THE TOP two teams heading into the last home and away round met at GMHBA Stadium to decide which would be the minor premier and carry a winning edge into the pointy end of the season.
It looked set to be another routine win for Geelong at their home ground until a spirited Melbourne revival shook up the Toyota AFL Finals Series before it had even started.
When and where: Round 23, Saturday August 21 at GMHBA Stadium
Final score: Geelong 12.5 (77) lost to Melbourne 12.9 (81)
It was an even opening as the top two teams sounded each other out as much as they traded blows.
The lead bounced back and forth but stayed in single figures until the Cats slammed on eight unanswered goals – including four in four minutes – to make a statement in the second term.
The Cats led by 44 points into time-on of the third quarter and appeared to have the match sewn-up but two late goals to the Demons made the margin slightly more manageable at the final change.
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The Demons kicked four goals in the first nine minutes of the final term to get within seven points and continued to press until the margin was down to two points.
Some curious umpire calls in favour of each team in the dying minutes led to the ball being in defender Jake Lever's hands just outside the 50m arc with seconds remaining.
Lever's long bomb to the top of the goalsquare was marked by Max Gawn who slotted the match-winning goal after the siren to claim a stirring victory and the Demons' first minor premiership since 1964.
WHO WAS MISSING
Speedster Jayden Hunt was sidelined for a second week as he started his recovery from ankle surgery but the Demons had been boosted by the return of Steven May, Tom McDonald and Jack Viney.
James Jordon was moved out of the starting 22 to replace Aaron vandenBerg as the medical sub, while veterans Michael Hibberd and Jake Melksham were omitted.
Adam Tomlinson had already been ruled out for the season while the likes of former captain Nathan Jones and Sam Weideman remained on the outer.
The Cats were without crucial defensive duo Tom Stewart and Zach Tuohy due to injury for the second consecutive week. Mitch Duncan remained sidelined as he had been since round 14.
Esava Ratugolea, Quinton Narkle and Zach Guthrie were omitted, while Shaun Higgins was pushed out of the starting 22 to replace Narkle as medical sub.
Gary Rohan, Gryan Miers and Tom Atkins came into the team as they recovered from injuries.
WHAT HAPPENED SINCE
The Demons rode their inspired form into a qualifying final against Brisbane that they won comfortably by 33 points.
The midfield of Clayton Oliver (33 disposals, one goal), Christian Petracca (30, two) and Jack Viney (28) was simply too good for the Lions while Bayley Fritsch kicked four goals.
The round 23 loss to the Demons pushed the Cats down to third place and into a qualifying final on the road which Port Adelaide won by 43 points. Perhaps the only positive of the match was the striking return of midfielder Mitch Duncan (33 disposals).
The Cats were able to bounce back and beat Greater Western Sydney by 35 points last week. It was Zach Tuohy's (31 disposals) turn to impress on his return, while Tom Hawkins was a beast with five goals.
WHO WILL BE BACK
A midweek hamstring strain for an unlucky Joel Smith opened the door for veteran defender Michael Hibberd in the Demons' only change for the preliminary final.
It meant speedster Jayden Hunt, who was available for selection after recovering from ankle surgery he underwent in August, missed out on a recall, with veteran Nathan Jones another hard-luck story.
The Cats have since been strengthened by the return of Mitch Duncan in their qualifying final and Zach Tuohy last week.
Esava Ratugolea has been recalled since round 23 and could play an important role ensuring Jake Lever and Steven May are more accountable.
Last week's medical substitute Zach Guthrie has been named to replace the injured Brandan Parfitt for the do-or-die clash at Optus Stadium.