Essendon have stunned Hawthorn with a gutsy display of pressure football propelling them to a thrilling two-point win over the reigning premiers at the MCG.
The tiring Bombers looked set to be overrun by the Hawks, who led by as much as 16 points in a pulsating final term, but James Hird’s men kicked the last three goals of the match to record a memorable 12.6 (78) to 11.10 (76) win.
Cale Hooker, the unlikely hero when he put his side back in front with a snapped goal with 57 seconds remaining, but the Bombers had to withstand one final assault.
Cyril Rioli launched the ball into Hawthorn’s forward 50, allowing Luke Breust to surge onto the crumbs, but he was unable to get his goal-bound kick away before the final siren.
A week after giving up a 41-point lead in a round-one loss to Sydney, the Bombers looked set to suffer another heartbreaking loss when they led by 35 points late in the second term only to see Hawthorn come charging back.
The Bombers didn’t translate that dominance to the scoreboard early – they led by just five points at quarter-time – but Hawthorn were on the ropes late in the second term.
But Paul Puopolo and Cyril Rioli managed the final two goals of the half to set up the second-half comeback.
Jack Gunston led the charge with three third-quarter goals, but Joe Daniher, who finished with three goals, extended his side’s lead to eight points at the final change.
Essendon were brave, but looked gone as the Hawks finished full of running, led by Jordan Lewis (34 disposals) and Luke Hodge (30) – Jobe Watson (33 possessions) and Dyson Heppell (33) were important for the Bombers.
However, there was one more twist in the dramatic encounter with goals to Jake Carlisle and Travis Colyer setting up the sealer by Hooker.
Important Hawks’ duo Josh Gibson and Sam Mitchell were named for the Hawks on Thursday, but didn’t run out onto the MCG, and their injury woes quickly worsened when James Frawley was subbed out in the first quarter with a shoulder injury.