AFL: Geelong Cats edge Hawthorn Hawks in Easter Monday stunner

Geelong have returned to the top of the AFL ladder, breaking clear of rivals Hawthorn and then holding on in an Easter Monday spectacular at the MCG.

The Cats had too much class for their undermanned opponents, growing their lead to three-quarter time before securing a 17.11 (113) to 13.12 (90) success.

In Gary Rohan (four majors), Gary Ablett (three) and Tom Hawkins (three), Geelong had too many routes to goal for Hawthorn.

Joel Selwood and Tim Kelly were superb around the contest, while Ablett provided the polish despite being booed all afternoon.

The Hawks made Geelong work for their win, attempting a come-from-the-clouds final term.

Consecutive goals from three of Hawthorn's best - Jaeger O'Meara, Ben McEvoy and a stunning Ricky Henderson check-side from the boundary - spooked the Cats and set up a grandstand finish for the 66,347 crowd.

Hawkins ended Hawthorn's hopes with a strong mark and finish in injury time, confirming the Cats' fourth win and supremacy on the ladder after five rounds.

"It was a nervous last quarter," coach Chris Scott admitted.

"They showed their resolve to keep coming ... especially given the personnel challenges they had.

"We hung in there."

With a bevy of senior players already on the injury list, Hawthorn were rocked by the late withdrawal of captain Ben Stratton, still battling concussion symptoms.

Alastair Clarkson's side enjoyed the better of the first term thanks to rejuvenated midfielder Henderson.

The ex-Crow had 13 touches as the Hawks jumped the Cats, highlighted by James Cousins' remarkable unintended volley goal.

Rohan then announced himself with two injury-time set shots to give Geelong a scarcely merited one-point quarter-time lead.

The second quarter was a feast of the sublime, beginning with Paul Puopolo's fine dribbled goal 20 seconds in.

Channelling his father, Ablett took a hanger in the goalsquare and kicked truly before firing a superb major from the sideline.

The Cats looked set to break clear but a second neat snap from Puopolo and a running effort from Isaac Smith had them within three goals at the main change.

The third quarter was an arm wrestle but the Cats, just as in the previous two terms, ran it out better, kicking the final two goals of the period.

Patrick Dangerfield's early goal grew Geelong's lead to 36 points before the Hawthorn repair-job took effect.

They drew within 16 points and had other chances to score before the Cats finally shut the door.

"Gallant in defeat unfortunately," Clarkson said, lamenting turnovers.

"We had a crack but the team with the most polish won on the day.

"Their really good players played better in important moments. They overwhelmed us in the end just with experience."