ESSENDON can thank Jake Stringer for that.
Every time the club's sudden and thrilling revival looked to be stalling on Sunday, Stringer's quality came to the fore. The result, and the reward, was a memorable 13-point victory over the dogged resistance of Hawthorn.
Stringer, handed additional midfield minutes in the absence of the injured Andrew McGrath, was simply awesome in Launceston as the Bombers continued to nip at the heels of the season's early pace-setters with a 13.8 (86) to 10.13 (73) win.
Career-best numbers across the board told the story of his afternoon as Stringer helped Essendon close the gap on the eighth-placed Richmond with 29 disposals and four goals, as well as six clearances, seven tackles and 12 score involvements.
But it wasn't just his stats sheet that proved influential to the Bombers and their continued hopes of disrupting a previously settled top-eight. It was his timing, and his often uncanny ability to be the key man in every big moment, that proved the difference.
His early soccer off the ground helped Essendon into a 17-point lead in the game's opening stages. Then, when Hawthorn closed the gap with three straight majors just before the main break, his second goal shot his side back into the lead by half-time.
He kickstarted the third term with his third goal, before his scintillating clearance and mercurial handball led to Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti's major just as the Hawks began to fight back.
Hawthorn was never really out of the contest and continued to challenge with momentum swings of its own. The work of Tom Mitchell (35 disposals, eight tackles, one goal) in the midfield and Luke Breust (14 disposals, three goals) in attack were pivotal to that.
The Hawks even led early in the final quarter and slashed the deficit to a kick in the dying seconds, consistently defying the quality of Zach Merrett (27 disposals) and the dash of Nick Hind (25 disposals, one goal) throughout the afternoon.
But, ultimately, they had no answer to Stringer's complete dominance. His fourth goal, the result of a brutal fend-off and an emphatic snap around the corner, was the cherry on top of a magnificent match and ensured the Bombers had enough on the board to hold on.
Stringer goes full Euros
There must have been a few sleepless nights watching the Euros at Jake Stringer's house this week. The mercurial Essendon forward channelled his inner Kylian Mbappe on Sunday to produce a wonderful first quarter goal in Launceston. Intercepting a fumbled pass, Stringer toed the ball 40m up the field and into space before again going off the ground to soccer through a stunning goal. All of this despite perhaps having the time to pick the ball up. Nevertheless, the terrific strike helped set the tone for his sublime afternoon on the Apple Isle.
The Bombers have one of the AFL's best young rucks
Sam Draper's young career might have been plagued by ongoing long-term injuries, the latest a syndesmosis problem that has kept him sidelined for the last three months, but there's no denying his talent. Draper returned to senior football on Sunday and immediately gave a timely reminder as to why he has emerged as one of the League's most trendy cult figures, with his tap-work and his constant hustle on ground level giving Essendon an injection of energy out of the centre. Draper returned with 15 disposals, 17 hitouts, six marks and nine clearances in Launceston. Now, all he needs is an extended run.
Hawks show fight, but can't replicate round one
It had started to look like March again when Hawthorn closed the gap to just a kick in the final two minutes of Sunday's thrilling clash. Back then, in round one, the Hawks fought from 40 points down to record a staggering one-point win over the Bombers. While the deficit was never quite as significant in Launceston, a 17-point Essendon buffer early in the second quarter being the game's biggest margin, it did have an air of inevitability about it at one stage. Dylan Moore's goal – he had kicked three from 19 touches to inspire Hawthorn's fightback in round one – must have had Essendon fans shuddering. But both Jake Stringer and Darcy Parish responded in style, and the points were sealed.
HAWTHORN 1.3 4.7 8.8 10.13 (73)
ESSENDON 3.2 5.3 9.5 13.8 (86)
Hawthorn: Koschitzke 3, Breust 3, Mitchell, Wingard, Shiels, Moore
Essendon: Stringer 4, McDonald-Tipungwuti 2, Jones 2, Langford, Cahill, Hind, Guelfi, Parish
Hawthorn: Mitchell, Impey, O'Meara, Hardwick, Wingard, Breust
Essendon: Stringer, Hind, Merrett, Parish, Draper, Ridley, Jones
Hawthorn: Nash (unused)
Essendon: Cutler (unused)
Crowd: 14,834 at University of Tasmania Stadium