HAWTHORN was nervous about Fox Footy's prying cameras.
As the club's men's side fell 10 points short of Melbourne in a largely unremarkable round seven clash in April last year, the focus of the Hawks' AFLW list management team was concentrated elsewhere.
Earlier on that Saturday evening, a handful of club officials had covertly ushered through a shortlist of the AFLW's biggest and brightest stars up the MCG's elevators and into a corporate box belonging to one of its major sponsors.
Among them was Greta Bodey, the Brisbane premiership player, who spent the night mingling with the likes of Australian NBA star Josh Giddey – who was also being hosted by Hawthorn that night – and the non-playing members of the club's men's team.
The Hawks, at that point, had never played an AFLW game. But the tireless work being poured into assembling their first ever playing list continued in secret, provided no television crews picked up on what was happening in the stands.
Hawthorn had taken a simplistic approach to its initial list build. It had wanted quality in depth on every line and had targeted Bodey, alongside Melbourne's Kate Hore and Adelaide's Eloise Jones, to sure up its attack.
The interest in Bodey had grown as Hawthorn officials watched tape of the first player ever written on the club's AFLW wish list: Emily Bates. Whenever the list management team filtered through vision of Bates, it was her Lions teammate Bodey that also kept catching the eye.
By the time the Hawks played the Demons on that Saturday evening, Bates had already turned them down. A long and arduous pursuit, which had started before season six in the early months of 2022, had ultimately proved unsuccessful.
Bates was the player Hawthorn had always coveted most. A delegate of officials – featuring AFLW coach Bec Goddard, men's coach Sam Mitchell, list manager Mitch Cashion and operations boss Josh Vanderloo – had first met with the Brisbane midfielder in the summer of 2022 over Zoom.
Their pitch to Bates revolved around her being the League's most underrated star, attempting to convince the 26-year-old she could become a household name in the state's football-centric spotlight should she make the move to Victoria.
It was a pitch that quickly needed a re-think, though, as just a few months later Bates completed a clean sweep of the competition's individual awards after a breakout campaign where she won the League best and fairest, the AFL Coaches' Association Player of the Year and the AFL Players' Association MVP award. By no means could she now be considered anything close to 'underrated'.
Interest in both Bates and Bodey subsequently grew substantially throughout that season six campaign. Almost every club is understood to have enquired about Bates – though most realistically couldn't have actioned a trade, given the signing advantages handed to the incoming expansion teams – with Essendon and Sydney also meeting with the gun Brisbane onballer.
The Swans had also met with Bodey, though the Hawks' interest in both players was considered by rival clubs to be significantly stronger in each instance. Goddard and her list management team had undoubtedly put themselves in the box seat for both players.
However, Brisbane's success in season six – in addition to the unknown of joining a new side without established talent – proved crucial in Bates and Bodey opting to stay in Queensland. Despite their decisions, though, both made it clear they felt appreciative of Hawthorn's strenuous and exhaustive efforts.
The spark had been lit for a second crack in a few months' time, with the truncated break between the AFLW's dual seasons in 2022 meaning the Hawks' initial exertions in attempting to lure Bates and Bodey were still fresh in the memory when the next off-season rolled around.
Where club officials had been met with hesitancy and apprehension by the Lions pair when they were first approached just months before, the feeling was thought to be hugely different the next time Hawthorn reached out. There was a definitive openness to have the conversation again.
In the meantime, Hawthorn had pivoted to a draft focus when the club's pursuit of blue-chip and ready-made targets proved unsuccessful ahead of year one. The Hawks had four of the top-six Victorian picks in the draft – recruiting Jasmine Fleming, Mackenzie Eardley, Charlotte Baskaran and Bridie Hipwell – and won three games under Goddard's guidance in their maiden AFLW campaign.
All of a sudden, it had something tangible to sell to rival targets and enacted a plan for winning the signatures of some of the competition's best players. It would start where it had left off, making secondary plays for those it had laid the groundwork with just months earlier.
Bates, for the first time, ventured to Victoria to meet with Hawthorn officials in-person and tour the club's Waverley Park facilities just after last Christmas. Once again, she topped a shortlist of midfield targets that also included Carlton's Mimi Hill, as well as Collingwood's Mikala Cann and Adelaide pair Anne Hatchard and Ebony Marinoff.
Bodey was also top of mind yet again and, as Hawthorn made progress on the finer details of its deals with the Brisbane duo, an impromptu trip to Queensland featuring coach Goddard, list manager Cashion, captain Tilly Lucas-Rodd and midfielder Kaitlyn Ashmore helped seal the deal.
It was during that trip where Goddard sold the dream. She told the pair that female athletes deserved more, pleading with Bates and Bodey that the time was now to start taking what they had earned. She urged them to be the brave ones, selling the vision of how their decisions could lead to the continued growth of the competition. Ultimately, she made them feel comfortable in leaving their comfort zone.
Barely 72 hours later, both Bates and Bodey were officially Hawthorn players, instantly strengthening Goddard's young side and adding intrigue and excitement to a Hawks season that begins with a blockbuster clash against the Bombers in Frankston this Saturday night.
By that time, it will have been nearly 20 months since that wild and stressful – but ultimately successful – Lion hunt was first started. But for Goddard and her Hawks team, it will undoubtedly be worth the wait.