“I couldn’t understand why we were made to separate from training and the early days of COVID I could not understand what was going on and we were hearing what I thought was propaganda about the virus coming,” Hardwick said.
“The reality was I was really struggling to get my head around it and the reality is if I am struggling the players are going to feed off that energy so I was at my very, very worst early days.”
“I was just in a challenging viewpoint, it was detrimental to both me and my coaching and certainly our club.”
He said the leaders of the club made sure he put those emotions behind him when he travelled away with the group.
“They will give you the sledgehammer at some stage to make sure you get your act together,” said Hardwick, who also paid tribute to Gale for sticking by him after a dismal 2016 season when “the easy thing to do was sack me”.
The three-time premiership coach also sent an emotional thank you to his family, and all in Melbourne who have endured tough restrictions while the competition moved to Queensland.
He said the team started to get the game back on their terms just before half-time after trailing by 22 points with Martin’s first goal shifting the momentum and reducing the lead to just 15 points at the long break.
“It was an important goal. We just needed a goal we couldn’t buy one,” Hardwick said.
He said losing Nick Vlastuin to concussion early in the game was a blow, forcing them to shift players around to get their structure right.
Hardwick showed courage in shifting Noah Balta up the ground, leaving David Astbury to handle Tom Hawkins and Nathan Broad to worry about Patrick Dangerfield.
He also temporarily evened up the numbers in front of the ball to curb Tom Stewart’s influence as the All-Australian defender had the ball on a string for most of the first half playing as a spare in defence.
The win sees Hardwick join Dan Minogue (1920-21) and Tom Hafey (1973-74) as winners of back-to-back flags with the coach admitting the hub breach involving Sydney Stack and Callum Coleman-Jones, which saw the pair sent home and the competition teetering, galvanised the group.
“It probably did help put a steely resolve us against the world type mentality in a way but it’s not like we want something like that happening on a weekly or yearly basis in a way,” Hardwick said.
Premiership midfielder Shane Edwards said he was the perfect coach. He described Hardwick as “like the head of the dragon”.
Peter Ryan is a sports reporter with The Age covering AFL, horse racing and other sports.