Relentless Cats eliminate Magpies, Lions up next

In a match where the word “dominant” doesn’t begin to describe their overall effort, Geelong outclassed Collingwood to win by 68 points in the teams’ AFL preliminary final at the Gabba in Brisbane on Saturday night.

Winning 15.10 (100) to 5.2 (32) to qualify for its 11th preliminary final since 2004 – as the Cats will play Brisbane at the Gabba next Saturday night – Geelong played a quick and direct style to exorcise any shortcomings in last week’s 16-point loss to Port Adelaide in a qualifying final defined by their own inaccuracies, especially on set shots.

Tom Hawkins and Patrick Dangerfield kicked four goals apiece and Mitch Duncan (30 possessions, three goal assists), Cam Guthrie (27 possessions, five clearances), Sam Menegola (23 possessions and one goal), and captain Joel Selwood (18 possessions, one goal, four tackles and four clearances) were all among those instrumental achieving those aims.

Moreover, compared to their 1.8 form on set shots against the Power, Geelong’s dead-eye accuracy with ball in hand in front of goal was close to perfection. Thirteen of their 15 goals came from set shots, with just one miss when Brandan Parfitt struck the woodwork in the opening term.

“We had a lot of confidence on how we could play – we were pretty close to our very best tonight,” proclaimed Cats coach Chris Scott.

“There’s a resolve within our group to find a way to play better, and that makes us hard to beat,” added Scott.

“Super-proud of the boys!” exclaimed Cats on-baller Gary Ablett, who emphasised that the loss to Port Adelaide was a distant memory in allowing them to focus on winning this match.

“Obviously, we were disappointed with last week, and we had a good week on the track, we talked all week about how well we could play after the year we’ve had, and we were excellent for four quarters,” added Ablett.

Geelong kicked the first three goals of the match – and if any murmurs lingered about this perhaps being Ablett’s 355th and final AFL game, he did his best to ensure that it wouldn’t be, massaging telling kicks inside 50 for Zach Tuohy and Gryan Miers to each convert from the Cats’ first two of their 14 overall set shots.

And with Rhys Stanley and Hawkins each also converting their shots after taking marks, Geelong demonstrated an unwavering focus in front of goal.

The Cats also did well in defence, by the strength of Tom Stewart and Mark Bliclavs, to deny Collingwood chances to score, until Jamie Elliott kicked a goal out of a pack ricochet with less than three minutes before the first intermission.

“The pattern in which our recent games against Collingwood have gone, generally very low-scoring games, I was surprised with how well we opened up. I thought that was really valuable,” said Scott about the Cats’ 22-point lead.

A cold-blooded onslaught that was lacking the week before would then ensue from Geelong. Led by Dangerfield kicking not one, but two, checkside goals from the right-hand forward pocket, the Cats would lay haymaker after haymaker throughout the term, with Luke Dahlhaus, Hawkins, and Guthrie also kicking goals to give Geelong a mind-blowing 54-point halftime lead – 9.6 (60) to 1.0 (6).

Statistically, aside from Collingwood laying more tackles, 31-26 – and rightfully so, it was all Buckley’s side could do when they didn’t have the ball – Geelong’s first-half domination was justified.

Geelong led Collingwood in:

  • Possessions, 182-104 (with 125-58 being uncontested)

  • Inside-50’s, 25-11

  • Disposal efficiency, 80 percent to 61.5 percent

  • Efficiency inside 50, 64 percent to 18.2 percent

  • Clearances, 20-9

And Dangerfield and Hawkins, in addition to their two goals apiece, also managed to get up the ground to extend their influence on the Cats’ overall play, with 12 and 11 possessions respectively, while Mitch Duncan racked up 18 disposals of his own.

“Tonight we controlled the play really well, and maintained possession every time we went forward,” said Dangerfield.

Defensively, Geelong were just as good, as Bliclavs and Stewart were omnipresent with a timely fist to deny the Magpies chances to set up inside 50. Collingwood also had to rely on other sources to set themselves up, as Guthrie and Selwood’s combined tagging effort on Scott Pendlebury limited him to just nine first-half possessions.

“Good teams defend really well at this end of the year. You don’t get anywhere without defending well, and we were outstanding in doing that,” said Scott in assessing the Cats’ overall defensive performance which stifled any opportunities Collingwood would have had in getting into the game.

Even in the run-up to halftime, the expressions on both coaches’ faces in their coaches’ boxes said it all: a highly-impressed Scott was nodding in approval while Buckley could only look on with a stone-faced stunned deadpan.

The third term was goalless for both sides – however, the fundamental hallmarks of Geelong’s classy first half remained: winning in the contests and the contested football, maintaining possession upfield, and denying Collingwood any opportunities to score from inside 50.

Up by 55 points, the Cats were not about to release the foot off the accelerator pedal, and two quick goals from Dangerfield and one other from Menegola assured that, to give Geelong its biggest lead of the night at a whopping 73 points.

With nothing to play for but their own pride, Brodie Grundy kicked the Magpies’ first goal since late in the opening term, and Brody Mihocek kicked back-to-back individual goals to show a good three-goal mini-run for Collingwood.

But after Ablett had just narrowly missed from a set shot – in a bid for a goal to go with his three goal assists – Selwood split the big sticks from a set shot of his own, followed by Hawkins running unchallenged into an open goal to re-establish the Cats’ supremacy to 68 points.

Jaidyn Stephenson kicked the Magpies’ next for what appeared to be a consolation goal for Collingwood, until Hawkins booted his fourth for his 600th AFL goal and complete the Cats’ scoring ton for the night.

In winning the match with great authority, Geelong have put Brisbane on notice, warning the Lions that they will have to be at their best to beat them.

However, Selwood, the Cats’ captain courageous, feels that their best is yet to come.

“We came out early with a point to prove, and full of confidence. But now we need to keep building on all of that,” said Selwood.

Meanwhile, Buckley, in addition to having to take stock in Collingwood’s inconsistent season, was left to admire a Cats masterclass of how to take on high-pressure finals.

“We just couldn’t go tonight. Geelong were a lot sharper than us – they controlled the ball when they had it, and they got it back even faster when we had it,” said Buckley.

“This was as comprehensive a loss you’d ever see from us.

“We thought we had momentum from one week to the next, but really had trouble keeping it. Tonight, that was a one-sided a game as you’ll ever see,” added Buckley.