Essendon's Ben Howett tackles Hawthorn's Lance Franklin.

Essendon's Ben Howett tackles Hawthorn's Lance Franklin. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

HAWTHORN 6.1 10.6 16.10 22.11 (143) ESSENDON 4.3 5.4 9.6 13.9 (87)
GOALS Hawthorn: Franklin 8, Roughead 4, Gunston 2, Lewis 2, Breust 2, Puopolo 2, Rioli, Hale. Essendon: Hurley 3, Bellchambers 2, Goddard, Stanton, Dell’Olio, Myers, Jetta, Kommer, Ryder, Colyer.
BEST Hawthorn: Franklin, Mitchell, Roughead, Hodge, Puopolo, Gibson, Sewell, Lewis Essendon: Heppell, Bellchambers, Melksham, Hurley
UMPIRES Mollison, Nicholls, McInerney.
CROWD 49,505, at Etihad Stadium.

Hawthorn and Essendon don't like each other much, a legacy of the brutal battles in the 1980s and the odd brawl since. But on recent showings, the Hawks do like playing Essendon.

And Lance Franklin has a particular fondness for playing the red and blacks, having twice booted nine goals against them and averaging exactly five goals a game versus the Dons (fifty in ten games).

Essendon's Michael Hibberd makes a grab for Hawthorn's Brian Lake.

Essendon's Michael Hibberd makes a grab for Hawthorn's Brian Lake. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

Buddy surpassed his standard for Essendon games, with eight goals and recaptured some of the audacity that has been absent from his game lately. To say that he was well supported by fellow forward Jarryd Roughead would be inaccurate, since Roughead is no second banana these days; Roughie's back in front of Josh Kennedy in the Coleman Medal (54 goals) contest.

This game pitted first against second on the ladder, but the outcome revealed the reality that Essendon is actually a developing team some lengths behind the more seasoned and skilful Hawks. In the corresponding game last year, the hamstrung Bombers were dismembered by 94 points. They have improved dramatically and become a top six side, but they certainly didn't look like a team capable of troubling the Hawks in September, as Geelong and Sydney might. Regaining Jobe Watson, as James Hird hoped they would, for next weekend's game against Collingwood would obviously help close that gap.

That the Dons have been comprehensively beaten by Hawthorn, the Cats and Sydney this year arguably is a truer measure of their standing than the ladder.

Hawthorn's Cyril Rioli leaves Patrick Ryder floundering. Click for more photos

AFL Round 18: Essendon v Hawthorn

Hawthorn's Cyril Rioli leaves Patrick Ryder floundering. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

If Franklin's deadly eight was the headline act, Buddy should donate some of whatever he earns to his teammates, especially to Sam Mitchell, whose delivery – not just to Franklin – made him close behind Buddy in terms of value on the night.

Mitchell, renowed as a great extractor from stoppages, has been playing a different game this year, in that he's played outside the scrimmages where he has thrived for a decade.

His first 24 disposals included just two contested balls, yet he inflicted severe damage on the Dons.

Luke Hodge overcame some shoddy early disposals – and a defensive mismatch – to be among the better players.

But the Hawthorn effort was collective and not simply based upon the talents of four or five superstars. Paul Puopolo surely has seldom produced more, his 23 disposals – 11 of them contested – complementing the toil of Josh Gibson, Brad Sewell, Brent Guerra and others.

The majority Essendon crowd didn't fall silent, despite the one-sided score and, in Roughead, they even found someone to jeer. He had been involved in a decent clash with Jake Melksham, the former pugilist, and the Dons crowd hooted him as if he was Andrew Demetriou.

The Hawks took control of the contest from the middle of the opening quarter with their precision kicking game and superior forward firepower. While their ascendancy was gradual, it was also clearcut and by half-time the margin had climbed to 32.

This season five-goal deficits have been wiped off regularly, and the Bombers have managed this twice, but one did not fancy their prospects against the flag favourites.

The starkest difference between the sides was in the Hawks' ability to keep possession. In the opening half, they had 50 more uncontested balls than the Dons, a reflection of their superior composure and skill. The Dons were far from poor – they played at the level of a finals team for much of the game. It was just that the Hawks were a notch above.

The opening quarter, played at both high intensity and speed, saw the Bombers build an initial break of 13 points, at four goals to two, capitalising on rapid ball movement, excellent ball use and a mismatch in which the giant Tom Bellchambers was matched against Hodge.

Essendon clearly sought to stretch the smallish Hawthorn defence, by deploying Bellchambers alongside Joey Daniher and Michael Hurley, who switched between attack and defence at different stages. Hurley would finish with 3.3 and was energetic. Dyson Heppell and Bellchambers were among the few Dons able to reverse the one-way traffic of this match while Jake Melksham fought hard — literally so in view of his report.

Bellchambers converted an early goal after marking one-out against the Hawthorn skipper, who was soon replaced by the taller Brian Lake. The Dons were most dangerous when rebounding and breaking into a more open attack as the Hawks pressed.

But Hawthorn was winning more of the ball, both in the contests and on the spread and gradually asserted control, as Mitchell, a revived Sewell and Jordan Lewis got busy, while Roughead and, particularly, Franklin imposed themselves in dramatic fashion.

Franklin, who has performed better against Essendon than virtually any other club, was again invigorated by the sight of red and black jumpers, booting three goals for the first quarter. Buddy was matched with Essendon's emerging gun defender Jake Carlisle and was smart enough to turn their contest into one of mobility. Carlisle, an aerial specialist, could not contain Buddy on the lead or the ground – though anyone would have struggled against some of the delivery.

Cale Hooker is among the game's most improved players this season, excelling in intercepting opposition kicks. But in Roughead he faced a more formidable opponent than usual.

Hooker's situation encapsulated his team's. It was a steep step up in class.

SEWELL ON SONG

Brad Sewell being dropped three weeks ago perhaps was the wakeup call he required in the run to the finals. The hard-nosed midfielder was firmly on his game against the Bombers. His tenacity and grunt in the clinches – and ability to find the ball – is what has had him reinstated over the past fortnight. He had 14 disposals in the first half when the Hawks were full of spice.

VETERANS SPREAD WINGS

The Hawks midfield has been labelled as "ageing" since their second loss this season to Geelong and Sewell was the one that copped the brunt of it. It appeared Alastair Clarkson may have opted to experiment with youth in the midfield with Jed Anderson waiting in the wings for a recall – but he stuck true with their veterans. Sewell, Jordan Lewis, Sam Mitchell and Luke Hodge showed their ability on a fast track while Brad Hill and Cyril Rioli injected energy when required, and the more seasoned bodies appear likely to lead the group again for another flag tilt.

HOT SECOND QUARTER

It was the second quarter where everything clicked for the Hawks. Lance Franklin danced around two opponents to snap a goal over his shoulder that many players would kick out on the full. Rioli accelerated through the midfield, responding to an Essendon goal in a matter of seconds and Hodge used his skills to pinpoint the passes that stuck. Hawthorn kicked 4.5 to 1.1 and the 32-point deficit at the main break could have been worse. - BRENT DIAMOND