights – one of the most talented players I have seen. He was a star during his era at the club and I think if he was playing today he would have been an even bigger star. Knights had such athleticism he could have been cast as a big mid. As a half back he would have redefined the terms ‘intercept marking’ or ‘rebounding from defence’. Let’s all close our eyes and picture the amazing Peter Knights – jumping on a pack to mark, landing like a cat on his feet, then going on a blitzing run which culminates in him booming a goal. Ahhhh the memories.
I considered including many others, such as the aforementioned Chris Mew as well as David Parkin, David ‘Rubber’ O’Halloran (RIP), Josh Gibson, Grant Birchall and even Brent Guerra.
The standout choice here is Geoff Ablett on the wing. During the period I have followed the Hawks, I view him as being hugely underrated. In the 70’s there were many great ‘wingers’. Ablett was the equal of any. His speed was what most focussed on but his skills were much more. He had a booming kick of real accuracy that was decisive in us winning two flags. I loved the ‘Racehorse’, and still have fond memories of his display during our tight loss in the 1974 preliminary final to ‘Norf’. That was one of the best individual finals performances I have seen for Hawthorn and I have seen a truckload.
Both Sam Mitchell and Robert Dipierdomenico require no explanation.
Of the players I left out, in truth, none really challenged. I considered playing Shane Crawford off the wing in place of Ablett but I couldn’t leave out Ablett. Three of those I omitted deserve a mention. The first is Darrin Pritchard who was a brilliant player off the wing in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. The second is Colin Robertson who was hugely underrated in the early 1980’s and lastly, Ben Allan, who I thought was elite. ‘Rocket’ Eade was also a brilliant wingman for the club.
Most would deem picking a forward line for Hawthorn from players from the last 46 years as “mission impossible”.
In my mind this task is not all that difficult, with 5 certainties. The only selection that might raise eyebrows is selecting Peter Crimmins for the pocket. In my opinion, Crimmins’ tragic passing to cancer steals the focus from just how great he was as a player. He was brilliant as a rover and deadly dangerous when being rested in the forward line.
Of the rest: Peter Hudson and Jason Dunstall require no explanation for they are amongst the great full forwards the game has seen. I have no doubt Hudson would have kicked 200 in a season and 2,500 throughout his career if his knee hadn’t crumbled in the round 2 game against Melbourne in 1972.
The half forward line of Buddy Franklin, Dermott Brereton and Gary Buckenara would be arguably the best of all time. The only change I might have made would be to include Gary Ablett Senior in place of Buddy, due to the 6 games he played for the club in 1982.
There were no other players I gave serious consideration to for the forward line. A few deserve mention, such as Michael ‘Gladys’ Moncrieff, ‘Big Al’ Martello, ‘Bomber’ Hendrie, Bob Keddie, Cyril Rioli, and Darren Jarman. One name I would like to highlight is Mark Williams. I thought he was elite in a struggling team for most of his career. If he played more in the Hawk glory years he would have been lauded universally. His issues with knees also stifled his abilities. If not for this, he would have been a very fine outside midfield player with real pace and skill by foot, similar to Michael Long.
Of the recent bunch, I think Jack Gunston is the pick. He is truly an elite player with a style similar to James Hird. He could end his career and be as lauded for his on-field deeds.
Scott, Tuck, Matthews – One of the finest following divisions in the games’ history.
If I was to pick another ruckman, Greg Dear would be my choice. I thought he was a better player than he was ever given credit for.
Paul Salmon got in the Hawthorn team of the century but his past ties with Essendon eliminated him from consideration
This was the toughest selection of all.
I had to choose Shane Crawford and John Platten. Many will ‘arc up’ about Platts not being selected in the 22. Whilst he is a truly great player, he wouldn’t get into my top 22 ahead of Lethal or Crimmo. Barry Rowlings’ selection will shock many. In fact many of the new breed of Hawk fans wouldn’t even know of his name. I rate him that highly that I even considered him before Sam Mitchell in the guts. As a midfielder he was before his time. He had great foot and hand skills and with a real tank who could run all day. His toughness was underrated. When his knee crumbled in 1978 and the Hawks thought he was cooked, allowing him to leave to Richmond, I seriously cried. He went on to be the Tigers’ captain and a member of their Hall of Fame.
With one last spot remaining on the pine, there were about 20 names racing through my head. I thought of Russell Greene, Cyril Rioli, Darren Jarman, Grant Birchall, Bob Keddie, Colin Robertson, Terry Wallace, Jordon Lewis, Jarryd Roughead and many more.
Though I left him out of the backline, it was a case of asking “which of your kids do you love the most?”, hence, Chris Mew is my last choice for the final 22.