The penultimate week of the AFL finals series is often referred to as the most pure on the footy calendar.
And 2014’s second Preliminary Final produced a masterpiece.
Each week, Aflplayers.com.au will bring to light the perspective of someone at the heart of a memorable moment from a game played between two sides before their upcoming clash.
The reigning premiers, Hawthorn, went in as the favourites having secured a prelim berth in comfortable fashion after finishing the home and away season in second spot.
Port Adelaide, on the other hand, went through the road less traveled, rising from fifth place to upset 2013’s Grand Finalist, Fremantle, to book a spot in their first Preliminary Final since 2007.
Hawthorn cult hero Matt Spangher was playing in his first prelim after missing out on the previous year’s triumph — Spangher was also on the sidelines when his previous two clubs, West Coast and Sydney, won on the last Saturday in September.
Knowing the importance of a victory for the club and his own career, Spangher told Aflplayers.com.au he remembers the build up to the Saturday clash well, and not for a good reason.
“I remember being significantly more nervous for the Preliminary Final than the Grand Final the following week,” Spangher said.
“I don’t really know why, maybe it was because you can leave it all out on the field in the Grand Final but I would always be conscious of tearing a hamstring or something in the last quarter due to my history of injuries.
“For some reason, I was a bit stressed that we’d lose so I wasn’t relaxed at all heading into the game.”
The match was a twilight occurrence to give Port Adelaide more of break if they just so happened to make it through to the following week.
While a twilight final worked well in theory, Spangher said it wasn’t favourable for the side kicking to the city end of the MCG first up.
“The sun was an absolute nightmare. I could not see a thing in the first quarter and as a result they actually jumped us a fair bit.
“I just remember not being able to see any targets coming out of the backline, it was so bad.”
Not too dissimilar to the qualifying final against Richmond, Port Adelaide flew out of the blocks. The only difference being their inaccuracies in front of goal, with the quarter time scores being 2.3 to 3.9 in favour of the travelling side.
The Hawks turned the tide in the second quarter with a six goal to two term — including two majors to Jarryd Rpughead — giving Alastair Clarkson’s men the ascendancy leading into the main break.
The message was simple for the Hawthorn troops — keep doing what you’re doing, but the footy world knew there would be a classic Port Adelaide fightback at some stage.
Despite Port Adelaide’s ability to run out games, the Hawks were confident they could finish the match better than their opponent.
“We actually tried to debunk a lot of those stats during the week as much as we could to show internally how good our second halves were for the season,” Spangher added.
“We were preaching not believing the media hype. While we had no doubt that Port Adelaide were good finishers, we knew they weren’t exponentially better than us.”
The Hawks stayed on top in the third term as well. Roughead kicked three of the Hawks’ five goals for the quarter — and had six for the match — while conceding only three to Port Adelaide.
As the players huddled around their coaches for the final address of the game, the Hawks held a 23-point lead.
Port Adelaide kicked the first goal of the last term through Robbie Gray, but the Hawks replied through Isaac Smith and Jack Gunston — which brought the margin out to 29 points after 13 minutes of play.
But Port were coming.
It would take a speculative free-kick to Port’s Angus Monfries directly in front of goal to give the Power a sniff.
They kicked four consecutive goals in an eight-minute period to reduce the margin to a measly four points after 27 minutes of play.
With the ball at Port’s half-forward line, Brad Ebert decided to play on from a mark to launch another swift inside 50 before a timely smother from Hawthorn skipper Luke Hodge and a subsequent free kick for the follow-up tackle held off the Power, while eliminating precious seconds from the clock.
The ball was eventually swung back to the other half-forward flank for the Power before Brian Lake held his position against an undersized Monfires to tap the ball to his advantage and tie it up at ground level seconds before the full-time siren.
“I remember realising how strong the momentum was their way in the last quarter but at no stage did I think we were going to lose,” Spangher said.
“Fortunately, we had a bloke called Luke Hodge and another one by the name of Brian Lake who put in two crucial efforts on each half-back flank that held off the Power before the siren went.”
“Hodgey and Lakey are fierce competitors. Hodgey has been doing it for such a long time and is renowned as a big game player. He seems to find himself in those crucial situations and doesn’t get overawed by them.
“Anyone who’s had the pleasure of playing with or against Lakey knows he hates losing and has one of the greatest cases of white-line fever I’ve ever seen, so I’m not surprised by their efforts on the footy field. I was thankful they were on my team at the time. You walk taller with those blokes around.”
Roughead was a big contributor for the Hawks on the night, kicking six goals and Will Langford announced himself as a mainstay in the Hawthorn side with 29 disposals and 10 clearances while curbing Travis Boak’s influence in the second half.
As for Spangher, his initial thoughts were fixated on the happenings of the following week’s Grand Final and if he’d hold his spot in the side.
“It was a relief that we’d won given how strong they were storming home but I’ve been a fringe player my whole career, so there was certainly no guarantees that I’d be playing the following week.
“I wouldn’t say there was elation to play in a Grand Final the next week but it was definitely great to think I’d have an opportunity to.
“Luckily, Clarko let everyone know who was playing and who wasn’t early in the week, which made the week a lot more enjoyable and we could concentrate on what we wanted to do.
“Jonathan Ceglar and Jonathan Simpkin were dropped for the Grand Final and that’s a brutal reality but they were notified nice and early so they could prepare for their own week as well.”
Spangher became part of a Hawthorn side that would win back-to-back premierships for only the second time in their 90-year history, as the Hawks went onto demolish the Swans in the Grand Final.
And after missing out on three separate occasions, the then 27-year-old fulfilled his footy dream and became part of Hawthorn’s most successful era.
“There’s more to life than footy but those weeks were the most special of my career.
“Those three years of premiership success for the team allowed the club to be such a special place to be and nearly everyone came away with something to hang their hat on.
“It was a special time and I look forward to catching up with those boys every 10 years.”