Geelong’s big three hogged the limelight all week but Hawthorn’s 22 has stolen the show with a stunning one-point win in an Easter Monday instant classic at the MCG.
Amid much fanfare and expectation, Cats superstars Patrick Dangerfield, Gary Ablett and Joel Selwood played together for the first time.
And while they held up their end of the bargain, a more even effort from Alastair Clarkson’s men saw them hang on for a heart-stopping 17.16 (118) to 18.9 (117) win in front of 73,189 fans.
That’s not to say the Hawks didn’t have stand-out players, that would be a terrible slight on the brilliant games of Tom Mitchell (40 possessions and two goals) and Ben McEvoy (43 hitouts and a goal).
Hawthorn led by a game-high 25 points midway through the final term but the resurgent Cats levelled the scores with just less than four minutes remaining.
Skipper Jarryd Roughead scored the decisive point when he marked over Geelong defender Zach Guthrie with 61 seconds left in the match.
The Hawks hunted in numbers to pressure the Cats at every opportunity throughout.
Geelong’s home crowd reached fever pitch as Dangerfield, Ablett and Selwood lined up inside the centre square for the opening bounce.
And the trio delivered, with Ablett (35 disposals and a goal), Dangerfield (31 and two) and Selwood (29 and one) their side’s leading possession winners.
Clarkson admitted it had been a tricky path to tread at times in backing his team’s system versus sending a tagger to one or more of the star trio.
“Just because these star players have a lot of touches, and we’ve seen that with Mitchell ourselves, it doesn’t always equate to victories,” Clarkson said.
“We just needed to be really mindful with how we go about that because you can win some of the battles on the ground but you lose the game.
“There’s no point letting ego worry about a certain player and what damage he’s doing just because you don’t want to see a large number on the stats sheet at the end of the day.”
Emphasising the evenness of the performance, the Hawks had 11 goal-kickers, with no player booting more than two.
The Cats were without injured key defenders Harry Taylor and Lachie Henderson but coach Chris Scott doubted either would have been able to do much in the face of a lopsided 62-43 inside 50 count.
“We would have been lucky to win,” Scott said.
“That’s two weeks in a row … we could easily be sitting here 0-2 and scratching our heads a bit.
“We thought we were comprehensively outplayed for big parts of the game. We were able to turn it around after halftime but even then it ebbed and flowed.”
Hawthorn suffered an early blow when veteran Shaun Burgoyne limped to the bench with a hamstring injury in the first quarter and didn’t return.