FOR THE first time all season, the footy world had reason to doubt Geelong.
Down 36 points to the Western Bulldogs at quarter-time on Friday night, you could be excused for wondering which of these sides was the team widely considered a genuine premiership contender.
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Then you found out, for real, as the Cats swept the record books aside to record the club's biggest comeback victory from a first-quarter deficit since 1931 to leave a shell shocked Dogs side – and those sudden doubters – reeling.
The stunning 10.12 (72) to 9.7 (61) win was the mark of a champion team, a team that is destined for a 13th finals berth in 14 seasons. As for the prospect of a fourth premiership within that period? Well, never say never on the evidence of Friday evening.
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Patrick Dangerfield (32 disposals, 10 score involvements) was the immovable object that refused to lie down in the face of an early Bulldogs onslaught.
Perhaps the only shining light from an otherwise disappointing first quarter, the superstar then dragged the Cats back into the contest with a mighty performance reminiscent of his Brownlow best from 2016.
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He had willing helpers, though. Cam Guthrie (21 disposals, five tackles) was again important, while Gary Rohan, Tom Hawkins and Gryan Miers all finished with multiple goals to their name and were particularly influential as the game wore on.
As for the Western Bulldogs, if an unanswered six-goal opening term spearheaded by Lachie Hunter (26 disposals, one goal) was the club's version of 'Jekyll', then the next three quarters were the 'Hyde'.
The Dogs managed just three majors for the remainder of the match, gradually crumbling to defeat in a stark reminder of the four-quarter performance it will take to challenge the best in the heat of finals footy.
How the Cats dragged themselves back
Not since Geelong found itself 47 points down to Carlton at quarter time of the 1931 preliminary final, only to record a thrilling six-point win, has the side engineered such a remarkable first-quarter comeback. So, how did they do it? Having conceded nine scoring shots from just 12 entries in the first quarter, the Cats tightened their defensive grip over the contest. The pressure from midfield returned, the numbers to the contest came back, and defenders like Harry Taylor and Tom Stewart benefited. Geelong conceded only seven scoring shots from the next 21 entries, while winning the ball itself from midfield to hurt its opposition offensively as well. Then there was the superstar that is Patrick Dangerfield. He helped, it has to be said.
Tuohy's night in the wars
It was just one of those nights for Zach Tuohy. There were two injuries, a dummy-spit, and an unlikely victory. We'll start with the injuries. Tuohy came from the field struggling to breathe in the second term, having copped a brutal hit to the ribs during the second quarter in a tackle from Jack Macrae. He bravely soldiered on, only to be on the receiving end of a stray elbow from teammate Gary Rohan that left him bleeding above his eye. More hits to the ribs forced him from the field once more, where he threw his mouthguard at the bench in frustration. Was it worth it all in the end? His reaction on the final siren suggests so.
More trouble looming for the Dogs
If the night started well for Luke Beveridge, it certainly didn't end well. As well as suffering a nightmare come-from-behind defeat, Laitham Vandermeer and Easton Wood each failed to finish the game after both suffered hamstring injuries throughout the match. A frustrated Vandermeer, who has kicked nine goals from 11 games this season in a promising breakout campaign, limped from the field midway through the first quarter and soon had ice placed on his hamstring. Wood cut a similarly forlorn figure late in the third term, having also hurt his hamstring. Talk about adding insult to injury. Facing an important month as the side continues its push for finals, their impending absence will be keenly felt.
WESTERN BULLDOGS 6.3 6.6 7.7 9.7 (61)
GEELONG 0.3 3.6 5.9 10.12 (72)
Western Bulldogs: Naughton 2, Dunkley, Crozier, Bontempelli, Liberatore, Richards, McLean, Hunter
Geelong: Miers 2, Hawkins 2, Rohan 2, Stanley, O'Connor, Dahlhaus, Duncan
Western Bulldogs: Hunter, Crozier, Dunkley, Liberatore, Daniel, Smith
Geelong: Dangerfield, Stewart, Guthrie, Rohan, Parfitt, Henry
Western Bulldogs: Vandermeer (hamstring), Wood (hamstring)
Geelong: Tuohy (ribs)