Port Adelaide rode three goals from former Cat Steven Motlop and a quick, intense approach to attacking footy to defeat Geelong 9.4 (58) to 5.12 (42) in the teams’ qualifying final at Adelaide Oval on Thursday night, as the 2020 AFL finals opened.
The Power, by virtue of a win which defied their previous form of losing 13 of the prior 16 meetings against the Cats since Geelong winning the 2007 grand final, earned a week’s rest before they will host a preliminary final, while Geelong will face the survivor of Saturday night’s West Coast-Collingwood elimination final next week.
Port Adelaide, in grabbing its first finals win since 2014, were better than Geelong in the all-important third term, breaking open a one-point lead with a three-goals-to-one advantage to grab a 14-point margin into the last break, and basically beating the Cats at their own game of emerging from the contested footy wars to play the ball quickly from the packs and create chances to convert into goals.
“That’s why we play footy, to win contest after contest. Geelong are one of the best teams of the competition, and in the contested ball, and we had to be at our best to beat them,” said Port Adelaide veteran Travis Boak, whose influential play all over the ground yielded 22 disposals, nine contested possessions, five tackles, four clearances and four inside-50’s.
Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinkley praised his team’s resilience all evening, even in times where Geelong appeared that they were bound to take their game to the next level.
“The team was very impressive, the way we hung in there tonight,” said Hinkley.
“There were too many times where they tried to come at us very quickly, but we did well to restrict what they could do.
“We were dangerous at times tonight, but we were always going to be dangerous in different ways,” added Hinkley.
For a free-scoring team like Geelong, that deficit after three quarters would normally be manageable – however, by only managing one goal from seven set shots and Coleman Medal winner Tom Hawkins failing to kick a goal from six attempts, they were always bound to face an uphill climb.
“We made sure we forced Hawkins to take his marks closer to the boundary, because we knew the chances of him beating us from there wasn’t going to be as great,” said Hinkley, while lavishing praise upon Trent McKenzie, Hamish Hartlett and the Power’s back six.
“As a fullback, Trent doesn’t get enough credit, but he really proved his worth tonight,” Hinkley added.
Geelong coach Chris Scott, whose finals record now falls to four wins in 16 post-season games since the Cats won the 2011 premiership, felt that while his team had their chances, it came down to Port Adelaide taking theirs better, in a game where match-winning moments were at a premium.
“It’s always a fine line this time of year. And any game of inches is always going to be magnified. We probably had control of the game for large periods, and had chances to win the game,” said Scott.
“I wouldn’t say we were the dominant team, but they [Port Adelaide] took their chances better than we did, and had some easy chances, too,” Scott added, as his team now relishes its double chance earned for a second shot at a preliminary final.
After Port Adelaide took a slim three-point lead into the first break, and with Zach Tuohy kicking the first goal of the second term to give Geelong a short lead, the Cats then attempted to inflict its own brand of contested footy aggression on Port Adelaide – defined by Patrick Dangerfield plowing over Darcy Bryne-Jones on the boundary in one momentary act of determination.
However, a brief moment of letting up upon those actions allowed Motlop to kick off the ground from in close to give the Power the lead back just inside of six minutes to go before halftime.
And with Hawkins mired in a one-night slump, the Cats’ goals were begging to come from other sources. In the last minute before the long break, Joel Selwood launched a high, arcing right-footed shot out of a contest that somehow found its way between the big sticks.
And with their courageous captain’s intervention, Geelong were seemingly safe to take a five-point lead into intermission.
That is, until Robbie Gray, awarded a free kick from a Tom Stewart high challenge when both players were on the ground, converted a set shot after the siren to give Port Adelaide a one-point lead heading to the change rooms.
The Power’s attack at Geelong’s goal continued as the third term began, with Connor Rozee kicking his first from a set shot and Motlop booting his third from on the run in close to extend their lead to 14 points.
The Port Adelaide game plan at this point, through Hinkley’s instructions, was simple: break down Geelong’s contested footy via quick, direct efforts in possession, and the goals ultimately provided a significant reward for those efforts.
And even when Geelong were capable of applying the one-percenters, the Power’s players were perfectly spaced to take advantage. Such was the case with Brad Ebert, picking up the crumbs after a smother to kick Port Adelaide’s third goal for the term to stretch their lead to 21 points.
“We were pretty ruthless in that third quarter, when we got a bit of a gap on them. We really dominated that quarter in the fashion in which we like to play,” said Hinkley.
Dangerfield broke Port Adelaide’s four-in-a-row stranglehold on the goals in the final minute before the three-quarter-time recess to score a long-distance breakaway goal down the middle of the paddock to cut the arrears to 14 points, thereby giving the Cats a shadow of hope heading into the final term, a feeling which was enhanced when Stanley kicked his second on a seeing-eye bounding effort from a contest to cut the Power’s lead to a mere seven points with the opening goal of the final quarter.
However, any Cats optimism coming with a single-digit deficit did not last long, as Power players crashed packs on the next flowing move forward, playing quick passes to one another before Peter Ladhams converted from close range to restore Port Adelaide’s lead to 13 points.
Any hopes that Geelong had at pinching the result with a late charge were effectively extinguished when Todd Marshall kicked the Power’s fourth goal from six set shots with four-and-a-half minutes to go to give Port Adelaide an insurmountable 18-point advantage before running out eventual 16-point winners to advance to its first preliminary final since 2014.