GEELONG needed a hero on Sunday, and not for the first time the Cats turned to Patrick Dangerfield. Once again, he didn't let them down.
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The Brownlow medallist and superstar midfielder was crucial to the Cats booking a spot in the top-four, dragging his side over the line against Sydney with a six-point win.
The nail-biting 10.9 (69) to 9.9 (63) victory saw the Cats secure a double chance and set up a clash with either Brisbane or Port Adelaide in the qualifying final. But it was far from an easy ride for Geelong, who fell 17 points behind midway through the third term.
That's when Dangerfield, who was having a quiet day playing mainly in attack, stepped up, booting a goal in the third term and then another two to start the last quarter and steer his side over the line.
You could've blamed Cats fans – and certainly coach Chris Scott – for having nerves right until the final seconds, however, as the Swans booted the last two goals of the game and ended with all the run in the dying minutes.
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They also had a chance to draw level, but James Rowbottom's flying shot at goal was smothered with two seconds to play. A draw would have seen the Cats relegated to fifth position on the ladder.
Sydney, in its final game of the year, burst out of the blocks in a high-scoring first term and controlled the contest until late in the third quarter.
In fact, they should have been further ahead of a lethargic and lacklustre Cats outfit that took too long to get going despite the returns of captain Joel Selwood (16 disposals) and champion Gary Ablett (16 disposals, one goal).
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It was an impressive finish from the Swans with Tom Papley busy in attack, veteran Josh Kennedy excellent in the midfield and Jordan Dawson also impactful with 22 disposals and a goal.
Ablett's classy return
Ablett was back in style for the Cats after missing the past nine games while being back in Victoria and then in quarantine in Queensland. He set up the Cats' first goal in the opening term with a clean handball to Brandan Parfitt, and then booted his own later that quarter on the run in classically skilled fashion. Ablett looked sharp, was neat with his disposals and dangerous when he had the ball. He brought some customary class to Geelong's forward half, which struggled to hit its straps against the Swans.
Papley misses a big haul
Days after he publicly pledged his commitment, Papley was back in the scintillating form of his first half of the season. The only difference this time was that the livewire small forward couldn't convert his shots. Papley kicked 1.4 in the opening half, which included a mixed bag of misses, including a couple that the usually reliable goalkicker would expect to slot. He proved too much for Cats defender Mark O'Connor to handle, closing the game with 2.5, and will be ruing not finishing his excellent season with a bag of goals.
Not all doom and gloom for Sydney
The Swans only won five games this season and finished the year third last on the ladder, but there is enough to be excited by when assessing the future. More of that was on show against the Cats on Sunday, with a group of younger Swans again prominent. Callum Mills was excellent in defence, Dylan Stephens had one of his best games on the wing, Dawson continues to impress, Justin McInerney excited with his run and dash and they'll have access to more young guns at the draft, including the No.3 pick and Academy duo Braeden Campbell and Errol Gulden.
SYDNEY 5.4 5.8 7.9 9.9 (63)
GEELONG 4.1 4.3 7.7 10.9 (69)
Sydney: McInerney 2, Papley 2, Aliir, Blakey, Dawson, Kennedy, Reid
Geelong: Dangerfield 3, Hawkins 2, Parfitt 2, Ablett, Guthrie, Tuohy
Sydney: Kennedy, Dawson, Papley, Mills, Parker, Lloyd
Geelong: Menegola, Dangerfield, Guthrie, Stewart, Tuohy
Sydney: Bell (concussion)