Damien Hardwick and Chris Scott Are The Grand Final's Biggest Figures
In a season which should have finished a month ago. In a season which could have easily not happened. In a season which had to be pulled down, re-built and re-configured on the fly. In a season where the sport’s emotional epicentre was able to leave home for essential purposes only, should we be at all surprised that the game’s two very best coaches have led their clubs to the final match of the year?
A team’s success (and failure) obviously extends well beyond its coach, however in Damien Hardwick and Chris Scott, these two chieftains have continuously, year in, year out, put their clubs in the best position to succeed. Their efforts in this ludicrously arduous year have pushed Richmond and Geelong to the alter of one famous Grand Final.
After everything that’s transpired in 2020, is there any doubt as to whether Hardwick and Scott are unequivocally the two best coaches in the league?
Over the last few years Hardwick has helped change the very sport itself and will leave a lasting tactical imprint on the game. In the process, he’s taken the Tigers to the brink of its third flag in four seasons. Yes, the same Richmond Football Club who prevailed as a league laughing stock for four decades.
And Chris Scott? Yeah, don’t kid yourself. With the exception of Richmond, every single other club would set themselves on fire to have the same kind of success he’s wielded at Kardinia Park. Scott’s the embodiment of leadership, consistency and strategic adaptation. Despite so many dud September campaigns under his watch, he’s continually jumped back into the lab and re-emerged with something different to keep Geelong in the premiership shop window. It’s only fitting that he’s been able to return the Cats to their first Grand Final in nine years in a season where only the deepest, most switched on minds could prevail.
Hardwick and Scott are at the narrative core of this historic Grand Final.
For Hardwick, he has a chance to become just the 17th man in history to win a a trio of flags. He’s a coaching beast who’s taken everything he learnt from Pagan and Sheedy and Clarkson and injected it into his Tigers, moulding one of the league’s most tenacious, sophisticated and locked-in squads. Win and he’ll cement his legacy as a legitimate coaching legend.
As for Scott, he has the chance to silence his doubters once and for all. To a large extent he already has this Finals series, dusting the Cats off from their Qualifying Final loss to Port, only to completely humiliate Collingwood prior to knocking off the Lions on their home deck. If he wins, it’d be his second flag, while delivering the Cats their fourth in 13 years- remarkable considering they’d gone the previous 43 empty-handed.
When these two do square off this Saturday night you’ll be hard pressed finding two coaches with more disparate game-styles. From Hardwick’s menacing, nauseating press to Scott’s ultra possession mantra, this Grand Final looms as something of a Mona Lisa for footy strategy nerds.
Yet as vastly different as the two methodologies are, Hardwick and Scott’s journeys are eerily similar.
Hired by their clubs 12 months apart, these two played in the same era, and on equally exceptional teams. They helped themselves to a couple of premierships each as players while both served under absolute legends of the game in Kevin Sheedy and Leigh Matthews. They were both club enforcers, hitmen if you will, and whose comparative lack of skill amid the sublime players they shared the field with forced them to create alternative ways to first forge a place, and then thrive once there.
This Grand Final will be a celebration of a season which could very easily not have happened, and it’ll be contested by two coaches who epitomise the spirit of everything that’s wonderful about competition, tactics and perseverance.
Just as they did as players, and now as coaches, both Hardwick and Scott have stared into the face of all the madness, frustration and adversity of 2020 and got on with what they do better than every other coach in the game.
While neither of course will be on the field this Saturday night, their signatures will loom as large as any singular person involved with this massive occasion.
This match pits the league’s two best clubs along with its two best coaches up against each other in a Grand Final that will never be forgotten. After such a wretched year, that’s a rich reward for sports fans if there ever was one.
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