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Which three-peat was better: Lethal's Lions or Clarko's Hawks?

Ashley Browne and Nick Bowen  January 1, 2016 5:45 PM

AFL 2003 Grand Final - Collingwood v Brisbane

Michael Voss celebrates the Lions' 2003 premiership with fans at the MCG

Brisbane Lions

In this era of the draft and the salary cap, to win three straight premierships is an unbelievable feat. Every change made to the structure of the AFL competition is designed to prevent this sort of thing from happening.

So hats off to the Hawks for their accomplishment over the past three years and in particular, for the three-peat flag win over West Coast on the first Saturday of last October.

But the Hawks had one ace up their sleeve in winning their three-peat when compared to the Brisbane Lions of 2001-03:  the MCG.

When it came to the crunch on the biggest day of the year, the Hawks were playing on their home deck. On Grand Final day, the Hawks got to wake up in their own beds, stop for coffee at their usual haunts and make the familiar drive in their own cars to a ground where they had won 29 of 35 matches over the three previous seasons. They used their 'home' dressing room each time and presumably used the same lockers.

Not so the Lions. The 2003 Grand Final was just their eighth game at the home of football in three years. In 2001 they beat Essendon, just a year removed from calling the MCG home while in 2002 and 2003 they beat Collingwood, which by then was well-entrenched as the ground's anchor tenant. Of course, they had to fly two hours just to get to Melbourne.

Each of the Grand Finals was an 'away' game for the Lions in every sense of the word and they overcame that obstacle with ease.

They Lions of 2001-03 were hard and tough, with champions across every line. The Hawks of the past three years compare well in every respect, but the degree of difficulty for the Lions on Grand Final day was considerably higher, which is why they get the nod from me. - Ashley Browne

Luke Hodge holds the Hawks' 2013, '14 and '15 cups in front of the faithful. Picture: AFL Media


All right, Ash, you want to talk hardships? Let's talk real hardships.

OK, the Lions had to travel in their premiership years. That's a genuine disadvantage, but they aren't the only frequent flyers to win multiple premierships.

Mick Malthouse's West Coast teams won the 1992 and '94 flags, enduring longer flights than the Lions and constant time-zone changes.

And what's a bit of travel compared to losing your best player just a third of the way into your premiership three-peat?

That's the scenario Hawthorn faced shortly after its 2013 Grand Final win over Fremantle, when then two-time Coleman medallist Lance Franklin left to take up a Don Corleone-style offer from the Sydney Swans.

That would have been like the Lions losing Jonathan Brown after their maiden 2001 premiership. Would they have been able to rejig their attack around Alastair Lynch, the way the Hawks rejigged theirs around Jarryd Roughead?

I highly doubt it.

The Lions' greatest strength under coach Leigh Matthews was their relentless predictability. The Fab Five – Michael Voss, Simon Black, Nigel Lappin, Jason Akermanis and Luke Power – won the clearances and pumped the ball long into Brown and Lynch.

It worked so well they could afford to take the if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it approach.

The Hawks didn't have the same luxury, and their ability to adapt to life after Buddy proves they are the best and most complete team of the modern era.

What other team could increasingly deploy Roughead into the midfield and fellow spearhead Jack Gunston on to a wing, and still boast one of the most potent attacks in the competition?

Over the past two seasons, the Hawks have made Indian rubber-men look inflexible.

A key part to their unpredictability has been coach Alastair Clarkson. The former North Melbourne rover has reinvented the Hawks' game plan time and time again in his 11 seasons at Waverley, in a way that fellow four-time premiership coach Matthews did not.

Still need further proof that the Hawks are the modern three-peat kings? I'll leave you with these final thoughts:

1. The Hawks were the better home and away team, winning 52 regular season games in their premiership years to the Lions' 48;

2. Like all other sides before or since, the Lions did not boast Hawthorn's foot skills; and

3. Leigh Matthews' men did not have a small forward in the same class postcode as Cyril Rioli. - Nick Bowen