“IF YOU kick this goal we win the grand final.”
Those were the words from veteran Shane Crawford as team-mate Rick Ladson prepared to line up for goal on the forward flank at the city end of the MCG with the chance to put Hawthorn 33 points up against Geelong in the last quarter of the 2008 grand final.
A diving Ladson had marked on the Southern Stand wing and when given a shove in the back by the Cats’ Tom Harley was awarded a 50m penalty that took him into range for what would be the biggest kick of his 125-game AFL career.
“I was pretty much out on my feet at that stage of the game. I remember after the 50m penalty I was starting to cramp in my legs and was tonguing a bit for air,” Ladson recalled this week.
“Crawf wandered over to me, put his arm around me and said, ‘if you kick this goal, we win the grand final’.
“That straightened me up a bit at the time and I got it together again because it got me thinking that I had to do it for him… not only is he one of the greatest players of all time, but a great friend and mentor of mine.
“It was obviously a fairly daunting moment at the time, but Crawf showed great faith in me.”
There was 8:45 left on the clock and the Hawks were ahead 103-76 as Ladson, after taking a moment to compose himself and stretch his left leg, lined up at goal in front of more than 100,000.
Goalkicking hadn’t been a forte for Ladson in 2008. He had gone into the grand final with an off-target 2.9 to his name for the season.
But he delivered when it mattered most, nailing the goal that helped deliver the Hawks not only their first AFL premiership for 17 years, but one of the great grand final upsets as Hawthorn went on to triumph 18.7 (115) to 11.23 (89).
“I’m just glad I struck it well and it went through. It was good to stand up and do something at a reasonable moment,” Ladson said.
“Looking back at it now we probably had the game sewn up, but Bruce McAvaney at the time in his commentary said that goal would completely seal it, so I’ll take that.”
Ten years on from a victory that would set the stage for Hawthorn to become a modern day AFL power, the Hawks will hold a premiership reunion this weekend.
Among the 22 in the Hawks’ 2008 premiership team were Bendigo’s Ladson as well as Clinton Young, who is now coaching Gisborne in the BFNL.
Like Ladson in the final quarter, Young, originally from Minyip-Murtoa, is also well remembered for a memorable 2008 grand final goal late in the second term.
The Hawks were trailing by one point when from a stoppage on the wing Jordan Lewis handballed to Young, who from inside the centre square launched a booming left-foot kick that sailed through at the city end.
“It was a fair way out… I was talking to Campbell Brown the other day and the joke with that goal is it gets further out each time,” Young said.
“It came at a period of the game where Geelong had been dominating, but weren’t converting. I got the ball and booted it long and it went through.
“I initially wasn’t sure if it had gone through or not, but being a grand final there was obviously a loud roar. It’s definitely a cherished moment to kick a goal in a grand final.”
Young’s raking goal capped a strong first-half showing from the then 22-year-old in which he racked up a team-high 17 possessions to the main break, before his game came to an abrupt end early in the third term with an ankle injury.
“It was a fairly significant ankle injury early in the third quarter. I tried to get back out there, but unfortunately I was no good,” he said.
“I spent most of the third quarter down in the rooms, and then watching on from the bench in the last quarter, so I suppose it was a contrasting two halves having got a bit of the ball in the first.”
Nicknamed “Dasher”, the 2008 grand final was Young’s 64th AFL game for the Hawks, where he had started on the club’s rookie list.
“In some ways that grand final feels like a long time ago, and in other ways it doesn’t,” Young said.
“It was my fourth season in the AFL and just a dream day. Being a young player you think you’re going to play football forever, but time passes on and reminiscing now, it’s definitely the highlight of my career.
“What springs to mind when thinking back to the day is just the elation I felt and the emotion after winning. Those first 30 minutes in particular post-game is something I’ll cherish forever.
“I’m looking forward this weekend to catching up with not only the boys who played, but all the coaches and staff involved.”
Hawthorn had gone into the grand final as underdogs against a rampaging Geelong side that had won all its games, bar an 86-point hiding from Collingwood.
However, Ladson recalls the Hawks had derived enormous confidence from their round 17 clash against Geelong when the Cats just got over the line in a hard-fought Friday night encounter at the MCG by 11 points.
