Geelong saw off the brave challenge of a winless Adelaide side at Adelaide Oval on Sunday, pulling away at the end through goals from Mitch Duncan and Coleman Medal leader Tom Hawkins to run out 28-point winners.
In the 9.11 (65) to 5.7 (37) win, the Cats’ fourth victory in a row, Hawkins kicked three goals while Duncan and Rhys Stanley added two apiece, while Cam Guthrie (33 possessions, five tackles and seven clearances) and Patrick Dangerfield (27 possessions and five clearances) were essential elements around the packs and contests.
In the end, it was the Cats’ premiership-contending class which proved to be the difference.
“Full credit to the way Adelaide came out and played,” said Geelong coach Chris Scott, when asked if the Crows’ lockdown approach was working.
“They were really good around the ball. Their plan was dependent upon some fierce work against us, and they certainly brought that."
“To get the game back on our terms, we had to reverse the congestion around the ball. Those things usually suit us, but when the opposition is doing that, we have to look at what we can do differently,” added Scott.
Adelaide started positively in the first five minutes by matching Geelong at its own usual game: strong in contests and opportunistic in their inside-50’s, and kicked the first goal when Tyson Stengle got around a one-on-one to dribble through the big posts. However, Geelong adapted their game to kick and run with patience and purpose, and the tall timber of Hawkins, Mark Bliclavs and Stanley each kicked goals to give the Cats an eleven-point quarter-time advantage.
Inside-50’s and contested possessions were statistically even at the first break, but if that showed improvement from an Adelaide side looking to manage its first win of the season, that was a bit deceptive as Geelong controlled the overall number and efficiency of disposals, thereby giving the Cats chances to make best use of their goalkicking opportunities.
If the Crows were to get back into the game in the second term, then they needed their veterans to step up, and Rory Sloane did exactly that three minutes in, converting from just outside 50 after receiving a free kick.
But out of that five-point difference which gave the Crows ounces of belief combined with their greater commitment to contested footy, Stanley kicked his second from a metre out at the end of Luke Dahlhaus’ long kick inside 50.
However, Adelaide dared to take the game on, and even if Tex Walker – in his 200th game of AFL footy – had to roll back into his own half to get possessions to set his teammates up, he succeeded in that when Harry Schoenberg straightened up to take the Crows to within a seven-point margin at halftime.
At the break, Scott’s instructions centred around the Cats going into the third term with the intention to dissolve the Crows’ attempts to freeze the game around the stoppages.
“They weren’t lucky to be in the game, but they denied us the chance to move the ball with any freedom,” said Scott in his post-match analysis.
“We were a bit frustrated and a bit packed around the ball. So we had to correct that and be a bit smarter in our play, in using numbers around the ball and in stoppages, and I do think we rectified that a bit,” added Dangerfield.
Come the third quarter, the Crows kept up the pressure, both in contested possession and on the scoreboard, and narrowed the margin to two points when Shane MacAdam sped past three Geelong defenders to dribble his kick truly.
If the Cats were a bit nervous as to how close the game got, Gary Rohan brought some form of sanity back to the forefront, kicking with accuracy on the run from Brad Close’s centering pass to extend the Cats’ lead to eight points.
Then Hawkins, one-out to mark on the lead from Brandon Parfitt’s long kick with a minute to play, won a free kick and converted truly from 35 out for his second goal of the match to take the Cats’ lead to 15 points.
But Geelong’s hopes to take a comfortable double-digit lead to the three-quarter-time break were thwarted when David Mackay got in the way of an attempted Jack Henry clearance from inside his own 50, and kicked a goal from the resulting set shot after the siren to cut the Cats’ lead to nine points.
The first goal of the final term would be so very important – and with Geelong’s commitment to one-on-one contested footy, especially with any Adelaide entries inside 50, they made sure that goal wouldn’t go to the Crows.
Hawkins then gave the Cats a deserved reward for that defensive effort by converting his third goal of the match with just over five minutes to play to give Geelong some much-needed breathing space. Marking strongly from a long run and kick by Mitch Duncan, Hawkins split the tall posts with a predatory perfection to extend the lead to 16 points.
Duncan, having enjoyed a strong game with 22 disposals of his own up and down both ends of the ground, then kicked the last two goals of the match as the Cats ran out 28-point winners – a result that wound up being more hard-fought and richly-earned than that.
“In the last quarter, when the game was there to be won, Guthrie and Dangerfield around the ball in particular and Duncan ahead of the ball stood up a bit for us,” said Scott.
“When those guys were getting going, and gave us a bit of ascendancy, they were absolutely critical around the stoppages,” added Scott, whose Cats take on the Western Bulldogs on Friday night.