Fremantle 16.9 (105)
Geelong 15.11 (101)
Fremantle started the year under new coach Ross Lyon with an important victory, defeating the reigning premiers in a thrilling game at Patersons Stadium. It was a heated affair, highlighted by a debacle between Matthew Scarlett and Hayden Ballantyne, which saw Scarlett strike the cheeky forward pocket, eventuating in a three-match suspension. Fremantle got off to a flying start, kicking the first five goals, although as expected, Geelong responded. It was a high intensity affair that was tight from go to woe, with Fremantle securing a nail-biting four-point victory. Nathan Fyfe impressed again after a stellar 2011 season, as he was the Dockers best player finishing with 32 disposals and two vital goals.
Round 5 – Collingwood vs Essendon at the MCG:
Collingwood 11.14 (80)
Essendon 11.13 (79)
The traditional ANZAC Day clash between Collingwood and Essendon rarely disappoints. Despite the scrappy conditions, both teams produced a hard-fought contest for the 86,932 spectators. The Pies led at every change by no more than two goals and held an 18-point lead in the early stages of the last quarter. A spirited comeback by Essendon would see them take a five-point lead with just two minutes remaining on the back of a snap at goal by Brent Stanton. The lead was relatively short-lived, with Jarryd Blair sticking his boot out for soccer goal, which gave his Magpies a one-point victory over the desperate Bombers.
Round 10 – Brisbane vs West Coast at the Gabba
Brisbane 16.6 (102)
West Coast 15.10 (100)
The top of the ladder Eagles were red-hot favourites going into its round 10 match against the Lions at the Gabba. Brisbane had other ideas though and went onto to match it with West Coast in the first half. The game appeared to be all but over at the nine-minute mark of the final quarter, with the Eagles leading by 21-points.
However, the Lions would kick eight last-quarter goals, including a 60m torpedo by James Polkinghorne that gave them the lead with 90 seconds to play. The ladder leaders were left stunned, as the Lions produced one of the upsets of the season.
Round 15 – North Melbourne vs West Coast at Blundstone Arena:
North Melbourne 13.6 (84)
West Coast 12.14 (86)
For both West Coast and North Melbourne, it was an important game in the context of their season. West Coast looked to assert their dominance and retain top position on the ladder alongside Collingwood, while North Melbourne looked to keep their finals aspirations alive. West Coast kicked three of the first four goals, before North Melbourne kicked the next seven unanswered to lead by 35-points late in the second quarter. But it was not to be. West Coast reduced the lead to just 15-points at three-quarter time, which left the door wide open for a comeback. The Eagles finally hit the front late in the last, although Robbie Tarrant then slotted his fourth to put the Roos five-points ahead with not long to go. The winning goal was then kicked by a fitting recipient, the Eagles Dean Cox. He was best on ground in an inspiring performance that saw the Eagles retain top spot with a gutsy two-point victory.
Round 16 – Richmond vs Gold Coast at Cazaly’s Stadium:
Richmond 13.10 (88)
Gold Coast 13.12 (90)
With a finals spot still in reach for the Tigers, all they wanted was the four points when they flew up to Cairns to face a winless Gold Coast. Battling the humidity, the Suns managed to lead by as much as six goals in the second quarter. The second half would see a rejuvenated Richmond outfit stage a revival. A win looked almost certain, as they got out to a 16-point lead with a mere four minutes left on the clock. Remarkably, Gold Coast piled on three quick goals and in a fairytale finish, NRL convert Karmichael Hunt would claim hero status by kicking the winning goal after the siren.
Round 17 – Richmond vs North Melbourne at the MCG:
Richmond 14.15 (99)
North Melbourne 15.13 (103)
A week after the heartbreaking loss to the Gold Coast, Richmond would again be on the receiving end; this time to the rampaging Kangaroos. The first half was an evenly matched contest, with both teams playing a hard and attacking brand of footy. The Tigers looked set for a strong finish after a clinical third quarter, which was rewarded with a seven-point lead at the interval. In a goal for goal last quarter, Richmond simply had no answer for Drew Petrie.
He booted an incredible five goals, single handedly winning the game off his own boot and guiding North Melbourne into the top eight.
Round 19 – Hawthorn vs Geelong at the MCG:
Hawthorn 17.14 (116)
Geelong 18.10 (118)
Geelong’s undefeated record against the Hawks since the 2008 Grand Final still remained after round 19, as the Cats went on to produce a phenomenal finish in a Friday night blockbuster at the MCG. The Cats led for most of the game and got out to as many as 51-points up, before Hawthorn came back strong with usual suspects, Sam Mitchell and Cyril Rioli, standing up when it mattered most. But the true hero of the game would not be a Hawk, as Tom Hawkins stole the show. Hawkins finished with six majors, his final one coming after the siren from 55m out to win the game. The power forward got on the end of a superb Geelong run from deep in the backline after a costly mistake by Paul Puopolo, and kicked truly to notch their ninth straight win against the Hawks; continuing the Kennett curse.
Round 22 – Sydney vs Hawthorn at the SCG
Sydney 14.11 (95)
Hawthorn 15.12 (102)
In the second of their three encounters for the year, Hawthorn came out on top in what was an enthralling encounter. The Swans came out with a point to prove, leading by 38-points just halfway through the second quarter. Hawthorn then took control of the game and finished the half with six unanswered goals. The final quarter was played at a finals-like intensity, which in hindsight is easy to comment on considering the two teams epic conclusion to the year. It consisted of six lead changes, although it was Shaun Burgoyne’s brilliance that ensured the win for the Hawks, as he kicked a late goal to secure both the win and the three Brownlow votes.
First Preliminary Final – Hawthorn vs Adelaide at the MCG:
Hawthorn 13.19 (97)
Adelaide 14.8 (92)
It was anticipated that the Hawks would advance to the Grand Final with no troubles against the Crows. However, Adelaide meant business right from the start of play, kicking the first goal and leading at the first two breaks. Although Hawthorn were errant in front of goal during the first half, the Premiership quarter saw them capitalise on their opportunities and produce a game high lead of 22-points late in the term. The Crows kept persisting and an uplifting team goal finished by Graham Johncock put the underdogs in front at the 20-minute mark of the last quarter.
Two timely goals from Rioli and Lance Franklin all but confirmed a Grand Final berth for the Hawks and heartache for the gallant Crows.
Grand Final – Hawthorn vs Sydney at the MCG
Hawthorn 11.15 (81)
Sydney 14.7 (91)
The Grand Final is the pinnacle of the AFL season, and yet again in 2012, the fans were given the viewing they deserve. What is it exactly that classifies a game as ‘exciting’ or ‘amazing’? Courage, hard-ball gets, individual brilliance, emotion, teamwork, skill and a close game? The 2012 Grand Final had exactly all of that … and more. Think back to Daniel Hannebery’s bone-crunching mark as he backed into a charging David Hale; Lewis Jetta’s test of speed on Rioli; Franklin’s third quarter heroics; and a 10-point final deficit, which was flattered by a last-minute goal to Nick Malceski. The game will forever be remembered as one of the all-time greats, and for all the good reasons.