Steve Johnson and Jordan Lewis go head-to-head.

Steve Johnson and Jordan Lewis go head-to-head. Photo: Wayne Taylor

GEELONG 3.5 6.9 9.14 15.16 (106) HAWTHORN 3.2 5.9 8.12 12.15 (87)
GOALS Geelong: Hawkins 5, Johnson 3, Enright 2, Murdoch 2, Guthrie, McIntosh, Varcoe. Hawthorn: Gunston 3, Breust 3, McEvoy, Rioli, Hale, Smith, Hallahan, Duryea.
BEST Geelong: Hawkins, Taylor, Johnson, Bartel, McIntosh, Selwood, Duncan. Hawthorn: Birchall, Mitchell, Hill, Gunston, Hodge, Smith.
UMPIRES Ryan, Meredith, Chamberlain.
CROWD 80,222 at MCG.

The dance goes on, exquisitely as ever. The stakes were, as always, high. On the line was top spot, an unbeaten record, and beyond that, a sense of an extra premium between these clubs anyway, made manifest in what is colloquially and euphemistically called a bit of niggle, all played for the delectation of by far the biggest crowd of the season.

Square-shouldered, square-jawed Tom Hawkins settled this one with an unarguable three-goal, last-quarter wrench. By the end of the match, courtesy of a wardrobe malfunction, he was wearing guernsey No. 34, and somehow that was appropriate; by then, he must have looked like two players to Hawthorn, and especially poor Kyle Cheney, who was not so much mismatched as stood over.

Geelong's Steve Johnson. Click for more photos

Round 5 AFL: Geelong v Hawthorn

Geelong's Steve Johnson. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Time
FT
Team
GEE
Score
15.16.106
Team
HAW
Score
12.15.87
Geelong versus Hawthorn
View Match Statistics
Players Hawkins (5.3), Johnson (3.1), Murdoch (2.1), Enright (2.0), McIntosh (1.2), Guthrie (1.0), Varcoe (1.0), Burbury (0.2), Horlin-Smith (0.1), Mackie (0.1) Scorers Breust (3.2), Gunston (3.2), Hale (1.1), Rioli (1.1), Duryea (1.0), Hallahan (1.0), McEvoy (1.0), Smith (1.0), Roughead (0.2), Puopolo (0.1), Suckling (0.1)

It was the breaking point that - characteristically in these clashes - seemingly would never come until suddenly, it did. But victory to the Cats is the home-and-away status quo in this rivalry. Hawthorn saves its scarce triumphs for deep in September. In the end, they resolved nothing this day except the four points, the least bounty on offer. They never do; that's the beauty of this competition within a competition.

Informing and driving this match was the certainty that each has a lust for the fixture and occasion, and an intimate knowledge of the other's game. They should; they've probably spent as much time these last seven or eight years studying each other's game as their own. One play in the third quarter typified all. The perennial Stevie Johnson materialised from nowhere to intercept a handball and shovel the ball back to the super-perennial Corey Enright. This lifetime half-back would kick two goals this day, but now jabbed a kick out on the full. Johnson again intercepted the inbound Hawthorn kick, played on, made to shimmy around the generalissimo Luke Hodge in their umpteenth confrontation on a football ground, but had his kick smothered and the Hawks escaped, this time.

It was not an incidental passage of play. One aspect of this titanic clash was both a feature and an insight. Hawks and Cats move the ball on not just by kicks and handballs, but by taps, pushes, paddles, flicks and other intelligent deflections to teammates on their wavelengths. It means at very least that some players are betrayed by statistics. More to the point, it made this day for a less cluttered and congested contest than most this season. Some teams play for stoppages; Hawthorn and Geelong play for premierships.

Tom Hawkins starred against the Hawks.

Tom Hawkins starred against the Hawks. Photo: Getty Images

First and last, it was Hawthorn's precise kicking game against Geelong's run and gun, also the Cats' height advantage.

The Hawks' first three goals were obtained from passes that might have been measured off by a theodolite. But Hawkins' towering mark and goal was so ominous it rumbled, and the noise was like distant, but nearing thunder for the rest of the match.

Duly, Geelong silted up the space into which Hawthorn's forwards were leading, and the Hawks clogged up the space into which the Cats were running - Hawthorn full-forward Jack Gunston was regularly seen on the last line of defence - and the contrast between teams became less distinct. It was heart versus heart, will versus will, and in these they were also peers and equals.

Intuition rather than data said Geelong looked the likelier team, but it never could expand its lead much beyond two goals, and in the back of all minds was the way the Hawks were beaten by Essendon and somehow were not. Two more finely threaded passes, from Sam Mitchell to David Hale, Hale to Gunston at the start of the last quarter suddenly edged the Hawks in front.

Then an old football verity asserted itself. The fast men's legs jellied and slowed, but the big men did not grow shorter.

Cheney should be paid double time for the jobs he has undertaken this season in the continuing absence of key defenders Brian Lake and Ryan Schoenmakers: Jonathan Brown, Jake Carlisle and Matthew Pavlich to start with, and now Hawkins. Twice, Hawkins outbustled Cheney for marks and goals, then clamped another pack mark for a third. Jordan Murdoch, Johnson and Enright provided the embellishments, and magically, like a Johnson lookaway handpass, the margin was decisive.

The football world can cherish the certainty that like Easter and its chocolates, Geelong v Hawthorn will come again. August 23: book it now.