You couldn’t help but feel a sense of Déjà vu.
Despite holding a commanding 22-point lead halfway through the third term, Box Hill had surrendered its advantage – trailing the Northern Blues by seven points at the final break.
It was hard-pressed for minds not to be cast back to the Hawks run of three consecutive defeats, or its five overall this season by under 15 points.
Once again, the reigning premiers were staring down the barrel of defeat. And this time, all hope of a finals berth would officially perish with it.
But this situation was different.
“The messaging was calm,” Coach Max Bailey said post-match.
“We knew we had the breeze, and everyone knew what they had to do – we had done a lot of preparation for this situation.”
The Hawks responded by inflicting a barrage of attacking thrusts at the Blues, locking the ball in its forward 50 to finish with a flurry of 23-6 inside 50s.
When the whips were cracking, Box Hill’s match-winners stood tall.
In the end, three goals to Mat Walker and two to Jackson Ross sealed a vital 17-point victory, keeping the Hawks premiership-defence alive.
The day began in sunny conditions, with a swirling breeze favouring the Whitehorse Road end. It was evidently clear that whichever team could take its advantage would go a long way to securing the must-win clash.
It took only two minutes of play for Northern Blues big man Tom De Koning to take a strong grab inside 50 and hit the scoreboard. Box Hill responded swiftly as speedster Mack Doreian pounced and snapped truly against the breeze– to the delight of his swamping teammates.
The rest of the term saw the Northern Blues fail to convert a bout of attacking assaults, with experienced Hawk pillars David Mirra and Kaiden Brand continuing to deny the visitors on the last line of defence.
The second term belonged to the Hawks.
Forward Nathan Mullenger-McHugh rose above his defender to take a defining grab and made no mistake with the set shot directly in front to kickstart the home side.
Sharpshooter Jackson Ross streamed forward, gathered a clearing kick from Dave Mirra, and launched a classy running goal from 50m for one of the plays of the day.
Nathan Boucher’s dribbling attempt bounced over two vying opponents on the goal line, sealing back-to-back goals.
Enter Mat Walker.
Amidst a purple patch of form, booting nine goals from his previous two games, the livewire forward once again took the contest by the scruff of its neck.
The young gun worked hard to snap a classy goal, then followed up with a long-range attempt from beyond the arc, bending back his set-shot with the wind to perfection.
It handed the Blues a body blow on the half time siren. Walker’s heroics ensured the home side capitalised on its run of play for the term to charge to an 18-point lead.
But the Northern Blues had just as much on the line. As the sky darkened, and the City Oval lights switched on, so too did the visitors fight back.
Dangerous Northern Blues playmakers Fisher and Palmer lifted the visitors, snapping almost identical majors from the pocket to reduce the margin to nine points.
Blues big man Andrew Phillips took a strong grab and goaled to continue the momentum, while Cameron Polson snapped truly to make it three goals from the fruitful Middleborough Road pocket.
When Alex Fasolo joined the party at the 27thminute mark, the Blues had slammed home five consecutive goals within a blink of an eye – taking the lead for the final break.
Box Hill began the final term by slowly but surely clawing back the lead with behinds.
And with the stage set, the Hawks next generation of budding young stars took the mantle.
Hardworking small forward Vincent Adduci finally got reward for his desperate efforts, throwing the ball on his boot and watching it sail through the goals for the all-important first major.
Midfielder Lachie Walker then found himself with the ball beyond the arc. After searching for several leading options, the in-form youngster took on the responsibility. He calmly went back and launched the powerful set-shot through the goals – turning to the crowd to let out a full-throated ‘come on’ as his teammates piled on jubilation.
The Hawks had signalled their intentions. There was no way they were going to let this one slip.
Mat Walker slotted his third goal, a snap under pressure, to seal the victory.
Midfielder James Cousins led all comers on the ground to amass 31 disposals and five marks to win the Silvertop Taxi’s Player of the match for the Hawks.
Veteran David Mirra was yet again the general in defence for the Hawks, denying countless opposition attacks and setting up the play from defence to finish with 24 disposals and 11 marks.
Midfielders Luke Meadows (25 disposals, eight marks) and Andrew Moore (20 disposals, nine tackles) toiled hard for four-quarters to conquer the midfield battle.
Defender Jack Scrimshaw continued his solid form in his third game back from injury, to gather a controlled 27 disposals and seven marks off the half-back line.
“The players are more so taking it upon themselves,” Bailey said post-match.
“There is no more stuffing around; it’s not so much a learning environment now but a performance environment.”
“But it hasn’t been driven by us (the coaching group). It’s been driven by the players and the leaders. Particularly the older guys; Mirra, Roughy when he was with us, Miles, Moore and Maccitti.
“That’s a good thing.
“We want to be pretty consistent as coaches, but the players are now stepping up.”
Box Hill sit in ninth position on the VFL ladder with an 8-8-1 record, two points below the eighth-placed Casey Demons who now conclude their season with a bye.
The Hawks will face off against Collingwood at home next Saturday, in a final-round must win-clash to secure its place in the 2019 VFL Finals series.
BOX HILL HAWKS 1.2 6.9 7.13 10.22 (82)
NORTHERN BLUES 2.5 3.9 8.14 8.17 (65)
Box Hill Hawks: Walker 3, Ross 2, Boucher 1, Mullenger-McHugh, Adduci, Doreian, Walker
Northern Blues: Polson 2, De Koning 1, Fasolo, Owies, Palmer, Phillips, Fisher
Box Hill Hawks: Cousins 31, Scrimshaw 27, Kilpatrick 26, Meadows 25
Northern Blues: Fisher 30, Quirk 25, Schumacher 25, Goddard 24