JOEL Selwood and Gary Ablett have led Geelong to a thrilling three-point over Melbourne, the reunited duo's midfield brilliance helping the Cats to withstand – just – a ferocious second-half fight-back by the Demons at the MCG on Sunday.
The Cats seemed set for a relatively easy afternoon in Selwood's 250th game and Ablett's first match since returning from Gold Coast, when they led by 27 points at half-time.
But the Demons, sparked by an inspirational performance from Christian Petracca, got themselves back into the game with a four-goal-to-one third term, and looked set to secure a fighting win when Max Gawn took a towering pack mark 30m from goal with less than a minute remaining on the clock.
WATCH: Max's late miss condemns Dees
Melbourne was trailing by four points at the time, but the Dees ruckman pulled his set shot to the left and the Cats were able to hang on for a 14.13 (97) to 13.16 (94) victory.
Geelong coach Chris Scott praised his team's performance, but conceded the Cats had been lucky to win.
"One is always relieved when you win a close game because there's invariably a degree of luck involved," Scott said.
"(There was) some really tough, persistent play from some of our guys, but (we had) a bit of luck as well."
Selwood and Ablett were simply brilliant in the absence of the injured Patrick Dangerfield, each racking up a game-high 39 possessions.
The Cats skipper helped his team's midfield unit regroup after Melbourne dominated the early stoppage battles and was influential late in the game despite suffering a right leg injury late in the third term that briefly saw him moved to full-forward.
Ablett showed that at 33 he is far from a spent force, and will form a formidable trio with Selwood and Dangerfield, when the latter returns from a hamstring injury.
WATCH: Gaz back with a bang
Geelong's win was soured by a left foot injury to key defender Harry Taylor. Taylor limped from the ground late in the first quarter and did not return, with Mark Blicavs shifted into defence to mind Demons spearhead Jesse Hogan.
Daniel Menzel was the most dangerous forward on the ground and finished with four goals, but he missed two opportunities late in the game to snuff out the Demons' challenge, including an inexplicable miss from 15m dead in front.
Mature-age recruit Tim Kelly (27 possessions and one goal) was outstanding on debut for the Cats, while Mitch Duncan (26 possessions) was a valuable midfield runner and Zac Tuohy (25) generated plenty of drive from defence.
Melbourne had its chances to win the game and its loss was to some extent self-inflicted.
Max Gawn leaves the MCG after his late miss cost the Demons a win. Picture: AFL Photos
Aside from Gawn's miss, the Demons would be ruing a costly period during the second term when they gave away three 50m penalties as the Cats kicked four unanswered goals to turn a 10-point deficit into a 14-point lead.
And in the last term, despite winning the inside 50 count 14-9 they could manage only 1.7.
After the match, Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin laid most of the blame at his team's poor defence in the first half.
"I didn't like our first half much at all. I think our ability to defend in the first half wasn't to the level that we certainly trained all summer," Goodwin said.
"Ultimately when they have 20 scoring shots from 24 inside 50s, that's the game in a nutshell.
"They had 80 points to half-time. We were really disappointed with that first half. We just didn't defend the way we would have liked."
Petracca was outstanding, both in the midfield and in attack. The Dees' No.5 had 11 disposals in the first term and led his team's second-half comeback, only blotting his copybook with a 1.3 return in front of goal.
Could-have-been hero Gawn (20 possessions, 47 hit-outs and one goal) was dominant in the ruck, while Nathan Jones (29 possessions) and Clayton Oliver (27 possessions and nine tackles) helped cover the absence of injured co-captain Jack Viney around the stoppages.
Debutant Bayley Fritsch made a bright start in the game's opening minutes, thrilling Melbourne supporters when he narrowly missed a running goal with his first kick.
Fritsch made amends soon after when he soared to mark between Taylor and Jed Bews, and converted from close range.
WATCH: Demon debutant takes a beauty
Melbourne: Bernie Vince headed straight into the rooms after an accidental head clash with teammate James Harmes midway through the second term, but came back on to the ground soon after.
Geelong: Harry Taylor hobbled off the ground late in the first term with a left foot injury and took no further part in the game, spending the rest of the afternoon sitting on the bench with his foot in an ice bucket. Tom Stewart was assessed in the rooms for a leg injury early in the third term, but returned soon after. Joel Selwood was injured when he landed awkwardly on his right leg during the third term. The Cats skipper spent the latter part of the term at full-forward, but began the final term in the centre square.
WATCH: Cat concern as Selwood is hobbled
The Demons play Brisbane at the Gabba for the first time in five years next Saturday night, but have defeated the Lions in their past three games. The Cats face Hawthorn in their annual Easter Monday clash, and will carry a four-game winning streak over their great rival into the blockbuster.
MELBOURNE 6.1 8.5 12.9 13.16 (94)
GEELONG 5.3 12.8 13.10 14.13 (97)
Geelong: Menzel 4, Parfitt 2, Ablett, Smith, Kelly, Ratugolea, Murdoch, C.Guthrie, Parsons, Fogarty
Melbourne: Hogan 3, Pedersen 2, Neal-Bullen 2, Petracca, Garlett, Gawn, Oliver, Hannan, Fritsch
Melbourne: Petracca, Gawn, Oliver, Jones, Hogan, Lewis
Geelong: Selwood, Ablett, Menzel, Duncan, Parfitt, Kelly
Geelong: Taylor (foot), Stewart (ankle), C.Guthrie (groin)
Umpires: Stevic, Deboy, Gavine
Official crowd: 54,112 at the MCG