In 2015 the Hawks broke the run of Easter Monday losses that had been unbroken since 2009. They’d beaten the Cats the year before, in 2014, late in the year and again in the finals, but not on Easter Monday.
“I remember we finally won one and thinking we finally have the edge over them. Then they got [Patrick] Dangerfield the next year and they came out and [beat] us,” Gunston said. Dangerfield had 43 touches.
“Every year they were great games though, it didn’t matter who was on top or down the bottom, they were always close and good games.
“They had a good record but I never went into the game thinking ‘if it’s close in the last quarter they will get us, they have an edge on us’.”
Everyone else thought the same thing, but eventually the Pavlovian response needed to be addressed.
“Eventually we said ‘we need to address this’ because we just were not beating them and the same thing kept happening over and over.”
Not much changed, Gunston said, but addressing it helped.
Hawthorn were troubled routinely by Geelong in the same way they now beat Collingwood for fun. The Hawks have lost to Collingwood just once in 13 games since 2011.
“I don’t know why that is, I know I have never gone to those games thinking we have got their measure because we have beaten them but it would be interesting to hear what they say about that,” he said.
“Interesting to see if they said ‘they have got the edge on us’. Eventually we had to address it, losing to Geelong. I don’t know if they would say the same about playing us.
“For a while we had GWS that we could not beat [three losses and a draw over four years] … but then we have beaten them the last couple of times. And Brisbane for a while but we got them in round one.”
Round one, which came before that punctuation mark on the season – will it be an ellipsis or a full stop? – provided if nothing else an opportunity for Hawthorn to gain some satisfaction in defeating the Lions.
It also provided Gunston with a surprising start in defence. It was not wholly surprising that he would play back – he has done it before – but it was surprising to him given he had not trained there all summer and only discovered days before the game he would be in the backline.
“The week before the first game I was talking to the forward coach and he said ‘lock yourself in to play forward’. Then on the Thursday I am playing half-back,” he laughed.
“I think of it as a bit of freedom.”
Gunston is an elite kick for goal and is one of the best field kicks Hawthorn have. With Jarman Impey and Blake Hardwick out of the side, they wanted run and ball use out of half-back. They also wanted a player with the courage, not just the skill, to take the kick.
“When you look at AFL footy it can be a confidence game. For me, I am happy to try to hit a kick.
“That comes from a lot of confidence in yourself to execute and not go into your shell if you stuff it up. Young guys in the backline tend to take safer options.
“A former teammate Jordan Lewis was a big influence on me. If you can hit these ideal kicks and get this flow of the ball from half-back, it opens the game. I know it [made] my job easier as a forward when he hit those kicks.
“If you go back and look at footage whenever he had the ball, his eyes would be darting from side to side, hoping to take the kick inside 50. He’d hit a kick just skimming over fingertips to hit a player in a hole.”
And the whole game would open up, turned on its head from one perfectly placed kick.
Forward or back, Gunston would rather be kicking on the MCG on Monday than in his driveway, which is where he has been confined to kicking for the last month.
“It’s unfortunate. One of the drawcards of playing at Hawthorn is that you get to play that game on Easter Monday.
“It’s disappointing not to get to play – hopefully next year.”
Michael Gleeson is an award-winning senior sports writer specialising in AFL and athletics.