Puopolo shines in Hawks’ AFL escape

Paul Puopolo has played the game of his life and led Hawthorn to another AFL great escape.

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Puopolo was best afield with five goals, including three in the last quarter, as the Hawks stole a three-point win over Adelaide in a Friday night special.

The 17.10 (112) to 17.7 (109) win is their third three-point win in as many weeks.

Puopolo is an underrated player who has never had a Brownlow Medal vote – that definitely changed on Friday night.

The Hawks were 15 points down with seven minutes left and Adelaide looked to have done enough.

But Puopolo soccered through a goal, Cyril Rioli snapped truly and then a speculative Sam Mitchell kick went inside 50m.

It ended up with Puopolo, who won a free kick for in the back, and he kicked truly to put the Hawks in front.

Adelaide won the centre bounce with 18 seconds left, but the Crows could not take a mark in the frenetic last few seconds.

Puopolo had 23 disposals – 17 of them contested – and six tackles.

Adelaide captain Taylor Walker took an outstanding mark at 26 minutes against two opponents, but he crucially hit the post.

While the Crows will rue a lost opportunity, they lost no friends with a strong performance against the league’s benchmark team.

Adelaide’s defence in particular was outstanding.

First, the Crows opened up Hawthorn out the back and then nearly strangled them in the second half.

It quickly became apparent this would be no repeat of the last time they met, when the Hawks smashed Adelaide by 74 points in a semi-final.

Eddie Betts, whose struggles against Hawthorn were well-documented this week, kicked the opening goal in the first minute and had three for the quarter as the Crows broke the game open.

They led by 24 points during the opening quarter, achieving the rare feat of opening up Hawthorn’s defence.

The Hawks predictably hit back and there were seven changes in the first half, with 10 goals apiece.

First Hawthorn and then Adelaide had the lead in the third term as the scoring dried up and team defence dominated.

Before the game, the Hawks confirmed that coach Alastair Clarkson had signed a three-year contract extension earlier in the day.

Clarkson said post-match that Adelaide were “pretty stiff” to lose, but added the Crows are thereabouts.

He said Hawthorn’s consistent ability to win close matches came down to composure, experience and having flexibility in how they set up.

“Gee whiz – it’s hard work to come from behind,” he said.

“They (Adelaide) played a great brand of footy (and) it wasn’t anything that we didn’t expect.

“Somehow we just found a way via some special plays at really, really critical times.”

Crows coach Don Pyke said it was disappointing to lose, but there were also plenty of positives.

“We’re really proud of our guys tonight – we came here with a clear intent … there’s a fine line between pleasure and pain,” he said.