ESSENDON looked at as long odds of pulling off victory at half-time on Thursday as Joe Daniher did at one stage of playing this season.
Hawthorn was beating up the Dons on neutral territory at Adelaide Oval and appeared to have the result sewn up with a six-goal buffer.
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It was the continuation of an accelerating nose dive that threatened to end the Bombers' flickering finals hopes after a 4-1 start to the year.
Their haphazard kicking and overall stagnant ball movement to the main break made Hawk Ben McEvoy's return to defence an easy one – and spoiled their clearance dominance.
However, the trajectory of Daniher's long-awaited comeback – it was his first match in 467 days – and Essendon's fortunes transformed in an instant.
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With best-on-ground midfielder Andrew McGrath (32 disposals, 10 clearances) and Zach Merrett (36, nine score involvements) running wild, Daniher came to life up forward in tandem with Jake Stringer and Cale Hooker, after the latter started in defence.
The Bombers became an irrepressible force, kicking five goals to one in the third term to slash the deficit to only nine points before careering away to a 13.9 (87) to 10.11 (71) triumph.
Fittingly, Daniher slotted the final major of the day – his third – with a brilliant finish from general play, after exploding into action with nine of his game-high 10 marks in the second half.
A groin injury has kept the athletic big man to only 12 games since his 2017 All-Australian campaign, but his importance to this Essendon side has never been more evident.
Hawthorn had earlier feasted on the Bombers' turnovers on its way to a big lead, but Alastair Clarkson's men were largely helpless once those errors dried up, on top of being on the end of a 20-6 centre-clearance belting.
Last-quarter goals to Tom Scully and Jack Gunston were only brief diversions from the script as Essendon re-entered the finals race.
McEvoy (12 intercept possessions) was comfortably the Hawks' best player, with their midfield well beaten, but James Worpel (23, seven score involvements) and Tom Mitchell (27, six clearances) still did their bit.
Daniher's dazzling cameo
All eyes were on Joe Daniher in what was his first match since round nine last year – and his unsuccessful trade request to Sydney. Essendon's awful first-half performance didn't help Daniher's cause and he had only two disposals and one mark to the main break. However, the 26-year-old sprung to life as the Bombers roared back into the contest. Daniher firstly shook off Sam Frost to mark low to the ground and bang through his first goal, before catching a ride on ex-teammate Michael Hartley to haul in the second of his three marks inside 50 for the term. The other two were wayward set shots, but he also set up Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti's second major with a spearing kick. There were shades of his 2017 Virgin Australia AFL All Australian season, even if only for a quarter. Essendon will be desperate to retain the restricted free agent's services, although both Sydney and Brisbane are sniffing around.
Early end to the General's day
Jon Patton had a promising first pre-season at Waverley Park, but just hasn't been able to get going since Lion Harris Andrews towelled him up in round one. Patton's season is now probably over, with a calf setback in the first quarter on Thursday cutting short his second game back from a hamstring-related layoff. He's kicked three goals in six games, although he didn't play after quarter-time in matches against Essendon and Collingwood. It was always going to be tough for Patton to have a major impact after sitting out the previous season-and-a-half recovering from a third knee reconstruction. He still has two years left on the deal he signed after crossing from the Giants, but the Hawks will be hoping for a much better return on their investment in 2021.
Seething Clarko loses his cool
Hawthorn had all but waved the white flag on its finals ambitions entering Thursday's match, but that didn't mean coach Alastair Clarkson's competitive juices weren't still flowing. The Hawks feasted on Essendon's turnovers in the first half on their way to a six-goal lead despite a 2-10 centre clearance deficit. The game looked over at that stage, but the Bombers emerged a different side in the third quarter. Their clearance dominance continued, but they started making Hawthorn pay with vastly improved ball movement, including some exquisite kicking inside 50. Only nine points separated the sides at three-quarter-time, with Essendon's clearance (30-14) and centre clearance (14-3) buffers causing Clarkson's blood to boil. Whether that was the topic or not, the four-time premiership coach didn't seem too pleased at one stage in the final break. Clarkson ripped a pen out of assistant coach Scott Burns' hand and jotted something down as they tried to figure out what was going wrong.
HAWTHORN 3.4 7.10 8.10 10.11 (71)
ESSENDON 1.3 2.4 7.7 13.9 (87)
Hawthorn: Howe 2, Scully 2, Gunston 2, Worpel, Cousins, Minchington, O'Brien
Essendon: Daniher 3, McDonald-Tipungwuti 2, Stringer 2, Hooker 2, Clarke 2, Stewart, Langford
Hawthorn: McEvoy, Worpel, Scrimshaw, Mitchell, Scully, Cousins
Essendon: McGrath, Merrett, Daniher, Shiel, Smith, Langford
Hawthorn: Patton (calf)
Essendon: Hurley (ankle) replaced in selected side by Zerk-Thatcher