THE UNVEILING of Geelong's 'holy trinity' of midfielders – champions Patrick Dangerfield, Joel Selwood and Gary Ablett – for the first time together on Easter Monday against Hawthorn deserved a classic encounter. And that's exactly what we all got, except the Hawks weren't interested in the fairytale.
In an MCG epic that will go down as one of the best games of the season, the Hawks claimed a thrilling one-point win after holding off a fast-finishing Cats outfit in a frantic final quarter.
The Hawks led by 25 points early in the final quarter, but the Cats, led by their magnificent midfield trio, clawed their way back and drew level when Brandan Parfitt goaled at the 26-minute mark.
An engrossing end to the match ensued, with Hawks skipper Jarryd Roughead kicking the winning point with a minute left on the clock after outmarking Cats youngster Zach Guthrie close to goal. The 17.16 (118) to 18.9 (117) victory followed the Hawks' round one win over Collingwood in an impressive start to the season.
The clash will be added to a long list of classics played between the sides in the past decade, with nine goals kicked in the final quarter.
All eyes were on Dangerfield, Ablett and Selwood at the opening bounce as Chris Scott started them all in the centre square, and the brilliant midfielders had a big say on the Cats' charge in the final term. Dangerfield, returning from his hamstring strain, had the biggest impact with 31 disposals, while Ablett (35) and Selwood (29) were also prolific.
But the Hawks had a gun midfielder of their own – Tom Mitchell – who continued his amazing start to the year with 40 disposals (23 contested), 13 clearances, nine inside-50s and two goals to outshine the Geelong triumvirate.
WATCH: Tom Mitchell kicks a brilliant banana
Jaeger O'Meara (21 disposals), Isaac Smith (20 and two goals) and Ricky Henderson (two goals) were valuable contributors for the Hawks, while Roughead kicked two last quarter goals to go with his last-gasp point to have a huge impact on the result.
"I just thought we needed to be tough and composed in a pretty frenetic and frantic last few minutes but we played some good footy," Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson said.
"We've played some good footy against the Cats before, however, and still lost the chocolates at the end, so it was good to get a little bit of composure there at the end."
Scott was pragmatic about the defeat, saying it would have been a "steal" for the Cats had they got over the line after last week's narrow win over Melbourne.
"We would have been lucky to win I think. It's two weeks in a row, [and] we could easily be sitting here 0-2 and scratching our heads a bit," he said.
"I don’t think there's much point comparing the two weeks, but if we focus on this game we thought we were comprehensively outplayed for big parts of the game and were able to turn it around after half-time."
The signs were clear early in proceedings that a good game was in store, because footy doesn't get much better than what the Cats and Hawks served up in the first term. The clubs combined for 10 goals – five apiece – in the opening quarter and produced scintillating run, superb skill and manic pressure.
WATCH: Zach Tuohy launches a monster torpedo
Hawthorn held a two-point advantage at the break and was the (slightly) better side, their troupe of small forwards proving elusive and dangerous. But Geelong's star trio was already proving dominant, with Dangerfield, then Selwood, then Ablett, the Cats' first three goalkickers.
Things shifted the Hawks' way in the second term. The Cats started the quarter well and jumped out to an 11-point lead, before Clarkson's men booted six of the next seven goals to take a 24-point lead into the main break.
Where the Cats' elite performers were on show, so too was the Hawks' depth across the ground, particularly close to goal where their tackling pressure and intensity was too much for their shaky opponents.
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The contributions were spread, too, with all of the forwards doing their bit. Paul Puopolo capitalised on a controversial deliberate out of bounds call to snap truly from the pocket, Roughead created contests for the smalls at his feet, and Jarman Impey showed why the Hawks chased him hard at last year's trade period.
The former Port Adelaide defender was a revelation with his pace, hardness and zip, booting two goals in the first half and setting up another with a brilliant pass to Jack Gunston.
It's not a battle between these sides without a twist, though, and that came in the third term as the Cats lifted. Tim Kelly's outstanding start to his AFL career continued as he stepped up, second-gamer Lachie Fogarty chipped in with a goal and Cory Gregson got busy.
WATCH: Sam Menegola nails a 60-metre bomb
When Daniel Menzel converted a free kick, the Cats had cut their deficit to four points and had the momentum. But that didn't last long, as Hawthorn took the heat, steadied and held an 18-point lead heading into the last term. And what a last term it was.
Geelong: Geelong lost Mitch Duncan to hamstring tightness before the game and also had Esava Ratugolea as a late out with a hip flexor issue, while Jack Henry suffered concussion in his debut.
Hawthorn: The Hawks' win was even more meritorious given they lost key playmaker Shaun Burgoyne to a hamstring strain in the first term. The club expects scans to show it to be a low-grade strain.
The Hawks will head into next Sunday's MCG clash with premiers Richmond full of confidence after their start to the season, while the Cats will head to Perth to face West Coast on Sunday at Optus Stadium.
GEELONG 5.1 8.2 12.7 18.9 (117)
HAWTHORN 5.3 11.8 14.13 17.16 (118)
Geelong: Menzel 4, Stanley 2, Dangerfield 2, Parsons 2, Selwood, Ablett, Kelly, Fogarty, Gregson, Hawkins, Menegola, Parfitt
Hawthorn: Henderson 2, Smith 2, Impey 2, Gunston 2, Mitchell 2, Roughead 2, O'Meara, Shiels, Puopolo, McEvoy, Howe
Geelong: Ablett, Selwood, Dangerfield, Kelly, Menzel, Tuohy
Hawthorn: Mitchell, McEvoy, Impey, Smith, O'Meara, Henderson, Brand
Geelong: Duncan (hamstring tightness) replaced in selected side by Cockatoo, Ratugolea (hip flexor) replaced in selected side by O'Connor, Henry (concussion)
Hawthorn: Frawley (foot sprain) replaced in selection side by Brand, Burgoyne (left hamstring)
Umpires: O'Gorman, Chamberlain, Pannell
Official crowd: 73,189 at the MCG
More to come