Smith prepares to cross the Kennett line

Plenty of players change clubs, but very few move between arch-rivals. And given there is arguably no greater 21st century AFL rivalry than Geelong and Hawthorn, Isaac Smith’s defection from the Hawks to the Cats must be counted as one of the most sensational player moves since the turn of the millennium.

Isaac Smith will come up against his old side on Monday.Credit:Getty Images

Since the “Kennett Curse” era, which began with Hawthorn’s upset grand final win over the Cats in 2008, only Jonathan Simpkin had played for both clubs in the AFL before Smith lined up for Geelong in round one.

With respect to journeyman Simpkin, Smith is the first serious “traitor” since this modern rivalry escalated.

The late-blooming Smith was still to make his mark at Redan back in 2008, but he played key roles in many of the storied Cats-Hawks clashes of the following decade, including his infamous miss after the siren in the 2016 qualifying final. That shot meant his game-winner against Brisbane in round two wasn’t the first time he’d won a game for Geelong.

Alastair Clarkson says he will leave it up to his players to decide how to approach the triple-premiership Hawk as the veteran prepares to play against Hawthorn for the first time on Easter Monday.

Smith in action for the Cats in round two.Credit:Getty Images

After 210 games with the Hawks, the speedster moved to Geelong as a free agent at the end of last season, providing crucial balance to the contending Cats through his trademark outside run.

In some respects Monday’s MCG meeting between Smith and his former side lacks something of the edge of the game between Collingwood and Western Bulldogs in round one, a night on which Adam Treloar confronted the Pies for the first time since being squeezed out of the club.

But in another way, it arguably has more spice.

“It was a difficult decision and very hard,” Smith said back in October.

“I’ve probably had a few sleepless nights over the last three or four nights to be honest, the heart was pulling me towards Hawthorn, but in the end the head won.

“I’m up for a new challenge and a new journey and very excited to be part of Geelong, they’re a great organisation.

“This was the right decision for me and my family. Really in the end, there wasn’t much between Hawthorn, Melbourne and Geelong.

“Right now where I am in my life, I’m really looking forward to creating a new chapter and seeing a world outside of Hawthorn.

“It was just the right decision; my wife and I sat down and made the final call last night.”

Port Adelaide games record holder Kane Cornes was among the critics of Magpie Tyler Brown’s warm pre-game embrace with Treloar, a move that sparked debate about whether players should be friendly to opponents before matches.

Speaking on Sunday, Hawthorn coach Clarkson said he would not instruct his men how to deal with Smith before the game.

“The danger is that you try to have a pre-meditated approach to it. Let the players decide what they want to do, in essence. But at the end of the day it’s a competitive game of footy and they need to go out there to compete to win,” Clarkson said.

Isaac Smith (right) against Geelong in 2013Credit:Sebastian Costanzo

The coaching great compared the impending meeting to one of siblings in the backyard.

“I think it’s a little bit like when you’re growing up as a kid and you’re in the backyard playing against your brothers; you want to win,” Clarkson said.

“I don’t think there will be anything untoward towards Isaac, but I don’t think there will be friendliness either.

Smith on the burst for the Hawks.Credit:Pat Scala

“He’s wanting to win, and we’re wanting to win.

“Whilst we’re out there, and he’s in different colours to ours, we’ll be going really hard I’d imagine, and he’d be doing the same against us.

“There will be some banter in the game tomorrow, without a doubt.”

Smith, 32, has started his tenure at the Cats brightly, with 21 disposals and two goals against Adelaide in round one before 26 disposals and the game-winner against the Lions in a Friday night thriller in round two.

His average of 23.5 disposals and 8.5 marks so far in 2021 make for an arguably career-best start to the season, albeit it is very early in the campaign.

He had weighed up offers from Hawthorn and Melbourne before deciding to join the long list of premiership Hawks to move elsewhere at the tail of their respective careers.

Smith has spoken of his enjoyment of the relatively relaxed lifestyle in Geelong.

“It’s been nice; a little bit slower paced,” Smith said late last year. “The only thing that slows you down is a red light.

“Other than that, it’s pretty cruisy, and I feel like I’m getting back to my country roots.”

Both teams enter Monday’s game with 1-1 records, and Clarkson was looking forward to having the undivided attention of the football world in what has become of the traditional marquee fixtures on the AFL calendar.

“It’s the only game on Easter Monday, that means there’s a lot of eyes in the footy community watching this game, and none more so than our Hawk and Geelong supporters who are very passionate about this contest,” Clarkson said.

“It’s just another little chapter in the script. These teams have enjoyed a fair amount of success over the last 30 or 40 years really, they’ve both been really strong clubs, and that’s where rivalries come from.

“We’ve had a great opportunity to try and build that big game spirit against this side.

“There’s been some cracking contests over the journey and who knows what tomorrow’s going to bring, but as we’ve seen from the results of this weekend, anything can happen.”

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