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Match Of The Day: Hawks hang on in another clash of titans


Geelong’s Quinton Narkle squeezes through the tightest of gaps as Hawks Ryan Burton and Ben Stratton close in. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Match Of The Day: Hawks hang on in another clash of titans

Rohan Connolly    

Is this the best rivalry in the history of football? You’d need a pretty convincing argument to the contrary, because Hawthorn and Geelong just keep delivering, time after time after time.

And so they did it again at the MCG on Saturday, Hawthorn’s 11-point win full of all the usual drama these two teams turn on, the margin not only the fourth time in their past five clashes the gap has been less than two goals, but the 16th time in 26 jousts in a run now in its 11th season.

This one was tighter and lower-scoring than usual, but all the familiar elements were there, one side, Hawthorn this time, getting the break, the other, the Cats, charging back, the finale full of nail-biting tension.

The stakes this time were as high as they’ve been outside finals. Hawthorn is looking an increasingly likely top four team. Geelong could well miss out on September altogether. And it’s this game which will be the one full of “ifs” and “buts”.

That said, there haven’t been too many of these epic clashes of the past decade that have begun as slowly as this one did.

It took until the 19th minute for the game’s first goal, when Tom Hawkins lead into the pocket met a lovely chip pass from Sam Menegola. And Geelong had its second after Gary Ablett made the most of a shove from Isaac Smith at a stoppage.

Hawthorn hasn’t been held goalless for a quarter very often, but this time, despite being two goals down at the first break, there was little need for panic, the Hawks breaking even statistically.

And soon they’d doing a lot better than break even. Smith started their charge with a mark and goal from just on 50 less than two minutes into the second quarter.

Jack Gunston had the scoreboard back on even terms after pouncing on the spoils of a spilled Cam Guthrie mark. It was in fact Geelong with more cause for alarm once Luke Breust was allowed to run on to a ball out of a stoppage and goal far too easily.

And a poor Geelong turnover coming out of defence was punished in typically efficient Hawthorn style, Smith running on to a handball and ramming another one home from just on 50.

By now, it wasn’t just the scoreboard conspiring against the Cats, ruckman Rhys Stanley off the ground and out of action for the rest of the day with a calf injury, forcing important key defender Mark Blicavs away from his best spot.

And Breust rubbed it in a little more when he flew between Geelong defenders Tom Stewart and Lachie Henderson to mark and goal.

Hawthorn won every centre bounce clearance in the second term. It had 32 more disposals and 21 more contested possessions, locked the ball in its forward zone with 18 inside 50s to just six, controlled the football and made Geelong look slow.

The Cats needed something special after the break. Not for the first time, the names Ablett and Dangerfield were pivotal in delivering it. They had 21 third-quarter touches between them as Geelong, though still too fumbly and error-prone, at least began to get its hands on the football.

Hawthorn, however, still had the answers. It was Ablett who booted the Cats’ first goal of the second half. He added another midway through the term, soon followed by one from Quinton Narkle. Each time, though, the Hawks found a response, and through sources you wouldn’t necessarily expect.

Gunston’s reply to Ablett’s first goal came after a brilliant bit of play from the exciting James Worpel, who virtually picked the ball of Joel Selwood’s boot, spun and fired off a handball which set up the goal. This kid is clearly going to be a gun. And Harry Morrison’s subsequent effort came after a strong tackle from Irish debutant Conor Nash.

The next time the Cats got close, it was Ryan Schoenmakers and fill-in ruck Jonathon Ceglar who stood up to respond, the Hawks still 26 points up at the last break. And for the first half of the final term, it was Hawthorn’s defence rising to the challenge.

Geelong, after being beaten badly out of the middle for three quarters, suddenly turned the tide. The Cats, however, just couldn’t find a way through, Blake Hardwick and Ben Stratton, sporting their now-familiar “Thomastown sharps” retro mullets, superb in repelling the Geelong advances.

It took the Cats until the 15th minute to make any scoreboard headway at all, and almost by accident, Jack Henry’s long kick towards goal bouncing through. You just knew, though, that it would be the catalyst for more drama. And so it proved.

From the next forward thrust, Hawthorn’s Ricky Henderson was penalised for a deliberate rushed behind, a gift Dan Menzel opened gratefully. Now it was back to just 14 points again and an entire crowd bracing itself for the inevitable grandstand finish.

Another goal to Tim Kelly made it three in five minutes for Geelong, eight points the difference and eight minutes left to play. Now the Cats wasted opportunities, James Parsons missing, Hawkins from even closer on an off-target day for him, back to a goal the difference with under two minutes remaining when Ablett snapped hurriedly out on-the-full.

Again, however, Hawthorn had the answer, this time the definitive one. As the ball bobbled about in midfield, Ceglar picked it up and banged it into a completely vacant forward line.

And it was the Hawks who got the numbers there. Paul Puopolo fed a handball out to Smith. He found Harry Morrison, who dished another off to Jaeger O’Meara. And the Hawk mid with the silky skills found the perfect finish, a checkside snap which sealed the win and maybe Geelong’s fate for 2018.

But the one thing you can at least say with certainty is that this won’t be the last classic contest between these two champions of the modern era. It just seems their destiny. And aren’t we all grateful for that.

HAWTHORN 0.4 5.8 9.10 10.11 (71)
GEELONG 2.4 2.6 5.8 8.12 (60)
GOALS – Hawthorn: Smith 2, Gunston 2, Breust 2, Ceglar, Schoenmakers, Morrison, O’Meara. Geelong: Ablett 3, Narkle, Hawkins, Henry, Menzel, Kelly.
BEST – Hawthorn: Worpel, Mitchell, Burgoyne, Hardwick, Ceglar, Shiels, O’Meara. Geelong: Ablett, Dangerfield, J. Selwood, Hawkins, Menegola, Duncan
INJURIES – Hawthorn: Roughead (ankle) replaced in selected side by Pittonet. Geelong: Stanley (calf).
CROWD: 59,529 at the MCG.

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  1. Oops, it was poppy to smith to schoenmakers to smith to Morrison to o’meara to finish that goal, pretty amazing run from all of them to get there that quickly, given Schie was involved in the stoppage as well

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