The Box Hill Hawks have fallen to their third loss for the year, narrowly beaten by Essendon on a trying day at the Bombers’ Windy Hill – a venue that more than lived up to it’s name.

The loss puts the Hawks’ place atop the VFL ladder in jeopardy and leaves them needing to win one of their final two matches of the home and away season to guarantee a top two finish and home qualifying final.

The contest marked the returns of Hawthorn-listed stars Jaeger O’Meara and Paul Puopolo, and Chris Newman gave the pair an early opportunity to get reacquainted with the Sherrin, starting them in the centre square for the first bounce.

The Hawks would kick with the aid of a stiff breeze blowing to the Nicholson Street end of the ground in the first term, meaning it was important the visitors started well. They did.

After some early sparring and relentless Box Hill forward pressure Kade Stewart found himself in the perfect position to kick the first of the afternoon. The clever small quickly reacted to intercept and trap the ball, steering his shot through the big sticks off just two steps.

O’Meara marked his first outing since April with a trademark show of strength, balance and poise in heavy traffic to goal from close range as the brown and gold began to turn the screws.

Andrew Moore started brightly and was proving a handful for the hosts, worrying his less experienced opponents with his size to kick a pair of six-pointers following free kicks for prohibited contact.

It was the perfect start: Pittonet controlling the ruck, the Hawks’ mids carving the Bombers up at the source, exceptional pressure around the contest and four goals to show for ten minutes of outstanding football.

Whatever raids Essendon managed on the Box Hill defence were short lived, with captain David Mirra, the aggressive and impressive Kurt Heatherley and Max Warren teaming to repel the threat.

Moore found himself involved again mid-way through the term, playing a key role in the pick of the first quarter goals.

The Hawks’ mid punched a long kick down the wing for Sam Switkowski to chase. ‘Switta’ showed excellent anticipation and balance to control the bouncing ball, paddling it to himself before squaring it to Dallas Willsmore for one of the easiest goals of his career. It was clinical, explosive and effective in equal measure. 

When Max Warren took full advantage of a fifty metre penalty to kick his first goal since round two and Jaeger O’Meara added his second from a clumsy high tackle the Hawks had leapt to a seven goal lead.

Pittonet and Billy Murphy saw half chances sail wide to close the quarter as the Hawks continued to press, but the siren sounded to signal a 43-point lead at the first change.

If Box Hill had designs on a big win, the second term marked a quite astonishing reversal of fortunes for both sides.

Essendon used the wind to great affect, kicking their first six of the game in fifteen scintillating minutes.

They had their seventh after eighteen minutes and with twenty four minutes of the second term played their eighth gave them the lead.

The control and fervour that Box Hill played with in the first quarter had disappeared as exiting defensive fifty into the breeze and high Essendon zone proved a challenge.

Chris Newman reacted quickly to the onslaught, throwing an extra number into defence to stem the tide and assist his under siege rearguard, but it was the speed and unpredictability of the Bombers’ forays forward, coupled with the wind making it difficult to judge the flight of the ball, that made the hosts an irresistible attacking force.

A highlight of the first half was the effort of O’Meara, who racked up 24 touches – including seven tackles, five clearances and two goals – in a remarkable display off a long lay off.

The third term was to prove decisive. With the breeze at their backs Box Hill needed to strike a match-winning blow.

The Bombers started the better, though, kicking the first goal of the afternoon – and their ninth in a row – to the grandstand end of the ground.

Essendon played a careful, considered and possession-based game kicking into the wind, knowing that depriving the Hawks possession was just as good as kicking goals themselves.

This ensured a frustrating opening to the term for the Hawks, but they finally ended their goal drought via the boot of Oliver Hanrahan with seven minutes played.

One became two when Paul Puopolo capitalised on some chaos in the forward fifty, swooping on textbook front and square opportunity to kick his first of the day and tie the scores.

The two sides would trade goals for the next ten minutes, with strikes from McKernan and Hocking sandwiching a wonderful snap from Sam Switkowski to leave the match delicately poised.

Without the managed O’Meara, the injured duo of Warren and Lovell and kicking into the breeze in the last quarter, Box Hill needed to find goals in time on, knowing a three quarter time deficit would be a disaster.

Fortunately Willsmore split the middle from fifty and O’Meara, with virtually his last involvement of the day, kicked his third to give the visitors and nine-point lead at the last change.

The Hawks started the final quarter well, controlling possession and territory in search of the all-important opening goal. Knowing that deep inside fifty entries were needed, Box Hill peppered the goal mouth for the opening ten minutes.

Sam Switkowski saw a quick snap hit the post, Puopolo took to the skies and Kade Stewart watched as his beautiful left footed shot faded left to register a minor score.

The Bombers would absorb that pressure, leaping from defence to kick the first of the quarter and draw within a kick.

Heatherley and Mirra continued their excellent form, with both playing desperate and heroic hands to keep the fast-finishing Dons at bay.

The Hawks managed another extended stint deep in attack, but again failed to fashion the goal-scoring opportunities their efforts deserved.

Harry Morrison had a difficult set shot to give Box Hill some breathing room, but it sailed wide and the Bombers would instead tie things up on their next attack.

That set up a game of schoolyard footy as the clock ticked into time on, with the bell imminent and ’next goal wins’ rules in place.

In the end the Bombers would find the goal they needed with twenty seven minutes played, their three final quarter goals to Box Hill’s three behinds giving them a six-point lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

It would be heartbreak for the brown and gold, who started so strongly and fought so hard but ultimately left empty handed.

Box Hill 7.2 7.4 12.8 12.11 (83)

Essendon  0.1 8.4 11.5 14.5 (89)

DISPOSALS: Mirra 30, O’Meara 29, Moore 29, J Walker 22, Willsmore 19

GOALS: O’Meara 3, Moore 2, Willsmore 2, Warren, Hanrahan, Puopolo, Stewart, Switkowski

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