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Recruiting gamble pays off as Hawk defender Lake storms to Norm Smith Medal

Recycled Hawk storms to Norm Smith The former Bulldog now a premiership Hawk

THE DECISION to recruit Brian Lake proved a masterstroke when the 31-year-old ex-Bulldog won the Norm Smith medal in Hawthorn's 11th premiership.

The key defender proved the difference in the 15-point win over Fremantle at the MCG on Saturday. 

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"It's unbelievable," Lake told

Speaking in the rooms afterwards, Lake said the game felt like any other with his three children keeping him calm in the lead-up. 

The only nod the two-time All Australian defender gave to the significance of the occasion was to leave home a little earlier than usual. 

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Lack of traffic, however, meant Lake arrived at the MCG before time. 

His ability to avoid the traffic through the CBD extended on-field when he used his superb marking skills to keep the ball off the ground and stop Fremantle's swarm from extending inside their forward 50.

It was a critical factor in Hawthorn being able to keep the game on its terms. 

"We were on today," Lake said.

Lake took 10 marks, including three contested, and had 22 disposals.

Norm Smith Medal Voting
Brian Lake (Hawthorn) 12 
Jack Gunston (Hawthorn) 11
David Mundy (Fremantle) 4
Luke Hodge (Hawthorn) 2 
Nathan Fyfe (Fremantle) 1

Judges Voting (3-2-1):
Brendan McCartney (Western Bulldogs) - Gunston, Hodge, Lake
Tony Shaw (3AW) - Lake, Mundy, Gunston
Glenn McFarlane (Herald Sun) - Lake, Gunston, Mundy
Adam McNicol (AFL Media) - Lake, Gunston, Mundy
Karl Langdon (6PR) - Gunston, Lake, Fyfe

Fellow defender Brent Guerra stood nearby in the rooms, as he had on the field and admired his tall teammate's work. 

"'Lakey' showed it all game that he was able to take marks," Guerra said. "That is why we got him here and then you see what happens. He stood up in the big game and I'm glad we got him here." 

Brian Lake with the premiership cup and jubilant Hawthorn fans after the game. Picture: AFL Media

Reading the ball in the air and taking intercept marks has always been Lake's strength. Kick-to-kick was where his talent became obvious but it has taken years of work to hone it into a skill that stands up on Grand Final day.   

"I like to watch guys doing goalkicking. [I] stand in the goal square during the warm-ups just to get the flight of the ball. When you do repetition like that you don't have to be having 50-60 kicks, marking it and jumping all the time," Lake said. 

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After Hawthorn's loss to the Sydney Swans in the 2012 Grand Final, Lake became exactly the type of player the Hawks needed. 

He was a risk. His knees had troubled him for two seasons. He weighed too much and no one knew for sure how dedicated he was in reality. 

Hawthorn made it plain to him what was required. He agreed to work hard to realise their mutual goals. 

The Hawks used pick No.21 to do the deal with the Western Bulldogs and Lake took a pay cut to chase the premiership. 

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Upon completing his move to Hawthorn, he got a text from Josh Gibson that read: 'Thanks Lakey, I can sleep better now'. 

He also dropped some kilograms and it took a while for him to adjust.

"I wasn't used to playing at such a light weight," Lake said. "I felt like I was 18 or 19 years [old] again." 

The Hawks took their time with their prized recruit. 

Lake did not run for six weeks, hitting the gym soon after he arrived. He adjusted his diet to cut back on sugar and in his words, became anal about what he ate.   

No one panicked when he got off to a slow start to the 2013 season. They just kept building towards him being at his peak on Grand Final day. 

Bart Cummings would have been pleased with the timing, as Lake was trained to the minute. 

Lake reacts with disbelief when he is announced as the Norm Smith medallist. Picture: AFL Media

Such is Lake's magnetism, he was surrounded by friends and family after the game.

Even Adam Cooney, the 2008 Brownlow medallist and former teammate of Lake, had snuck into the Hawthorn rooms to share the moment. 

Their hug was emotional and genuine. 

"I didn't cry when any of my children were born, but I shed a tear when Brian won the Norm Smith," Cooney said. 

"He's one of my great mates. He was in my wedding party and I was in his, so we're pretty close and I was rapt for him."

Cooney said he called Lake the winner of the Norm Smith early. 

Funnily enough, his coach Brendan McCartney, who was voting on the medal, begged to differ. He thought four-goal forward Jack Gunston was best on ground with Lake third-best. 

None of that mattered much to Lake as he stood with two medals around his neck surrounded by friends and family. 

Lake was as touched with their effort to come as they were with his to perform so well. 

"Grand Finals aren't cheap to go to when you are from Adelaide," Lake said. 

But this was an experience that did not come down to dollars and cents, an experience money could not buy. 

Lake was a Norm Smith medallist in a Hawthorn premiership. 

Gibson summed up the feeling in the Hawthorn rooms. 

"He's been awesome and took it to another level today. Hats off to the club," Gibson said. 

Additional reporting by Harry Thring and Michael Whiting