Hawthorn may be reigning premiers but Geelong remain the AFL’s benchmark.
That was the message from awestruck Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson, having watched his team suffer a 19-point defeat in the Easter Monday match at the MCG.
Tom Hawkins booted five goals as the Cats won 15.16 (106) to 12.15 (87), leaving them atop the ladder as the only remaining undefeated side after five rounds.
Clarkson described the loss in front of a crowd of 80,222 as a wake-up call for his charges, then proceeded to heap praise on rivals Geelong.
“I thought the scoreboard flattered us a little bit … we were doing well to somehow be in front in the last quarter,” Clarkson said of the topsy-turvy match.
“They overwhelmed us … outplayed us.
“(Pundits have been saying) Hawthorn are the standouts, everyone’s going to be chasing them.
“Well, there might be a few chasing the Cats now.”
Steve Johnson finished with three goals, 34 touches and six clearances to be Hawkins’ chief challenger for best afield honours.
Hawkins clutched a staggering seven contested marks and booted three final-quarter goals, outmuscling opponent Kyle Cheney with ease when the game was in the balance.
“It’s the thing we value more than any other, players that stand up when it really counts. In the crucial contests,” Cats coach Chris Scott said.
“The crucial moment of the game when the heat’s really on. To do it when it counts, in my view, that’s the mark of a great player.”
Hawkins finished the game with No.34 on his back after having two of his No.26 jerseys ripped by the opposition, revealing deep scratches on his chest after a scrap with Will Langford in the second quarter.
“We knew we were going to get a pretty fierce contest and we did,” Hawkins said.
“We think we’ve got a good hold on how they play but obviously you’ve got to go out there and stop them which is extremely hard to do.
“They’ve been in great form and they’re bloody hard to play against.”
Hawks midfielder Sam Mitchell, who finished with 26 disposals, was bloodied in one of many incidents in a heated encounter.
Clarkson stopped short of describing Geelong as premiership favourites but marvelled at their consistency under the Mark Thompson and Scott regimes.
“They’re a good football side and everyone keeps writing them off, I don’t know why,” he said.
“Certainly not at our club because we’ve lost 12 out of 13 (consecutive matches) against them.
“It’s all to do with their system … we’re trying to emulate them because they’ve been going like that for 12 or 13 years. They’re an outstanding club.”