The hawthorn plant’s genus name is crataegus, from the Greek word kratos meaning ‘strength’ and in Celtic lore it is believed the hawthorn can cure a broken heart.

Some of this mythology seems well suited to the plant’s namesake, the Hawthorn football team, as they steered through a tumultuous couple of years of lows and highs beginning with disappointment in 2012 only to find their collective broken heart cured in 2013 as they harnessed the strength and character to triumph. This comeback is the subject of Michael Gordon’s new book about Hawthorn football club called ‘Playing to win’.

I spoke to Michael some time ago about his relationship with the club and his book.

Michael Gordon gets down to Tasmania at least once a season and predictably loves Launceston, the Hawthorn football club’s home ground in Tassie. Its not only football that interests Michael about Tasmania, he is also a big fan of Tassie restaurants and the Bay of Fires walk and has convict ancestry he would love to explore.

Involvement with the Hawthorn football club is a family affair with Michael’s dad writing the first club history in 1994 after the 88 and 89 back to back wins. It was decided that when the club got another premiership the book written by his Dad should be updated by Michael and so it was ‘Playing to win’ was written.

Although Michael had his pen poised in 2012 that win didn’t eventuate but Michael believes the experience taught valuable lessons to make victory when it did come, ‘richer and deeper’.

After that sweet victory the guys didn’t get to rest on their laurels for too long as they were told in October to switch off the fanfare of victory and look toward the following year. Michael says Hawthorn coach, Alistair Clarkson is being cautious this year telling his boys to aim first for making the top four of the season thus giving them the double chance and so maximise their chances to win the premiership this year.

The book discusses some of the tenets of Hawthorn faith,such as Alan Jeans comment that when playing for the club one had to ‘hang their ego on the coat hanger’. Having humility is deep in the blood that runs through Hawthorn veins, given voice in the musketeer pledge of ‘all for one and one for all’.

The book catalogues some of the tactics used to motivate the team to their historic victory. Michael says stimulating the brains of players is just as important as getting them physically match fit.

Brendan Bolton, assistant coach and Chris Fagan, general manager of football operations at Hawthorn both have teaching backgrounds and workshop new methods that can be employed for success.
Some have been hit and miss such as Alistair Clarkson showing a Russian ballet video to the team and focusing players eyes to an empty cabinet on the ground needing to be filled by a premiership trophy.

But the two most successful campaigns employed have been ‘the white shark’ which required using the metaphor of Geelong as something akin to a shark that must be stopped because when stopped ‘it couldn’t breath’ or ‘function any longer’.

The second method that brought success in motivating the players was the ‘white line theory’, where a white mark was drawn in the lecture hall and it was made known to the players that once someone stepped over the line they became competitive ‘like a beast’.

Perhaps the greatest insight ‘Playing to win’ informs us is of the catch phrase ‘continuous dissatisfaction’ and that even after their dream win, Hawthorn is as hungry as ever for victory.

Playing to Win by Michael Gordon, is out now published by Slattery Media Group.