In a season where the battle for finals is still wide open, Hawthorn faced off against an in-form Essendon side. This is a bitter, traditional rivalry at the best of times. Add to it the weight of finals aspirations and ladder position, and the stage was set for an absolute classic.
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Neither team disappointed, and some predictable patterns emerged early. Hawthorn had a slow start, while the Bombers got off to a flier. Hawthorn clawed their way back, and the momentum kept swinging rapidly and unpredictably for most of the game. An early flurry in the final quarter seemed to give Hawks some breathing space, but the Bombers fought hard to keep everyone guessing until the last minute. In the end, Hawthorn prevailed thanks to a steadying goal from James Worpel, and won the game by 4 points.
In a closely contested game, there were several standouts, and some unsung heroes. Tom Mitchell was his usual self, collecting 43 disposals and providing Hawthorn with the early grunt around the clearances. His 22 contested possessions, 13 clearances, 5 score involvements and 7 inside 50s gave Hawthorn a chance to work their way back into the game. It still puzzles me as to why oppositions don’t tag him early.
The other midfielder who impressed was Jaeger O’Meara. He has been impressive in the latter part of this season and has shown us exactly why Hawthorn were that keen to get him on board. He is a very different player to Mitchell, and that is what works well. Where Mitchell is your “roll up the sleeves and get to work” type, O’Meara adds much-needed poise and class to our midfield. He also takes a huge load off Mitchell’s shoulders, allowing him to do what he does best; which is to accumulate and distribute. O’Meara’ ability to cleanly pick up the footy in traffic and dispose of it in one motion helps Hawthorn attack better.
While the game was high-scoring, I thought our defenders did particularly well after a rapid Essendon start. The biggest star in defence was Ben Stratton, who took 11 marks to repel Essendon’s attack. He has been doing this for years without much recognition or plaudits, but he is certainly one of the most vital cogs in our defensive setup. James Frawley had a good game as well, taking 7 marks and keeping Essendon’s tall forwards accountable. Harry Morrison certainly earned his rising star nomination with 22 disposals and 6 marks. A week off seemed to have refreshed Morrison, who created opportunities through sheer gut running. Jack Gunston was fantastic in attack, and Hawthorn need him and Breust to fire every week from here to stake a realistic claim to a finals berth.
Ricky Henderson and Jon Ceglar are definitely unsung heroes from this game. Henderson has been impressive this season and provides the Hawks with options on the wing and in attack. He is usually clean with his disposal and goes about his business with minimal fuss. McEvoy’s absence has provided Jon Ceglar an opportunity, and I think he has done really well to keep things even in the ruck. Shaun Burgoyne’s return to the side has added a huge amount of class and experience to the side, and it shows in crunch situations. I am absolutely rapt that he has decided to play on for another year.
Overall, it was a great game to watch, albeit a nervy one. The one thing I do wish Hawthorn would do is settle earlier in the game and be a lot cleaner. In saying that, I understand this is a relatively inexperienced side which still has a lot to learn about playing together as a unit. While we sit fifth on the ladder, each of the next three games should be treated like an elimination final. If we do make it, finals will be a fantastic reward for the improvement shown by some of our youngsters. Go Hawks!
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HAWTHORN 3.1 9.3 13.5 16.11 (107)
ESSENDON 3.3 7.4 12.5 16.7 (103)
Hawthorn: Gunston 5, Breust 3, Smith 2, Henderson 2, Roughead, Whitecross, Ceglar, Worpel
Essendon: Baguley 3, Stringer 3, McKenna 2, Hooker 2, Bellchambers, Fantasia, Brown, McDonald-Tipungwuti, McGrath, Colyer
Hawthorn: Gunston, Mitchell, Stratton, O’Meara, Henderson, Burton
Essendon: Z.Merrett, Hooker, Smith, McDonald-Tipungwuti, Stringer, Fantasia
Essendon: Dea (concussion) replaced in selected side by McNiece, Guelfi (illness) replaced in selected side by Colyer
Umpires: Margetts, Hosking, Findlay
Official crowd: 68,857 at the MCG