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Match report: R23  August 25, 2017 11:21 PM

R23: Poppy goes skyward Paul Puopolo climbed and juggled to get this mark.

HAWTHORN has sent retiring champion Luke Hodge out on a winning note, ending the Western Bulldogs season and Robert Murphy's career with a nine-point win at Etihad Stadium on Friday night.

In an emotional night that also saw heart-and-soul Bulldog Matthew Boyd retire, the 2017 premiers were unable to fire one last shot in a disappointing season as the Hawks held on to win 15.9 (99) to 13.12 (90).   

With little on the line the match became a celebration of three great careers, and Hodge, Murphy and Boyd were carried from the stadium side by side through a guard of honour as tears flowed.

But when the emotion washes over, the Bulldogs will be left asking how their premiership defence went so wrong as they become the first team since the Hawks in 2009 to miss the finals the year after their flag.

Their shortcomings in 2017 were encapsulated on Friday night, with the Hawks winning the tackle count 73-46 and playing with more purpose, despite the Bulldogs being the only team with finals on the line.

Hawthorn captain Jarryd Roughead was the star, booting five goals, while Tom Mitchell finished his record-breaking season with 32 possessions in a dominant midfield that won the clearances 46-23.

While they celebrated the past, the future was also on show for the Hawks as Jaeger O'Meara produced a performance the club will hope can be a springboard into a healthy and productive 2018.

He finished with 25 possessions and five clearances in his 50th game, laying a massive 11 tackles and playing in his first win since round 19, 2014.

The other positive for the victors was the form of youngster Harry Morrison, who racked up 21 possessions in an impressive debut.

For Hawthorn the night was all about Hodge, however, and he proved he was finishing with fuel in the tank, playing his customary general role at half-back, barking instructions to the end and putting himself where he was needed most.

As the Bulldogs surged in the final minutes he interjected with a crucial spoil, and was able to finish the match with the crowd of 48,090 chanting his name.

With little on the line, it was a free-wheeling contest that lacked intensity for the first quarter as both teams feasted on uncontested possessions and left spare players behind the ball. 

Despite the slim possibility they could qualify for finals with a win, the Bulldogs were not lifting for the occasion and laid just 10 tackles in the opening term as the Hawks built a seven-point lead.

Coach Luke Beveridge appeared to be in experiment mode, lining up for centre bounces without wingmen and starting two loose players in defence.

A jumper punch from Blake Hardwick on Bulldogs star Marcus Bontempelli set off a scuffle halfway through the second term, breathing some life into the clash, but it wasn't enough to sustain the disappointing Dogs.

Boyd was the best of the retiring class, finishing with 33 possessions, 12 marks and a goal in his last game.

The Bulldogs were also well served by Jack Macrae (33 and six inside 50s) and Liam Picken (three goals), with Toby McLean (26 and six tackles) also working hard all night. 

But, like their season, they just couldn't get their game going for sustained periods and never looked convincing, finishing the season with more questions than answers. 

HAWTHORN                    5.3   9.5   12.6   15.9   (99)          
WESTERN BULLDOGS     4.2   7.4   10.7   13.12   (90)                   

Hawthorn: Roughead 5, Smith 3, Puopolo 3, Burgoyne, Sicily, Schoenmakers, O'Brien
Western Bulldogs: Picken 3, Hunter 2, Dale 2, Campbell, Murphy, Boyd, Dahlhaus, Liberatore, McLean 

Hawthorn: Roughead, McEvoy, Sicily, Smith, Puopolo, Mitchell, O'Meara
Western Bulldogs: Macrae, McLean, Boyd, Picken, Bontempelli, Hunter 

Hawthorn: Nil
Western Bulldogs: Nil 

Reports: Nil

Umpires: Fisher, Dalgleish, Stevic

Official crowd: 48,090 at Etihad Stadium