Tom Hawkins celebrates a goal during the R18 clash between Geelong and Essendon at GMHBA Stadium on July 15, 2023. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

REIGNING premier Geelong sent an ominous warning to the AFL and moved up to fifth on the ladder after blowing away Essendon with a first-quarter blitz and triumphing by 77 points at GMHBA Stadium on Saturday night.

The Cats booted the first seven goals of the game and kept the Dons goalless in a scintillating opening term, racing to a 46-point quarter-time lead, before running out comfortable winners 18.14 (122) to 7.3 (45).

CATS v BOMBERS Full match coverage and stats

The win sees Geelong move up three spots on the ladder, past Essendon, St Kilda and the Western Bulldogs who all lost this round. The Cats are now within a win-and-a-half of the all-important top four, ahead of a trip to third-placed Brisbane, with top-two duo Port Adelaide and Collingwood to come in the next month.

Essendon's defeat means it has no breathing space in the top-eight dogfight, slipping down to eighth due to a hefty percentage loss. It was the Bombers' lowest score and biggest loss for the year.


Tom Hawkins didn't get a goal during the first-quarter barrage, but finished with five to move up to outright third in the Coleman Medal race with 45 for the season.

Tyson Stengle kicked three goals, following five last week, while Bradley Close added two. Tom Atkins was outstanding with 28 disposals and 12 tackles, helping quell the influence of 200-gamer Zach Merrett, while Max Holmes had a game-high 33 disposals.


In the end the contest was a fizzer after Geelong's early masterclass, having been billed as a blockbuster with top-eight repercussions in the lead-up, along with subplots about the venue and the Scott brothers coaching against each other. The Cats had 64-28 inside 50s and 18-5 marks inside 50 for the game to display the gulf between the two sides.

Geelong backed up last week's 8.5 opening quarter against North Melbourne with 7.5 to leave the Bombers shellshocked. It was the fifth straight game Geelong has won the first quarter and its 13 out of 17 games for the year.

In his 100th game, League assists leader Gryan Miers shrugged off a Mason Redman tackle to boot the opening goal to initiate the onslaught. Stengle added the second with a composed finish, before Close nailed two in two minutes.


Geelong had 32 points on the board after Patrick Dangerfield's set-shot goal before Essendon even registered a score, and continued to pile on the goals in the opening term with further majors from Mark Blicavs and Oliver Henry.

The Cats' first-quarter dominance was underlined by 39-29 contested possessions helping them boss territory with a lopsided 20-5 inside 50s. But they capitalised on that, with six marks inside 50 to Essendon's none, as the visitors continually butchered the ball on rebound.

After being suffocated in the first, Essendon arrested back some control in the second term, with Jake Stringer scoring its opener off the ground.


The Bombers actually won the quarter but their forward line lacked function, only scoring on scraps, while Geelong bemoaned missed opportunities, with Hawkins guilty of several misses with 1.3 at half-time.

Hawkins atoned for those misses with the first of the third term before Nic Martin's dreadful pass across goal offered a simple finish for Gary Rohan.

The third quarter turned into the Hawkins show, with the 2020 Coleman Medal winner correcting his earlier inaccuracy with three goals for the term, including a classy set shot from a tough angle, helping open up a 69-point at three-quarter time.

Hawkins continued his goalkicking clinic with another brilliant shot from the boundary, while Jeremy Cameron put aside a mixed return from concussion with a brilliant running goal after working a pair of one-twos.


Reigning premiers finding momentum at the right time
The Cats are unbeaten in their past four games and starting to find some momentum, with the margin of Saturday's win allowing them to sub out skipper Patrick Dangerfield at three-quarter time. Geelong managed Zach Tuohy and Esava Ratugolea for this game while key backman Jed Bews isn't far off with a knee injury and two-time Carji Greeves Medal winner Cameron Guthrie is hopeful of returning late in the home and away season from a long-term toe complaint, creating some healthy competition for spots. That's exactly what coach Chris Scott and Cats fans will be wanting at this time of the year, while it'll worry other premiership contenders.


Jezza battles on return
Former Coleman medalist Jeremy Cameron returned for the first time since June 22 after concussion but was in the wars throughout the evening. Cameron had an early head-to-head collision with Mason Redman that left him bloodied, before a Jake Stringer tackle had him limping to the bench for medical attention, although he played on. Cameron's forehead cut was re-opened in the second term, forcing him off again, after an accidental back hand from Jordan Ridley. He returned again but struggled to find his groove, booting the ball out on the full from a 50m set shot and spurning a left-foot snap in the last, before eventually finding an avenue to his only goal for the night with a classy finish.

Jeremy Cameron and Mason Redman during the R18 match between Geelong and Essendon at GMHBA Stadium on July 15, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Mixed night for milestone men Merrett and Miers
A key part of Geelong's victory was restricting Dons captain Zach Merrett, who finished with only 18 touches and two marks. Mark O'Connor and Tom Atkins spent time alongside Merrett, with the Cats eager to be physical on the three-time Crichton Medalist at every opportunity. Geelong's centurion Gryan Miers had a happier milestone game, producing 10 score involvements, which was only bettered by Tom Hawkins with 12. Miers also added another two goal assists to his AFL-leading tally.


GEELONG     7.5    9.10    14.11    18.14 (122)
ESSENDON    0.1     3.2      4.2      7.3 (45)

Geelong: Hawkins 5, Stengle 3, Close 2, Blicavs 2, Miers, Dangerfield, O.Henry, Rohan, O'Connor, Cameron
Essendon: Stringer, Wright, Menzie, Snelling, Bryan, Langford, Guelfi

Geelong: Atkins, Hawkins, Holmes, Miers, Blicavs, Z.Guthrie, Stengle
Essendon: Hobbs, Parish, Bryan, Heppell

Geelong: Nil
Essendon: Jayden Laverde (ankle)

Geelong: Oisin Mullin (replaced Patrick Dangerfield at three-quarter time)
Essendon: Nick Hind (replaced Jayden Laverde in the third quarter)

Crowd: 23,185 at GMHBA Stadium