It took a second-half revolution for premiership fancies Hawthorn to finally shut down a valiant Gold Coast, winning by 17 points at the MCG on Sunday afternoon.
At one stage leading by 17 points at the eight-minute mark of the third quarter, Gold Coast were poised to pull off one of the upsets in the history of modern football, playing all over a spiritless Hawks side.
Yet Hawthorn eventually showed their class, lead by Shaun Burgoyne who finished with 22 possessions and four tackles, but more importantly three crucial third-quarter goals to swing the momentum in the Hawks’ favour.
Jonathan Simpkin, Jordan Lewis and Sam Mitchell were prolific for the hosts, while Max Bailey’s dominance in the ruck helped the Hawks claim a decisive 21-8 advantage in centre clearances and 69-42 edge in inside 50s.
Yet the story of the day had to belong to the much-improved Suns team, boasting an ominous injury list headed by Zac Smith, Harley Bennell, Karmichael Hunt and Charlie Dixon.
It was a six-goal-to-three second term that sent visible shudders through the Hawks’ camp and supporters. Small forward Aaron Hall was superb, ending the day with a career-best five goals, in a day that was full of positives for the rapidly improving Suns.
Champion midfielder Gary Ablett kicked three goals – all in the first half – and finished with 37 disposals in a vintage performance, while Dion Prestia also found plenty of the football, gathering 33 touches and kicking one goal.
Rising star favourite Jaeger O’Meara typified his team’s strong workrate, laying a game-high seven tackles.
Perhaps the biggest positive was the performance of young defender Rory Thompson, who opposed Hawthorn star Lance Franklin all day.
The scoreboard will read five goals for Franklin, yet those witness to Thompson’s performance will pay testament to the truth: five majors flattered Franklin.
Small lapses, cheap goals and weight of delivery (Franklin finished with 21 possessions) in the end told the story of Hawthorn’s day. They won all the key statistics, yet were seemingly unable to completely shake the defiant Suns right up until the final siren.
Gold Coast coach Guy McKenna was pleased with his team’s performance. ‘We spoke to the boys about this being a great examination throughout the course of the week, playing against Hawthorn, a 7-1 side’, he said. ‘We thought we’d made some progression over the course of the season so far. [We wanted] to test ourselves and we wanted to test Hawthorn, and I thought for the majority of the game we did that.’ The Suns are now 4-5 after nine rounds, and face Geelong in Geelong next Saturday night.
HAWTHORN 4.5 7.6 13.8 18.10. (118)
GOLD COAST 3.3 9.5 10.6 14.8. (92)
GOALS: Hall 5, Ablett 3, Lynch, Prestia, Brown, Matera, Broughton, Swallow
BEST: Ablett, Thompson, Prestia, Hall, Matera