Geelong – propelled by an all-over team effort in converting contested footy into goals – broke open a close game at halftime to run out 40-point winners over Brisbane in the teams’ preliminary final at the Gabba on Saturday night.
The 11.16 (82) to 6.6 (42) win marked the first time since 2011 that the Cats will play in a grand final, and set up a mouth-watering matchup against Richmond in the process.
Some may point to Gary Ablett awakening the echoes of his long career with a pair of key third-term goals, others may view Tom Hawkins’ all-around play as a one-on-one forward and a ruck option as a key difference, or even Gary Rohan’s two late goals or perhaps the ball-winning efforts of Mitch Duncan and Sam Menegola as contributing factors in winning the match.
In essence, it wasn’t any single element that won the match for Geelong, but all of it, according to Geelong coach Chris Scott and his players, in breaking open a five-point advantages at each of the first two breaks and an 18-point gap at three-quarter time to give the impression that they were eventual decisive winners.
“It was a pretty even performance by us. Every year is a new year, with regard to preliminary finals, and it’s getting harder and harder in this competition because of the quality of the other teams,” Scott said afterwards.
“To work so hard this year and to give ourselves a chance to taste the ultimate success is a credit to our whole club in the way that we have approached it,” he added.
“So proud of the boys’ effort tonight. We had a really good team performance, and I keep saying that we believe in our brand of football, putting in four quarters of effort, and we really did that tonight,” said Ablett.
The match opened up very tightly, to give the impression it would be a close and low-scoring affair over four quarters.
After Charlie Cameron and Brandan Parfitt exchanged early goals for the Lions and Cats respectively, Geelong’s star power gave them an early ascendancy. Ablett’s strength against a tackle gave way to Patrick Dangerfield running along the boundary and finding Hawkins on the lead to convert easily from a set shot.
Cameron kicked his second for the quarter in the term’s final minute after pinging Geelong defender Jack Henry in a spinning tackle, as the Lions stayed within five points at the first change.
As the second term began, the Cats extended their lead to 17 points through goals to Hawkins and Rohan before Eric Hipwood played on to advantage to kick a goal that kept Brisbane in touch.
Inaccuracy was costing the Cats from grabbing a bigger lead throughout the quarter as the Lions grew in confidence from the stoppages and contests, as well as denying the Cats space to attack. And when the commitment to one-percenters paid dividends with Lachie Neale pounding home a long-range goal late in the quarter, Brisbane went to into the main break just five points down after Zac Bailey could not convert his free kick after the siren.
The free kick to Bailey, given when Cam Guthrie was caught for committing a high tackle, may have been a let-off for the Cats when Bailey missed – but in the bigger picture, the five-point halftime deficit was a sense of relief for a Lions team whose match profile was rising. Geelong had been leading in virtually all the key statistical categories, but their conversion rate inside 50 was letting them down as well as the free kick count (10-2 by halftime).
“We were playing well early on, had control of the game, but didn’t get the scoreboard rewards that maybe we could have with some better execution. It was nice to see that the later the game went on, we got a bit more reward and a bit more comfort,” said Scott.
That feeling of comfort came practically straightaway when Henry popped forward to kick his first goal of the season to give the Cats some breathing space as the third quarter started, and the lead got bigger when Ablett dribbled home from close range. Those goals turned out to be quite handy when Cam Rayner converted from a set shot from Neale’s centering chip to bring the margin back to ten points.
However, Ablett – on the ensuing centre clearance – rolled back the years, as well as returning the Cats’ lead to 16 points, running out of the middle to bomb his kick home from outside 50 for his second goal of the quarter.
Aside from Ablett’s brace for the quarter, Geelong turned the trend of contested footy back to their advantage to keep Brisbane away from threatening any scoreboard pressure, as the Cats took an 18-point lead into the final term.
“Our message was, ‘All the things that we’re trying to do, on balance, we don’t need to change the way we’re playing.’ We couldn’t let some of those missed opportunities get to us. If we kept creating those chances over the course of the game, we were going to get on top of it,” said Scott.
And even if that three-goal advantage possessed an air of uncertainty about it, with the Lions’ attack a constant threat, Gryan Miers – the sidewinding assassin from the Geelong suburb of Grovedale – converted from a set shot in the fourth quarter’s opening minute to extend Geelong’s lead, which was handy as Rayner tested every ounce of his range to keep the Cats honest.
Rayner’s second goal would prove to be the Lions’ last serious attempt at scoring – beyond that, it was all Geelong.
After Zach Tuohy restored the Cats’ four-goal lead, Hawkins had two chances late on the lower the boom on Brisbane but missed, Brisbane’s attempts to challenge the Cats’ lead likewise suffered from a case of their own profligate misses.
And when Rohan kicked the final two goals of the match off first a crumbing effort with three minutes to go, and again after the siren, that sealed the Cats’ win – and set up next Saturday night’s grand final against Richmond.
“We just chipped away each quarter, and we got what we deserved,” said Cats captain Joel Selwood.
“We didn’t make the most of our opportunities in the first half, and we spoke about that at halftime, and we were told to just stick to our positives, and do what we were already doing well. If we did that, our opportunities to convert were going to come,” said Ablett.