GEELONG has reclaimed top spot on the AFL ladder – for the time being at least – after coasting to a 68-point win over Carlton at a wet and wild GMHBA Stadium on Saturday.
In their last tune-up before the finals the Cats impressed with their hardness, hunger and clinical approach, winning the twilight clash 19.15 (129) to 8.13 (61), after being favoured by the wind for three quarters.
Chris Scott's team, which continued its inconsistent win-loss-win-loss pattern since its mid-season bye, will enter the finals in first position unless previous league leader Brisbane defeats Richmond at the MCG on Sunday afternoon.
Zach Tuohy attempts to break a Sam Petrevski-Seton tackle. Picture: AFL Photos
The Cats had their concerns, though, with star midfielder Mitch Duncan hurting his left shoulder early after being tackled fiercely, playing out the contest under duress to collect 23 touches, while forward Gary Rohan, in his return from a knee issue, experienced further problems with the joint in a quiet showing. Both players received treatment but played out the game.
Geelong superstar Patrick Dangerfield set up the win with a brilliant first half in which he amassed 18 possessions and kicked three goals. The Brownlow medallist, who finished with 34 disposals, 12 clearances and 4.3, appears primed for a big September.
Small forwards Gary Ablett (28 disposals and three goals) and Luke Dahlhaus (19 touches, three goals and nine tackles) were also damaging for the Cats while young runner Quinton Narkle (27 and 1.2) was particularly prolific in the first half when the game was up for grabs.
CATS GO TOP Full match coverage and stats
Usual defender Zach Tuohy was lively in attack, slotting two goals – his first majors of the season – and applying strong defensive pressure, while Tom Stewart was a terrific leader in defence.
Against the tide, Carlton skipper Patrick Cripps (35 touches, 13 clearances and a goal) was magnifident, while stopper Ed Curnow (29 touches) performed a superb run-with role on Geelong captain Joel Selwood (15).
First-year sensation Sam Walsh (24 and a goal) further enhanced his claims on this year's NAB AFL Rising Star award, finishing with the most touches in a season by a first-year player in at least the past 20 years.
Wearing their indigenous-themed guernsey in honour of the legendary Graham 'Polly' Farmer who died last week, the Cats, for the most part, produced the kind of purposeful performance that would have pleased the perfectionist Farmer.
The home side opened with the breeze and got away to the fastest start imaginable – a goal to Dangerfield within 10 seconds after he burst clear and launched a bomb from inside the centre square.
High-flying Cat Esava Ratugolea added another to give Geelong a two-goal lead after four minutes.
The Blues bounced back with the next four shots at goal but managed just one major, courtesy of Adam Kennedy, before Geelong took complete control of the contest.
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The Cats piled on the next seven goals either side of quarter-time, and 10 of the next 12, their cause helped by the wind swinging around to favour the Cats again in the second term as heavy rain fell.
Just when a three-figure margin didn't seem out of the question, the Blues peppered away in the third term, having eight of the next nine scoring shots for a return of 3.5 to 1.0 to reduce the margin to 41 points before Geelong extended its advantage in the final term.
David Teague's men tried hard but were completely outclassed and outmuscled in a disappointing finish to an otherwise inspiring turnaround in the latter part of the season following the sacking of Brendon Bolton.
Departing Blues veteran Dale Thomas bowed out with 14 possessions before being chaired off.
Dale Thomas didn't get the farewell he was hoping for. Picture: AFL Photos
Meanwhile, record-breaking field umpire Shane McInerney officiated in his last game.
Geelong: Gary Rohan appeared to injure his knee and received treatment while Mitch Duncan looked to hurt his shoulder when tackled, but both players managed to play out the game.
Carlton: Ed Curnow picked up an Achilles injury and was unable to finish his final match of the season.
GEELONG 5.4 12.5 14.6 19.15 (129)
CARLTON 1.3 3.8 6.13 8.13 (61)
Geelong: Dangerfield 4, Ablett 3, Dahlhaus 3, Tuohy 2, Ratugolea, Kelly, Narkle, Duncan, Stanley, C.Guthrie, Miers
Carlton: Kennedy, Cripps, Murphy, Deluca, McKay, O'Brien, Fisher, Walsh
Geelong: Dangerfield, Narkle, Ablett, Stewart, Dahlhaus, Stanley
Carlton: Cripps, Curnow, Murphy, Walsh
Carlton: E.Curnow (Achilles)
Umpires: Ryan, McInerney, Mitchell
Official crowd: 31,669 at GMHBA Stadium