HAWTHORN has withstood a valiant second half comeback by Essendon, mounting a late comeback of its own to somehow get over the line by four points in a thrilling clash at Etihad Stadium on Friday night.
The Hawks looked to have the game under control when they led by 32 points at the main break, having short-circuited the Bombers' possession game-plan with relentless pressure and clinically opened them up around the ground with their unrivalled foot skills.
But the Bombers hit back hard in the second half, kicking seven consecutive goals from the start of the third term to get out to an 11-point lead by the 13-minute mark of the final term.
The Hawks looked cooked at that stage but rallied to escape with a 13.12 (90) to 12.14 (86) win that spoke volumes of their fighting qualities.
At the start of the last term, the Bombers were running harder and had all the momentum, while Hawthorn was without skipper Luke Hodge, who left the ground early in the third term with an apparent groin injury, having lost his predecessor Sam Mitchell before the game with calf soreness.
Goalless since the 26-minute mark of the second term, Paul Puopolo kick-started a stirring late rally when he broke the Hawks' drought at the 14-minute mark of the final term, bringing them back within five points.
Goals to young Bomber Patrick Ambrose and Hawk Jonathan Simpkin cancelled each other out before it seemed serial Hawthorn pest Paul Chapman had continued his hold over the Hawks with a goal at the 24-minute mark that put the Dons nine points up.
But Luke Breust answered a minute later and then Cyril Rioli, in his first game back from suspension, was the hero with a goal at the 28-minute mark that sealed the Hawks' win.
"We handled the last five to eight minutes of the game really well, not just when we were in front but also when we were behind, to try to create an opportunity for ourselves to get the ball forward and somehow create a goal," Clarkson said after the match.
"We didn't play particularly well. We were OK early without being great and we fell away pretty poorly in the third quarter in particular and at stages in the last.
"(But we) showed an enormous amount of character and belief in ourselves that we can just hang in there and grind out a win.
"It's a special win for our club in that we haven't played all that flash really, perhaps in the end (we were) pretty lucky to get the victory."
"Losing games is not fun at all and it's not supposed to be a good experience, but that was a decent loss tonight if you could say that," Thompson said.
"They had a shock in the second quarter. I was really concerned at half-time and I just said to them in the strongest possible words that I just wanted them to play the way that we've been training, to do the things that we expect to do because they hadn't been doing them.
"And they did them brilliantly in that third quarter, that was the highlight of the night for me."
Shaun Burgoyne was outstanding for the Hawks with a game-high 30 touches that included eight clearances.
Josh Gibson was rock solid in defence, keeping Joe Daniher goalless despite conceding 12cm, and gave the Hawks a lot of counterattack with 22 possessions.
Kyle Cheney was also good in defence against Jake Carlisle – he conceded 11cm – while Matt Suckling took a big step in his comeback from a knee reconstruction.
The usual suspects were outstanding for the Bombers. Skipper Jobe Watson continued his stellar start to the season, racking up 30 possessions, Brendon Goddard barely wasted a touch, Michael Hibberd launched counterattack after counterattack from defence and Cale Hooker subdued Jarryd Roughead.
The Bombers' next generation also impressed, with Martin Gleeson, Jackson Merrett important contributors and Patrick Ambrose kicking three goals.
Cyril Rioli celebrates the match-winning goal in front of the Hawthorn faithful. Picture: AFL Media
ESSENDON 1.5 3.7 9.10 12.14 (86)
HAWTHORN 4.1 9.3 9.7 13.12 (90)
Essendon: Ambrose 3, Hardingham 2, Carlisle 2, Zaharakis, Stanton, Hocking, Merrett, Chapman
Hawthorn: Suckling 2, Breust 2, Rioli 2, Roughead, Hill, Gunston, Hale, Lewis, Puopolo, Simpkin
Essendon: Hibberd, Goddard, Watson, Heppell, Zaharakis, Ambrose
Hawthorn: Burgoyne, Gibson, Rioli, Suckling, Cheney,
Essendon: Patrick Ryder (left ankle)
Hawthorn: Luke Hodge (groin)
Essendon: Zach Merrett replaced Patrick Ryder (ankle) in the third quarter
Hawthorn: Jonathan Simpkin replaced Luke Hodge (groin) in the third quarter
Umpires: Chamberlain, Meredith, Ryan
Official crowd: 44,163 at Etihad Stadium