MELBOURNE, Australia -- Hawthorn has all but ended Essendon's faint hope of playing finals with a thrilling four-point win over their old rival at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Saturday afternoon.
The Hawks looked to have the game won midway through the final term when they kicked out to a 21-point lead but a late Bombers surge saw them get within a goal, making for a tense final 13 seconds.
Brownlow Medal favourite Tom Mitchell again staked his claim for three votes with yet another 40+ possession game while swingman Jack Gunston booted an equal season-high five goals from 24 disposals.
Here's what we learned from the game...
Surely Tom Mitchell will win the 2018 Brownlow Medal
Max Gawn has had a monumental year in the ruck and Patrick Cripps has starred in a team that's almost certain to pick up the wooden spoon, but let's be honest; if Mitchell isn't the 2018 Brownlow Medallist then something is seriously wrong.
The Hawthorn ball-magnet put on a clinic against Essendon, racking up 43 possessions to become just the second player in history -- after Gary Ablett Jr -- to have four consecutive 40+ possession games. He has now crossed the 40-disposal mark on a staggering 11 occasions in 2018, eight more than he managed last year when he finished third in the Brownlow count with 25 votes.
Tom Mitchell makes it 11 40+ possession games in 2018 and four in succession. He has to win the Brownlow Medal.— Jake Michaels (@JMichaelsESPN) August 4, 2018
Rd 1: 54
Rd 2: 40
Rd 3: 42
Rd 6: 45
Rd 9: 46
Rd 13: 40
Rd 15: 50
Rd 17: 43
Rd 18: 46
Rd 19: 42
Rd 20: 43#AFL #AFLHawksDons
Mitchell had racked up 29 disposals and 10 clearances to halftime before slowing down in the second but was still the most damaging player on the ground. While his ball accumulation was impressive, it was his impact in other areas which caught the eye. He dominated in the metres gained department (569), sent the ball inside 50 on seven occasions, laid four tackles, had two direct score assists and ran 15.8km - the second most of any player on the ground.
His midfield mate Jaeger O'Meara wasn't too bad, either. The former Sun finished with 30 disposals, seven clearances and five tackles and has formed quite the partnership with Mitchell. Just quietly, by the end of 2019 these two could be the league's best midfield combination.
Horror start comes back to bite the Bombers
Beginning the season 2-6 was always going to come back to hurt Essendon and on Saturday afternoon they were made to pay full price with their four-point loss to Hawthorn all but ruling them out of September action.
The Bombers entered the game as one of the competition's form sides -- having won eight of their past 10 matches -- and a win over the Hawks would have seen them draw level on points with a number of top eight teams. However, John Worsfold's side leaked too many easy goals throughout the afternoon and despite a late flurry fell short in what was the second MCG thriller in as many days.
FT: Another epic finish at the MCG! Essendon will struggle to play finals in 2018 after going down to Hawthorn by four points. Jack Gunston starred for the Hawks with five goals while ball-magnet Tom Mitchell continued his supreme season with 43 disposals.
While there was plenty that didn't work for Essendon, the most telling issue was their inability to win the contested ball. Over the course of the match Hawthorn were +29 in that department, giving them first use on far too many occasions.
The Bombers' trademark run was also thwarted with Adam Saad and Conor McKenna unable to provide much bounce off halfback. When they were running in waves, poor disposal often let them down, allowing the Hawks time to close.
This season might be done and dusted but Essendon's record since Round 9 is still an impressive 9-3. With some key personnel back, don't be shocked to see them at the pointy end of the ladder in 2019.
Breust who? Gunston proves he's just as good
It's probably more of a reminder than a lesson. But in case you had forgotten, Jack Gunston is every bit the player Luke Breust is.
If Mitchell isn't getting the three votes then they have to be going to Gunston who proved a constant threat inside the Hawthorn forward line all afternoon. From his 24 possessions, Gunston kicked five goals -- which could have been more after he missed three -- and contributed a score assist. His marking and lead up work were also exceptional in what was his best game for the season.
If Hawthorn is going to have success in September then it's their forward line which needs to deliver. Jarryd Roughead isn't the player he once was and Paul Puopolo has a habit of going missing for large chunks of games. But the tandem act of Breust and Gunston is enough to give any defensive coach nightmares.
The pair have combined for 87 goals this season and on their day are both capable of winning a game off their own boot.