Hawks swoop as Dons fade away to black yet again

Maybe it’s time for Essendon to put their skates on. Ice hockey could be their go. Certainly at the moment the Bombers aren’t equipped for a sport with four periods.

If they only had to count the first, second and fourth quarters of games, the Dons would be a pretty handy side. But whatever happens when they head down the race at half-time, it’s not working. Essendon have played seven third quarters this year and lost all of them by a total of 136 points.

The latest chapter in the red and black disappearing act came on Saturday at the MCG as the Dons allowed a seven-point half-time lead to turn into a 31-point three-quarter time deficit against Hawthorn.

Tom Bellchambers (left) battled hard in the ruck.

By game’s end it was a 23-point defeat, Essendon’s third on the trot and fifth in seven games in 2018. The Bombers say their aim this year was to improve, but just how that would translate to wins and losses was hard to know. Well as it stands, the Dons are treading water, going nowhere.

After two shockers against Collingwood and Melbourne, there had been signs the tide was turning as the Dons found themselves in a first half arm-wrestle, with the Hawks hardly setting the world on fire in the early stages. Tom Bellchambers had been their main man, taking six contested marks to the long break to outplay Ben McEvoy. No player had taken more than five in a game across the first six rounds.

But true to form, Essendon faltered when the game was there to be won. Hawthorn, as has so often been the case under Alastair Clarkson, needed no second invitation to swoop.

Tom Mitchell and Jaeger O’Meara lifted their game at the stoppages. The Hawks’ spare man in defence James Sicily, back from suspension, had already enjoyed a busy game but upped his output in the third term, winning 10 disposals as well as sinking a goal courtesy of a 50 metre penalty against Joe Daniher. With classic Sicily cheek he offered the hopelessly out-of-form Bomber a low five to thank him for the freebie. Isaac Smith’s run was again telling, while Luke Breust and Jarryd Roughead also rose to the occasion. Ben Stratton blanketed Jake Stringer. It can be easy to overlook in the aftermath of the Jordan Lewis, Sam Mitchell and Luke Hodge departures, but the Hawks still have a hell of a lot of their premiership stars running around.

Essendon’s backline again looked disorganised and panicked. Adam Saad, one of the league’s fastest players, was caught holding the ball by Brendan Whitecross – a fringe player whose knees have twice been reconstructed. It was ugly.

The Bombers had the better of the first term, kicking four goals in a row after O’Meara slotted the afternoon’s first major. While their execution was far from brilliant, at least the Dons were attacking with more zip than they had shown on their last visit to the venue on Anzac Day. Andrew McGrath had 12 disposals to quarter time. Tellingly they were all handballs, suggesting the chip heavy style had been put behind the Bombers. The pick of those first four Essendon goals was a running effort from Patrick Ambrose who kicked truly from beyond 50 metres. At that moment it appeared the Dons were generating some momentum, but Smith dribbled one through amid congestion on the stroke of quarter time to take the wind out of the red and black sails.

The Hawks then scrounged three in a row in the first half of the second term, hitting the lead as Essendon reverted back to their old ways. At one stage Zach Merrett – well held across the afternoon by late inclusion James Cousins – was in the clear on the wing, but with no one to kick to he handballed to Mark Baguley who slipped over, and what should have been a scoring opportunity amounted to nothing. Second-gamer Kobe Mutch soccered home to put Essendon back in front, but Jayden Laverde shanked a very gettable set shot, and a high tackle from Jarman Impey in his back pocket was missed by the umpires, meaning the Bombers took only a slender lead to the rooms.

HAWTHORN 2.4 4.4 10.7 13.12 (90)
ESSENDON 4.2 5.5 5.6 10.7 (67)
Goals: Hawthorn: J Roughead 3 I Smith 2 B Whitecross J Gunston J Impey J O’Meara J Sicily L Breust L Shiels T Mitchell. Essendon: A McDonald-Tipungwuti C Hooker D Heppell D Parish J Daniher J Stewart K Mutch M Baguley P Ambrose T Bellchambers
Umpires: Jeff Dalgleish, Jacob Mollison, Brent Wallace
Official Crowd: 53,018 at MCG.

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