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Match of the Day: Hawks brush off the Bomber challenge

Hawthorn defender James Sicily, best on ground in his side’s win, has Essendon forward James Stewart firmly in his clutches. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Match of the Day: Hawks brush off the Bomber challenge

Rohan Connolly    

Hawthorn is a club which routinely just gets the job done, whatever the circumstances, however large the obstacles. The Hawks’ 23-point win over Essendon at the MCG on Saturday was another classic example.

It came against an arch enemy. One which had been pumped over the course of a week for a big effort with its season seemingly on the line. It came without key forward pressure pair Cyril Rioli and Paul Puopolo. It came after two last-minute changes threw out pre-game planning.

And it came after Essendon had shot out of the blocks early, booting four goals to one and with all the momentum and a home crowd sensing that their side was finally about to discover the spark which had been sadly lacking.

That might have spooked a club with less character. Instead, as they have so often for so long, the Hawks just took a deep collective breath, steeled themselves for a bigger effort, and efficiently and ruthlessly extinguished the threat with 10 of the next 11 goals, as simply as two moistened fingers snuffing out a candle.

And so Hawthorn goes from strength to strength, top four at 5-2 and that much-documented fall from grace only a year ago, now little more than a blip on the radar, a whole new period near the top of the ladder looking a distinct possibility.

Essendon? Well, flip the win-loss tally and consider that at 2-5, with next week’s game against Carlton clearly no mere formality, and games to follow against Geelong, GWS and Richmond, a side some had tipped for the top four could conceivably be 3-8 midway through the season, perhaps even worse.

Perhaps more disturbingly for the Bombers, though, this defeat wasn’t so much about lack of effort and ineptness of execution, skill errors and poor decision-making time and again costing Essendon any advantage it had worked hard to attain.

And once again, Essendon’s abysmal third quarter record came into play. The Dons had been unable to win a third term all year. This time, the damage was six goals to nothing, just seven inside 50s against the opponent’s 14, and a seven-point half-time lead becoming a 31-point deficit by the final change.

That again was the decisive period in a Bomber defeat after a strangely subdued opening in light of the frenzied build-up.

Hawthorn struck first with a goal to Jaeger O’Meara, but Essendon was at least holding its own in general play, and got on the board after Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti surged into the forward-pocket and found Mark Baguley, unusually playing a defensive forward role, right in front.

The back-pocket duly kicked his fifth career goal in 109 games, and if it provided a further lift to the Dons, this time it was a lift actually reflected on the scoreboard, Essendon banging on four goals over a 10-minute burst.

James Stewart had the next after a mark in the pocket. Darcy Parish bounced one through. And the pick of the lot came from Patrick Ambrose, following his man Jack Gunston down the ground, taking possession and launching from the 50-metre line.

That gave Essendon a 16-point lead and all the momentum. Not for the first time this season, though, the Dons would prove their own worst enemy, conceding a costly goal right to Isaac Smith right on the siren after turning the ball over out of defence with only 10 seconds left.

The Hawks went to their huddle feeling they’d had something of a reprieve, and that gee-up spilled over into the second term.

Jarryd Roughead was inspirational only a minute in, splitting a 1-2 aerial contest, following up the spills and bouncing one through on his left foot. Hawthorn upped the ante on its forward pressure and immediately Essendon looked hesitant and devoid of options coming out of defence.

And the Bombers’ mistakes continued to cost them. Stewart missed a chance. He then missed a handball to teammate Jake Stringer heading towards an open goal, the give going behind the former Bulldog and another chance blown.

Soon after, Jayden Laverde would take a strong grab and miss from 25 metres, and Stewart kick poorly to McDonald-Tipungwuti with the little man all on his own and ready to take an easy mark. An intercept mark to Roughead was the result.

When Liam Shiels beat Darcy Parish for a ground ball, kicked forward, and Brendan Whitecross out-thought Kobe Mutch to snap Hawthorn’s third in a row, the Hawks were back in front. Mutch at least had a response, hacking one from mid-air in the goalsquare only two minutes later to restore the Essendon lead.

And that, for the Bombers, was about the end of it. From the moment Brendon Goddard was nailed holding the ball by Gunston, who goalled after the Dons had been hemmed in in their back 50, the Hawks zeroed in for the kill.

Luke Breust put them in front, Essendon 10 minutes into the third term still having had only one forward entry. Roughead, playing a great game, drifted in from the side, a la Royce Hart, to mark and boot another. And James Sicily, outstanding in defence all day, finishing with 29 disposals, added a goal to the stats sheet after a questionable 50-metre penalty.

Still Hawthorn wasn’t done. Smith, starting to escape the tight hold Andy McGrath had on him early, added another, the Hawks’ late inclusion James Cousins putting his own effective leash on Zach Merrett.

And if the Dons were still breathing, Tom Mitchell’s controversial goal, which appeared to have been kicked micro-seconds after the three-quarter time siren had sounded, was probably the death knell.

Essendon didn’t turn it up. In fact, the Bombers kicked three in a row early in the last to haul in the leeway to 22 points with just on 10 minutes still to play.

But even then it didn’t really feel like a big comeback in the offing. And sure enough, two quick responses from Smith and Liam Shiels quelled that little uprising as well.

It might be largely a different group of players now, but this is still a Hawthorn which knows when to pounce, knows when danger is imminent, knows what the big moments in a game are, and always seems to be able to take the appropriate action to either stem the bleeding, or finish off a wounded opponent.

They certainly did that to Essendon in this game. And might have in the process killed an arch enemy’s entire season into the bargain.

ESSENDON 4.2 5.5 5.6 10.7 (67)
HAWTHORN 2.4 4.4 10.7 13.12 (90)
GOALS – Essendon: Baguley, Stewart, Ambrose, Parish, Mutch, Daniher, Bellchambers, Heppell, McDonald-Tipungwuti, Hooker. Hawthorn: Roughead 3, Smith 2, O’Meara, Whitecross, Gunston, Breust, Sicily, Mitchell, Impey, Shiels.
BEST – Essendon: McGrath, Bellchambers, Smith, Stewart, Heppell. Hawthorn: Sicily, Roughead, O’Meara, Smith, Mitchell
UMPIRES – Dalgleish, Mollison, Wallace
Crowd: 53,018 at the MCG

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