WHEN it was all said and done, and Fremantle's first Grand Final appearance after 19 long years had ended in defeat, skipper Matthew Pavlich was a figure frozen in time.

As the Hawks swooped together and rejoiced in the ultimate triumph, 12 months after falling short against the Sydney Swans, Pavlich was all alone in the forward 50m trying to digest what had unfolded.

Hands on hips, head slightly bowed, the greatest Docker of them all didn't move, seemingly couldn't move, as the enormity of a 15-point loss sunk in.

Pavlich had resisted so many overtures to leave Fremantle and move to potentially greener pastures.

He steadfastly refused to budge, confident this Purple Haze would eventually get to the place of his dreams.

At the fulltime siren, it was as if he didn't know quite what to do.

It had taken 14 long seasons and a club-record 291 games to finally reach this point.

Afterwards, he was struggling at the thought of how long it might take to get back here once more.

"It's so hard to describe the feeling," he managed. "Really numb, annoyed, frustrated – all the emotions that are associated with a loss.

"But I guess when it's the ultimate prize at the end, it's heightened even further.

"They haven't been easy to get to. It's taken a long time to get here. It's going to take a huge amount of effort and hard work to get back again."

For the holder of six All Australians and six best and fairest awards, the day did not start well.

At the end of the first quarter, a day the 31-year-old had spent almost half his life chasing, Pavlich's stat line read: one tackle.

That's it. One tackle. No shots on goal, no marks, not even a measly handball.

That wasn't all his own doing. With Norm Smith medallist Brian Lake for company, coupled with a midfield that struggled to send the ball forward, Pavlich was an isolated figure up front.

So near, yet so far - Matthew Pavlich tries to drag in a loose ball on Saturday. Picture: AFL Media

In the second quarter, he began to get going.

Pavlich took a mark in the opening minute, finally, blessedly getting to touch the football.

He led, he doubled back, and he led once more. Late in the term he finally earned a shot on goal, given the responsibility of giving his side a boost – and just its second goal for the day – in the shadows of half-time.

It didn't end well. It was short of a shank, but not by much, as it soared well left and through for a point.

At the long break all the Dockers had to show for their efforts was 1.6 to Hawthorn's 5.5.

But the skipper was just getting started.

In the first minute of the third quarter, with Lake grimly clinging to his right arm, Pavlich earned a free kick and duly nailed the long attempt on goal.

That familiar right-fist salute followed and the comeback was on.

Minutes later and with Josh Gibson now for company, Pavlich had his second, kicking truly as the margin suddenly became manageable and the underdogs started to believe.

By the 11-minute mark he dropped what looked a comfortable mark, but the skipper went again, coming out of a bruising contest with possession regained.

One quick glance of the eyes and he spotted Michael Walters with an inch-perfect pass, and his set shot had the Dockers within 10 points.

Fremantle was following the leader. A Chris Mayne goal had the deficit at just three points.

"You've got to expect that from their leader and the captain of their club," Lake told AFL.com.au after it was all said and done.

"He's a great player and has been a great player for a long time."

It was a feeling shared by Docker Michael Johnson.

"He knew that if he led by example, we'd follow," Johnson said. "And he did that today."

Matthew Pavlich and Brian Lake battle during Saturday's thrilling Grand Final. Picture: AFL Media

Leading by 10 points at the final change, the Hawks came out hard, kicking three straight goals for what looked a match-winning 31-point lead.

The Dockers set themselves for one last burst, with Pavlich kicking his third just after time on to cut the margin to 19 points.

He would finish the day with 13 possessions, six marks, five inside 50s and 3.2. And he hadn't touched the ball in the first term.

But it wasn't enough. Hayden Ballantyne, Tendai Mzungu and Ryan Crowley all had chances to cut the margin further in the waning minutes, but came up short.

"We certainly wasted some opportunities," Pavlich said.

"Not only straight in front of goal, but probably with our execution going into our forward line.

"And our forward structure wasn't where it should've been and certainly made life difficult at times.

"But I felt as though we fought back strongly after half-time and arrested a lot of momentum and certainly had some opportunities as the game wore on.

"We fall short and we lick our wounds. It's a really bitter pill to follow with all the hard work and sacrifice it takes just to get to this point."

But is the skipper done? Not by a long shot.

"The reality is we weren't good enough," he said. "We need to refresh, rejuvenate, re-load and go again."