Geelong came back from a six-goal first-quarter whitewashing to defeat the Western Bulldogs by eleven points at Gold Coast’s Metricon Stadium on Friday night.
The 10.12 (72) to 9.7 (61) win – the Cats’ first comeback from a six-goal opening-term deficit since Round 16 in 1979 against St Kilda – allowed Geelong to win its fifth game in a row and leapfrog to the top of the AFL ladder, pending the respective results of Port Adelaide’s and Brisbane’s games later on the weekend.
But on a night when Geelong’s star players were slow to reach their normally expected outputs, role players such as Zach Tuohy, Gary Rohan and Luke Dahlhaus exhibited gutsy one-percenters in the final term to provide the Cats an incentive to take the four points.
Yet after going six goals down at quarter time, Cats coach Chris Scott adopted the approach to chip away at the deficit instead of whacking the Bulldogs like they had just been hit themselves.
“We had to keep the perspective that the game wasn’t going to be fixed within ten minutes, but rather the next three quarters,” Scott said.
“And I have a lot of confidence in this team. We could get this done,” he added.
“This group has a great belief in itself, and we never gave up tonight,” said Cats on-baller Patrick Dangerfield, who finished with 32 possessions and six clearances.
“The instruction going into the last quarter was simple – two more goals. And that was the message at quarter-time and at halftime as well. All we had to do was chip away at the match, and we knew we could pinch it at the end,” added Dangerfield.
Starting the quicker of the two sides, dominating possession by a wide margin and converting well from their overhead marks inside 50, the Bulldogs thereby nullified Geelong’s attempts to control the match through their trademark contested possession game, and got their six-goal reward as a result of it.
After Josh Dunkley and Hayden Crozier kicked the game’s first two goals in the match’s opening minutes, Marcus Bontempelli and Tom Liberatore proceeded to double that advantage almost as quickly.
Geelong, clearly baffled by their slow start, knew that getting a goal before the break would swing momentum slightly back towards them, blew a golden opportunity to cut into the Bulldogs’ advantage when Hawkins missed to the left from a set shot after taking in a fluid Dangerfield clearance.
The Bulldogs took immediate advantage when Ed Richards and Toby MacLean kicked the final two goals of the term to stake them to that seemingly-invincible 36-point lead at the first break.
The Cats would eventually take back control of the match by kicking three goals to none in the second term – but not playing as smoothly nor as quickly as they’d prefer to do so.
The Cats were doing their best to move the ball upfield with a surgical precision, by hand and by foot, and when Hawkins found Gryan Miers in a better position than himself, Miers converted his set shot from 30 metres out to get the Cats their first goal five minutes into the term.
And after Miers pinged Ryan Gardner for holding the ball a few minutes later, he would kick his second goal – and then, with their defenders taking on a greater role in making plays happen, Rhys Stanley half-volleyed off the ground from in front from Jake Kolodjashnij’s long inside-50 entry, and suddenly the Cats had kicked three majors in a row.
Going into halftime down 18 points, the Cats had earned that vital momentum swing – however, despite how quickly their three goals had come and owning greater spells of possession, they were still denied the opportunity to play the ball forward as quickly as they’d like to.
The Bulldogs would get their four-goal advantage back as the third quarter started, when Aaron Naughton marked at the top of the square in front of Lachie Henderson and converted his set shot.
Rohan was having a frustrating night trying to get his hands on the footy to make goals for himself, but created well for Hawkins to play on and kick his first goal a minute later, to nullify Naughton’s opener for the term.
With two minutes to play in the term, as Geelong were dictating possession more and more, Mark O’Connor would eventually kick across his body on the run to provide the Cats’ next goal, en route to Geelong taking the deficit to ten points at the end of three quarters.
Despite being heavily outplayed for the opening quarter and a bit, Geelong had done well to battle back, reducing the deficits at each interval from 36, then 18, and now to ten points. It would be a case of “anybody’s game” now as the fourth quarter began – when only the foolhardy would have given that a chance of happening after the opening term.
Rohan would provide the influence at both ends of the ground in the opening minutes of the final term. First, Rohan made a head-long run of reckless abandon to defensive 50 in pinging Tim English for holding the ball, in an exchange of play that Rohan would kick a goal from in close from a set shot to take the deficit to three points.
However, the teams would trade goals twice, with Hunter and ex-Bulldog Luke Dahlhaus kicking majors within a couple of minutes, then Naughton and Mitch Duncan swapping goals, as the Cats never-say-die approach ensured that at three points down, they could strike on the next run forward.
And Hawkins – as clinical as one would expect a Coleman Medal leader to be – took advantage of a Dahlhaus one-percenter and Tuhoy’s inside-50 entry to hit his set shot from 40 out on the right to give Geelong its first lead of the night with his second goal on the night, with less than five minutes to go.
And it was their lead to keep. Rohan, as he had done all night, sacrificed his body, charged a pack inside the Cats’ attacking 50, and hammered home with the outside of his off boot, his right, to give the Cats the insurance goal they required to win.
“They got on a roll in that first quarter and we couldn’t stop them. So all we could do was to peg them back, was to play our way bit by bit, and wrestle the momentum back,” said Tuohy, who kept throwing his body into each and every contest to embody the Cats’ fighting spirit.
“Then when it was a 50-50 game, we knew we could win it,” added Tuohy.