A BRILLIANT performance from Geelong recruit Patrick Dangerfield has led the Cats to a 30-point victory over a gallant, undermanned Hawthorn in an Easter Monday classic at the MCG.
The prized recruit had a career-high 43 disposals and took an early contender for mark of the year as Geelong booted the final four goals of the game to run out 18.8 (116) to 12.14 (86) winners.
Adding injury to insult for the Hawks, captain Luke Hodge suffered a suspected broken right arm late in the loss in an incident that saw Cat Mitch Duncan reported.
Dangerfield’s disposal haul was a record for a player on debut for his new club, surpassing Greg Williams’ 37 touches in his first game for the Sydney Swans in 1986.
Dangerfield wasn't perfect, but he was inspirational.
Twice in the last quarter with the game in the balance, Dangerfield took marks only to miss gettable set-shots and keep the pulsating game with reach of Hawthorn.
It took goals from Josh Caddy and Darcy Lang inside the last seven minutes to seal the game for the Cats, with the final margin not reflective of the closeness of the contest.
The Cats looked home at half time, after ruckman Zac Smith dominated in his first game with Geelong and the Cats shot to a 30-point lead.
Smith kicked three goals and had 12 contested possessions to tilt the contest the Cats' way.
Hawthorn hit back hard in the third quarter to remind everyone why it has won the last three flags.
Despite having six players missing from its 2015 premiership team and injuries keeping Jarryd Roughead, Brad Hill, Liam Shiels and Jonathon Ceglar (who withdrew after back spasms on the morning of the game) out, the Hawks managed to overhaul the deficit in the third quarter and go into the last break with a two-point lead.
In that premiership quarter, Hawthorn kicked five goals to Geelong's zero to give the Cats an almighty fright.
A brilliant goal on the run from Shaun Burgoyne started the Hawks' fightback.
A desperate lunge from Luke Hodge that led to a Billy Hartung goal and a couple of goals from pocket dynamo Paul Puopolo, and the Hawks were in front.
In the premiership quarter, Hawthorn kicked 5.5 to Geelong's three behinds, as Sam Mitchell and Will Langford started to exert their influence around the packs.
Dangerfield and Mitch Duncan were battling hard, but the Cats started to fumble at critical moments and their big men had gone missing.
But it was never enough to win, according to Hawks' coach Alastair Clarkson.
"You can't win too many games of footy when you just play a quarter of footy," Clarkson said.
"We gave ourselves a real chance at three-quarter time but we just played really poorly in the last quarter."
The last quarter was a classic battle, with the game only opening up in the last five minutes.
The Cats dominated contested possession – a rarity in recent seasons – by 13 in the last quarter and were able to push the ball forward and lock it in.
Geelong coach Chris Scott said Hawthorn's third-quarter comeback was expected, and he was pleased with the Cats' response.
"Things weren't going our way and what we were trying to do wasn't getting the job done late in the third quarter so for a group of players that haven't played much footy together to stand up and implement the things we talked about at three-quarter time was very pleasing," Scott said.
The decision to leave Daniel Menzel and Nathan Vardy on the sidelines was justified as Lincoln McCarthy, Cory Gregson and Darcy Lang put pressure on the Hawks' defenders as though their footballing lives depended on it.
In the end it was enough to show the Cats are back, and Dangerfield and Joel Selwood are going to be very hard to stop.
Geelong: Jimmy Bartel copped a knee to the head in the third quarter and left the game with the blood rule. He returned however to play an instrumental role in the Cats' final quarter.
Hawthorn: Hodge will have an x-ray on Monday night or Tuesday morning to determine whether he has a broken right arm. Clarkson did not sound optimistic after the game. "He has got a sore arm so we will get that assessed either tonight or tomorrow night. I would suggest it doesn't look too good, because he is a pretty fierce warrior and he doesn't usually come off the ground," Clarkson said. "He was icing up after the game and was pretty sore so we'll just wait and see, but he is probably likely to miss a bit of footy I reckon." Jonathon Ceglar was a late withdrawal due to back spasms.
Geelong face a chastened Greater Western Sydney featuring ex-Cats' star Steve Johnson at Manuka Oval in Canberra in what presents as a tough early road trip for the Cats. Hawthorn has a grand final rematch against West Coast, with the Eagles determined to regain the confidence they lost in last year's decider.
Sam Mitchell was right in the thick of Hawthorn's third-term comeback. Picture: AFL Media
GEELONG 4.0 11.1 11.4 18.8 (116)
HAWTHORN 1.2 5.7 10.12 12.14 (86)
Geelong: Smith 3, Caddy 3, Lang 3, McCarthy 2, Hawkins 2, Motlop, Blicavs, Guthrie, Murdoch
Hawthorn: Puopolo 3, Gunston 3, Langford 2, Breust 2, Burgoyne, Hartung
Geelong: Dangerfield, Blicavs, Guthrie, Caddy, Duncan, Lang, Selwood
Hawthorn: Mitchell, Frawley, Puopolo, Lewis, Gibson, Burgoyne, Hartung
Hawthorn: Luke Hodge (suspected broken right arm)
Reports: Mitch Duncan (Geelong) reported for rough conduct against Luke Hodge (Hawthorn) in the fourth quarter.
Umpires: Findlay, Jeffery, Mollison
Official crowd: 74,218 at the MCG