Close combatants: Josh Gibson and Lance Franklin. Photo: Getty Images
HAWTHORN 2.7 4.8 11.11 15.14 (104)
SYDNEY 2.3 5.9 9.14 13.16 (94)
Goals: Hawthorn: J Roughead 4 I Smith 3 L Breust 3 P Puopolo 2 J Gunston L Hodge S Burgoyne. Sydney: A Goodes 4 B McGlynn 3 L Franklin 3 K Tippett 2 J Kennedy.
Best: Hawthorn: Lewis, Hodge, Roughead, Smith, Shiels, Breust, Puopolo. Sydney: McGlynn, Bird, Franklin, Goodes, Rampe
Umpires: Chris Donlon, Troy Pannell, Mathew Nicholls.
Official Crowd: 72,760 at MCG.
In a season supposedly beset with underwhelming footy, Hawthorn and Sydney produced perhaps the season's highest calibre game, in a contest between teams that will surely meet again at the season's pointy end.
The Hawks finally prevailed by 10 points, after a duel in which both sides were severely tested and neither found deficient. Ultimately, it was Hawthorn's greater midfield run - and its unmatched ability to score in important moments - that saw it overcome a third quarter deficit that had reached an ominous 22 points.
AFL Round 18: Hawthorn vs Sydney
Lance Franklin of the Swans celebrates a goal. Photo: Getty Images
|View Match Statistics|
|Players||Roughead (4.4), Breust (3.1), Smith (3.0), Puopolo (2.1), Gunston (1.2), Burgoyne (1.0), Hodge (1.0), Litherland (0.1), Mitchell (0.1), Simpkin (0.1)||Scorers||Goodes (4.0), Franklin (3.5), McGlynn (3.1), Tippett (2.2), Kennedy (1.1), Jack (0.1)|
While Buddy Franklin was almost best afield in the opening half of his reunion game - and yes, he was booed by sizeable portion of the 72,000 - it was his former companion, Jarryd Roughead, who became the most telling forward in his 200th game, booting four goals.
Four minutes into the third quarter, the Swans led by 20 points after a pair of brilliant Adam Goodes goals - one from a curling left foot snap. This lead would soon stretch to a peak of 22 points.
Virtually any other team in the competition would have buckled in this situation. Most would have been smashed. The Swans were rolling, their midfield ascendant, their leviathan forwards too powerful.
But Hawthorn isn't any team. It can sway like a bending tree in a fierce breeze, but it doesn't break.
Dead-eye Luke Breust responded with a pair of highly skilled goals - a one-out mark and a left-foot snap. Liam Shiels, a catalyst for the comeback, found a quiet Jack Gunston, who slotted another. Roughead marked for his second, and claimed a third from a reflex snap in the goal-square.
Isaac Smith, too, was significant, his outside speed and long accurate kicking (three goals) balancing the grunt and nous of Jordan Lewis, Sam Mitchell and Luke Hodge.
Lewis and Hodge were influential in this sustained counter-offensive that turned the game. And if Franklin, Tippett and Goodes had threatened to monster undersized opponents, the second half belonged more to Roughead, who booted three goals after half-time and gave Ted Richards a rare beating.
Roughead's fourth goal, early in the final quarter, continued the run-on, which had netted the Hawks seven goals to four in the third quarter and enabled them to wipe off a worrisome deficit very quickly, turning into a lead of nine points at the last break.
By the time Rampe was run down by quicksilver Paul Puopolo, who converted from the free, the Hawks seemed certain to prevail, the margin reaching 20 points in those early minutes of the final quarter.
But, as with Hawthorn, the outcome is seldom settled against a team of Sydney's mettle. The Swans would rebound and twice closed to within two kicks following Goodes' third and fourth goals. A Goodes mark wasn't paid in the goal square with four minutes left that would have made the margin three points (John Longmire thought it was a mark). Hodge nailed the sealer deep in time on.
Franklin had a blazing first half. Matched to his good buddy Josh Gibson and sometimes Angus Litherland, Buddy was involved in both of Sydney's first quarter goals. He was sharp from the outset, assisted by Gibson's inability to play him closely. Franklin, who would finish with a typically profligate 3.5, featured in a wonderful passage in which he out-bodied his mate and booted long to Tippett who was too powerful one-out for Ryan Shoenmakers.
In their previous meeting, the Hawks had been undersized against the forward line that comprised Franklin, Tippett, Sam Reid and occasionally Goodes. Brian Lake's suspension meant the equation remained one of small Hawks v tall Swans, but Hawthorn contained the giants with a time-honoured method - keeping the ball at the other end.
The Hawks had the ball in their scoring territory more than Sydney, holding an edge in the contest. Mitchell and Lewis were clean and prolific, as was Gibson, who found the ball more easily than he did Franklin.
But Hawthorn, usually more efficient than a German car manufacturer, was without its trademark ability to convert early in the match.
Sydney held sway in the second quarter, when it began to win clearances and the greater share of disputed balls. Franklin and Tippett remained more than menacing - Tippett using his size to pluck a imposing mark and goal, Buddy deploying his lightweight boxer's feet to snap accurately.
If Franklin and Tippett were the obvious weapons, the Swans best moments were also sparked from less glamorous sources, such as ex-Hawk Ben McGlynn and Craig Bird, while Dane Rampe excelled in defence. Kieran Jack had his moments, Josh Kennedy found touch late.
At the close, Hawthorn had slightly more run in its legs, slightly more poise. This battle seemed to confirm the pecking order. At this stage, Hawthorn and Sydney are hard to split.