Superclubs Hawthorn, West Coast have ability to regenerate
BRUCE Wayne's butler, Alfred, probably said it best when he told Batman's alter ego why we fall. "So that we can learn to pick ourselves up".
Well, no AFL clubs have learned to pick themselves up like Hawthorn and West Coast since they battled in the 1991 grand final, which, incidentally, for some is probably best remembered as featuring singer Angry Anderson riding in that baby blue Batmobile.
Barring a draw, by tomorrow afternoon the clubs will have claimed eight of a possible 25 flags between them since. The Hawks have so far won four and the Eagles three.
But in between clashing in premiership-deciders, both have bottomed out, multiple times, only to rise again in the most emphatic fashion.
After Angry belted out his hit Bound for Glory in that 1991 showpiece, the Hawks were bound to suffer a fall from grace after an era yielding five premierships from eight grand finals in nine seasons (1983-1991).
Beating West Coast by 53 points was the beginning of the end. They made three more finals series, making it a record 13 in a row, but were bundled out in the first week each time, before slipping to 15th in 1995 and then being thrust into merger talks.
With a membership of just 12,000 and an operating loss of more than $1 million, Hawthorn was on its knees and destined to become one half of the Melbourne Hawks. Forget the phoenix, the vultures were circling.
Ironically, playing with the Demons in the so-called 'Merger Match' in round 22, 1996 was Alastair Clarkson.
After a false dawn in 2001 when the Hawks were one kick away from playing Brisbane in the grand final, followed by a rapid tumble back down the ladder, Clarkson was charged with the next rebuild in 2004.
Few ever thought it would be one that would cast such a shadow over the competition.
There was the surprise premiership of 2008, which had the flow-on effects of the club becoming the first to push past the 50,000 membership mark, and turn in a $4 million profit, but was followed by a two-year slump.
Clarko's Hawthorn eventually became the juggernaut it is today - one with 72,000 members, another $3.4m in the bank from last year and shooting for a rare third-straight premiership.
Having won an 11th flag overall in 2013, it has already maintained its record of being the only club to have won one every decade since the 1960s.
Having only entered the competition in 1987, the Eagles can't compete with that, but they have shown they too can claw back from disaster.
After Mick Malthouse had led them to every finals series in the 1990s, the Eagles would nosedive under Ken Judge before John Worsfold guided them to their third flag in 2006.
The Eagles would plunge to new depths however, embroiled in a string of off-field controversies, including allegations of illicit drug use, followed by a series of messy player departures that would ultimately lead to the club to its first and only wooden spoon in 2010.
They weren't expected to contest this season's finals, following more big-name retirements and injuries, but the experts hadn't banked on Adam Simpson's ability to harness the Eagles' own remarkable regeneration powers.
In fact, both the Hawks and Eagles have been a lot like Batman in being able to return decade after decade in various forms. One of them, however, will be the Joker tomorrow.
FLYING THE FLAG
THREE OR MORE VFL-AFL PREMIERSHIPS IN A ROW
4: Collingwood (1927-30).
3: Carlton (1906-08); Melbourne (1939-41 and 1955-57); Brisbane Lions (2001-03)
AFL PREMIERSHIPS (Since 1990)
3: West Coast, Geelong
2: Sydney, Adelaide, North Melbourne, Essendon, Collingwood 1: Carlton, Port Adelaide
From 2006 West Coast premiership
1: Sam Butler.
From 2008 Hawthorn premiership
7: Luke Hodge, Sam Mitchell, Jordan Lewis, Jarryd Roughead, Grant Birchall, Cyril Rioli, (Xavier Ellis - now at West Coast)