“It was obvious we were going in as the underdogs, but we knew from when we had played them in round 17 and were beaten by a couple of goals where we had lost the game and that we could rectify it,” Ladson said.
“We always had a belief that we could beat them after working on a few structural changes and attitude adjustments and in the end, we had their measure.”
Crucial to the Hawks’ success on grand final day was coach Alistair Clarkson’s now famous pre-game shark analogy to slow down the attacking Geelong’s free-flowing ball movement.
“The theory is that with a shark it needs forward momentum, and the moment it doesn’t have that momentum it can get caught in a net, which was alluding to us being that net with the famous Clarko Cluster,” Ladson said.
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“And if we could hold it for long enough, the shark would panic and wouldn’t be able to go forward any more and then it dies.
“Thinking back to the day, we had lost two players in the third quarter (Young and Trent Croad), it was very hot, the intensity was ridiculous and already being the underdogs, we had to dig even deeper.
“It’s amazing to look back on and it’s going to be great to get together again, have a few beers and chat about our experiences.
“And that’s the best thing about winning flags at any level, the opportunity to catch up and look back at what you’ve achieved and there’s no doubt you’re best mates for life.”
Among the most cherished moments of grand final day, 2008, for Ladson was seeing the joy his success brought to his family – particularly his best mate, his Dad Barry, who just over a year later died of a heart attack.
“We had a few functions with family over the next week, but straight after the game in the rooms, it was obviously a really special time with family embracing the moment,” said Ladson, who had defensive roles on Paul Chapman and Gary Ablett while he was resting forward.
“Dad was my best mate and my hero growing up and I’m so thankful that I was able to give him that. He was proud as punch that day. He put a lot of time into my footy and made me a better bloke and footballer for it.
“They are special memories and that’s what this weekend is about.”
Ladson was drafted to Hawthorn with pick 16 in 2001 from the Bendigo Pioneers, who whichever way the 2008 result went were going to have two of their former players win flags.
Ladson and Hawthorn team-mate Brent Guerra, who had previously played with Port Adelaide and St Kilda, were both Pioneer draftees, as were Geelong’s Joel Selwood and Josh Hunt, who had both played in the Cats’ drought-breaking flag 12 months earlier.
HAWTHORN’S 2008 PREMIERSHIP SEASON
23.16 (154) d Melbourne 6.14 (50) – MCG
16.16 (112) d Fremantle 14.13 (97) – Subiaco
15.12 (102) d North Melbourne 13.8 (86) – Telstra Dome
17.12 (114) d Adelaide 10.10 (70) – Aurora Stadium
19.16 (130) d Brisbane Lions 17.16 (118) – Gabba
14.22 (106) d Richmond 15.4 (94) – MCG
24.10 (154) d Collingwood 13.11 (89) – MCG
17.15 (117) d Port Adelaide 15.12 (102) – Aurora Stadium
14.13 (97) d Melbourne 12.6 (78) – MCG
12.2 (74) lt Western Bulldogs 15.16 (106) – Aurora Stadium
19.16 (130) d Essendon 12.7 (79) – Telstra Dome
11.10 (76) d Adelaide 10.12 (72) – AAMI Stadium
10.16 (76) lt North Melbourne 15.13 (103) – MCG
18.18 (126) d West Coast 9.15 (69) – MCG
15.16 (106) d Sydney 10.15 (75) – MCG
13.11 (89) lt St Kilda 18.11 (119) – Telstra Dome
11.11 (77) lt Geelong 12.16 (88) – MCG
17.14 (116) d Collingwood 8.14 (62) – MCG
16.14 (110) d Brisbane Lions 5.11 (41) – Aurora Stadium
10.16 (76) lt Richmond 16.9 (105) – MCG
19.19 (133) d West Coast 9.8 (62) – Subiaco
24.15 (159) d Carlton 12.9 (81) – Telstra Dome
18.19 (127) d Western Bulldogs 11.10 (76) – MCG
18.10 (118) d St Kilda 9.10 (64) – MCG
18.7 (115) d Geelong 11.23 (89) – MCG