James Sicily was the match-winner as Hawthorn brought Western Bulldogs’ fast start to the season to a halt, edging the AFL upstarts by three points on Sunday afternoon.
In an absorbing contest of major momentum swings, Sicily’s three third-quarter goals proved the difference in a 14.9 (93) to 13.12 (90) win.
But the match’s decisive moment cost the Bulldogs a lot more than four premiership points as captain Bob Murphy suffered a likely ACL rupture.
In the last minute of the contest, Murphy was left exposed in a two-on-one contest won by Sicily.
While the young Hawk forward duly converted his set shot to win the game, Murphy needed to be helped from the ground.
Coach Luke Beveridge said he expected the “worst news” – a season-ending diagnosis to be confirmed.
“It’s quite shattering. But we know what sort of person he is. What sort of character he is. He’ll bounce back,” he said.
The contest itself was aptly described by Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson.
“Over the course of the game we played two really good quarters and the Western Bulldogs did (too),” he said.
“Our players are a resilient group and they just found a way.”
With Cyril Rioli in fine touch up forward, Hawthorn kicked the first five goals of the afternoon, keeping the Bulldogs to their first goalless quarter of 2016.
But Beveridge’s side roared back, kicking 10 of the next 12 goals to dominate the second and third terms.
Led by Caleb Daniel, Luke Dahlhaus and former Hawk Matt Suckling, the Dogs were roared on in front of a bumper crowd of 46,808 people.
Clarkson was scathing of the Hawks’ third quarter effort, when they lost the contested ball count by 31.
“We were dreadful,” he said.
“I’m not sure any side has ever gone down by that much in one quarter.”
With a message to hunt the ball, the Hawks returned in premiership-winning fettle.
In seven minutes, they’d erased a 19-point last-change deficit with goals to Ben McEvoy, Rioli and Sicily.
The Hawks looked winners when Sicily booted his second goal of the final term to put them ahead by 11 with just five minutes to play.
But the Dogs wouldn’t roll over, responding with goals to Dahlhaus and Jake Stringer to lead once more.
Sicily’s goal with 33 minutes gone was the sixth lead change of the dramatic day and the last, with the AFL premiers joining the Bulldogs with a 2-1 win-loss record after three rounds.
Isaac Smith, Shaun Burgoyne and Sam Mitchell were among Hawthorn’s best, with Ben Stratton also effectively carpeting Stringer.
The Hawks win continues a six-year winning streak against the Bulldogs and ends the Bulldogs’ 11-match winning run at Etihad Stadium.