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Kim Densham, in Melbourne reporting for AFANA

Media hype dominated the much awaited clash between the Cats and Hawks - billed as a game within a game, the ‘Grand Final warm up’. These two match-winning teams have not clashed since round four, season 2007. and were ready to rumble! Drama abounded, Luke Hodge, the gun Hawks midfielder and his wife Laura are expecting their first child and the due date was, of course this weekend – would the baby arrive early for Luke and Laura?. Hawks captain Sam Mitchell said earlier in the week on Melbourne radio that at Hawthorn, the family club where family always comes first. Nature has been tugging at the heart strings of the Hawthorn faithful. The game within a game is the expected midfield clash between Hawthorn’s Brad Sewell and Geelong’s Joel Corey. ‘The Beyond Blue Cup’ is an initiative of the Hawthorn President and former Victorian State Premier Jeff Kennett, who is also the chairman of the Beyond Blue organization , whose focus is combating depression among young men. Friday was a low 39 degrees , cold frosty, foggy morning and as the day wore on the sun played tag with the fog and mist, finally winning the blue sky battle. The biggest crowd ever between these two was 41,000, tonight the MCG was at capacity and there was talk of this game breaking the Essendon v Collingwood ANZAC day clash. Adding to the buzz - Hawks have beaten Geelong 3 times out of the last 4 encounters and Geelong,  have won 34 of their last 36 matches by an average 52 points – whose tactics would prevail? The Hawthorn banner read in big bold, brown and gold ‘Here Kitty, Kitty’… would this taunt come back to bite the mighty Hawks? Furthermore Cameron Ling and Gary Ablett were out! Darren Milburm was a late withdrawal [it was later revealed that he had been in hospital since Thursday night his admission kept a secret]. Speculation as to how the reigning Premiers would cope without this trio, was adding to the spectacle. Would the Hawks forward duo of Roughhead and Franklin, exploit the opportunity? If ever the Hawks were going to win, tonight was the night.

Early victory to the Cats, winning the toss – an omen for the night,  perhaps?! They elected to kick towards their cheer squad at the city end. The teams lined up and Campbell Brown and Buddy Franklin headed into the forward line- this was the first surprise of the evening. Would the teams come out all guns blazing or would they trade blows like Ali and Foreman? Who would float like a butterfly and sting like a bee? The noise from the crowd was deafening and from the opening bounce the next few minutes were fast and furious, Hawks zoning tactics holding the Cats in their defensive half, the play on strategy for Geelong unable to break the Hawks stranglehold. The Hawks played straight through the corridor and the Cats ran in clusters. Bartel powering the Cats engine room, playing on at every opportunity, fed Stokes, who opened, Buddy drew first blood for the Hawks and soon after converted his second. A consistent game from him would be central to a Hawks win – “his inconsistency” the ‘cognoscenti’ claim, “will cost Hawthorn a premiership before his brilliance delivers one”. Time will tell but currently he is one of the most exciting prospects in the game. If he was on song, the impossible would be tamed, the incredible would ho hum! And the outrageous would be so so! his talent borders on the belligerent!  He also has a big engine, can run all day and a turn of speed – he gets to places the other forwards can’t.

The opening ten minutes saw Geelong bewilder the Hawks and open up a 4 goal lead. Hawthorn regrouped and soon it was goal for goal, with Geelong’s Stevie Johnson, Cameron Mooney and midfielder Chapman pivotal to the score line. For Hawthorn, Cyril Rioli, Sam Mitchell and Lewis were influential. While Luke Hodge’s mind may have been on other matters, the Cats were focused and followed their game plan, always in control…it seemed, though, Hawthorn’s ability left them feeling pedestrian,  Geelong coach, Mark “Bomber” Thompson, animated and exasperated – a far cry from his sandwich eating, snack break when the Cats played the Eagles. At the break Geelong led by 19 points having kicked 6.3 to the Hawks 3.2.

Hawthorn threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Cats, who used up a few of their nine lives. Hawthorns ‘unsociable’ brand of football earning them the wrath of the umpires and the free kick count was skewed in favor of Geelong, but still they came…relentless. Buddy rampant lining up for goal on from both pockets in a matter of minutes, his kicking earning him a couple of behinds. The Hawks showing that they can match it with the champs, even if only in bursts. Buddy took his third mark against the left forward boundary line. The angle to the posts not favoring his left foot kicking motion – where he breaks the line by moving left off the mark and kicking around his body instead of straight at the goal . The Cats fans animated and gesticulating, tried to put him off. This shot, far more difficult than his two previous attempts; with deliberate and belligerent nonchalance, off one step he dropped the ‘Sherrin football’ onto the outside of his left boot - the Hawthorn cheer squad, behind the goal watched open mouthed as - it curved from right to left . A classic banana kick, made famous by Collingwood forward Peter Daicos, two decades ago. The ball sailed through the posts spinning into the disbelieving and incredulous Hawthorn cheer squad who erupted with unbridled delirium – a game highlight. At the third quarter break the Hawks were just 2 points behind, with momentum. 42 seconds into the final term, Mark Williams kicked his second major- Hawks in front! Every Hawthorn supporter was hoping against hope, dreaming the impossible dream –to beat Geelong, yet it was not be, at least not tonight.

Geelong fought back. Bartel, who had been left unmarked all game, racked up 30 possessions, received a 50m penalty, after Jordan Lewis mouthed off and ‘pointed’ at the umpire, Geelong goal. 12 minutes into the quarter Cats up by 11. The pace and physicality was telling, the intensity burned off like the fog earlier in the day,  when a rare defensive mind fade by Geelong’s Rooke – standing stunned, like a deer in headlights,  was tackled by Rioli - Buddy Franklin goaled with 7 minutes remaining, Hawks behind by a goal. They were slowly and deliberately reeling in the Cats lead; the tension, excruciating! then unraveled, as the Cats surged ahead, only to agonizingly repeat itself again, fingernails were being savaged this evening. Campbell Brown had a chance to ice the game from 25 meters out, but stabbed at the ball, it skewed past for a behind, and Geelong then kicked the next, which proved to be the last goal of the match.

The champs had been tested, the challengers unable to capitalize on the missing stars, yet surely gained some belief that if they were able to contain their defensive errors and improve accuracy in front of goal they would have a chance. Hawthorn’s mission was to set up the rest of the season to be ready for the next encounter with the Cats.  Geelong on the other hand, had dealt with both title contenders in successive weeks. Geelong first, daylight second and then the rest! Although this match was not a comprehensive victory, Mark Thompson thought it showed his sides “will to win was greater than their opponents”. Alistair Clarkson said that his charges had learned a lot from the occasion and he was “looking forward to another shot at Geelong.” In the end though, Hawks in kitty litter … and life is pretty good down at the ‘Cattery’.

GEELONG 12 12.16 (88)
HAWTHORN 11.11 (77)
GOALS: Geelong: S Johnson 3 P Chapman 2 J Bartel 2 C Mooney M Stokes R Gamble C Enright M Rooke. Hawthorn: L Franklin 4 M Williams 2 C Brown 2 J Roughead 2 C Bateman
BEST: Geelong: Bartel, Selwood, Enright, Ottens, Corey, Kelly. Hawthorn: Mitchell, Bateman, Brown, Murphy, Croad, Ellis.
UMPIRES: S McBurney B Rosebury J Schmitt.

Article last changed on Wednesday, July 30, 2008 - 11:56 AM EDT

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