Hawthorn full-back Brian Lake has written himself into AFL folklore with a best on ground performance in today’s grand final to win the Norm Smith Medal.
Lake played in three losing preliminary finals for the Western Bulldogs and left the club after almost 250 games to fulfil his dream of playing in a grand final.
An All-Australian at the Bulldogs, the 31-year-old lost form and both he and the club agreed it was time for him to look elsewhere.
Hawthorn stood out as the obvious choice. The Hawks had struggled to stop opposition power forwards and there were concerns about Ryan Schoenmakers’ ability to play at full-back on a weekly basis.
Lake arrived and became the key to the backline, especially after Schoenmakers suffered a season ending knee injury. He was enormous against Fremantle, collecting 22 possessions and taking 10 marks.
His final quarter was crucial as his intercept marking stood out. Seven of the 10 marks came from Fremantle kicks, including the club’s first three inside 50s of the final term.
He is the first key defender to win the Norm Smith Medal since David Rhys-Jones eclipsed Dermott Brereton in the 1987 grand final.
Lake was met by a mighty roar when his children ran onto the MCG to celebrate. His Hawthorn teammates then mobbed him when the award was announced.
“I’d like to thank Hawthorn for taking me in 12 months ago. Also to the family and to Hawthorn supporters – bloody fantastic," he said on stage.
Afterwards he revealed he'd spent last year's grand final day in the stands, drinking with mates.
"I was probably blind up in the second level," Lake recalled.
"It's amazing, 365 days later you achieve what you've wanted to do since you first started playing AFL football and win a premiership.
"I've got to thank Hawthorn for that."
Lake called it a courageous decision by the Hawks to trade for him and said his first reaction was to hit the gym and ensure he started his new AFL life in slimmer, fitter shape.
The Hawks had desperately needed a reliable big defender.
Lake says he needed a change just as much.
"When you're at one place for such a long time you get comfortable in the surroundings and with yourself," he said.
Not that he's cut his emotional ties to the Dogs.
He received many well wishes from ex-teammates and Bulldogs fans in the lead-up to the grand final.
"When you play at a club for 11 years, I put my heart and soul into the club at that stage, so they're very willing to give me a lot of support, which is great," Lake said.
Former teammate Adam Cooney, with whom he remains close, was cheering him on Saturday and visited the rooms to congratulate him post-match.
"He probably got a little bit emotional," Lake said.
"It's actually the first time I saw him have a little tear in his eye.
"He didn't cry with his kids, but cried when I won a premiership," he teased.
"Friendship like that is unbelievable."
He was the most experienced player in Hawthorn’s team to have never won a premiership.
The Hawks gave up picks 21 and 43 to get Lake from the Bulldogs.
He wore number 17 – the jumper made famous by AFL games record holder and Hawthorn premiership captain Michael Tuck made famous.
Early in the game, it appeared another famous number – 19, worn previously by Jason Dunstall – would be the best on ground.
Jack Gunston was the most influential forward on the ground and kicked four goals to play a pivotal role in a team that included Lance Franklin and Jarryd Roughead.
David Mundy was clearly Fremantle’s best player with 28 disposals and seven clearances. His third quarter dragged the Dockers back into the game.