REPORTS of Geelong's demise have been greatly exaggerated with the Cats opening their 2022 AFL campaign by obliterating a disappointing Essendon.
Veteran Cats stars Patrick Dangerfield and Tom Hawkins blew the hyped Bombers off the MCG in blistering fashion on Saturday to win by 66 points.
CATS v BOMBERS Full match coverage and stats
Dangerfield ran riot with 22 disposals and nine inside-50s before half-time, while Hawkins caused all sorts of problems for the Bombers' defence on his way to kicking four goals and setting up numerous others.
After being written off as too old and too slow ahead of this season, the Cats smashed Essendon in the midfield on their way to a 20.18 (138) to 11.6 (72) victory.
The shell-shocked Bombers conceded seven first-quarter goals and trailed by 60 points at half-time.
Essendon fought harder in the second half but the damage was already done with a meek early effort against its hardened opponents.
It was a brutal reality check for a team supposedly on the rise after surprisingly surging into an elimination final last year.
Geelong could barely have been more impressive following an off-season of upheaval after its embarrassing preliminary final exit to Melbourne last year.
Crucial to the Cats' resurgence was an extraordinary effort from Tyson Stengle in his first game for his third club.
Sacked by Adelaide for a string of off-field indiscretions last year, Stengle booted four goals in an electric performance first-up for Geelong.
Now under the tutelage of legendary small forward Eddie Betts, the 23-year-old Stengle is set to be an important member of the ageing Geelong team.
The Cats' perfect outing was ruined by star forward Jeremy Cameron being subbed out of the match, with the club saying he hurt his hip.
But Cameron was taken to hospital midway through the final quarter, indicating a possible broken rib.
Cameron, who kicked two early goals, collided with Bombers defender Jayden Laverde during the first quarter and both players pulled up sore.
Laverde was able to come back on the ground, but Bombers teammate Kyle Langford's day ended early after suffering a hamstring injury.
On a dirty day for the Bombers, ruckman Sam Draper faces a nervous wait to learn if he is cited by the Match Review Officer after appearing to strike Geelong big man Esava Ratugolea.
But the undoubted shining light for Essendon was the debut of Nic Martin, who was comfortably the Bombers' best player with five goals and 27 touches.
Stengle off to a blistering start
Tyson Stengle's AFL career looked done and dusted after being axed by Adelaide following a string of off-field incidents. But after an impressive season in the SANFL where he booted 44 goals from 19 games to lead Woodville-West Torrens to back-to-back premierships, Geelong threw the 23-year-old a lifeline last November as a delisted free agent. And the small forward didn't disappoint in his first game in the blue and white hoops. His opening touch was a neat little pass to Tom Hawkins, who converted from 45m near the boundary line. Stengle rounded out his day with four goals, 20 disposals and 466 metres gained in a superb first-up performance.
Injury worries for both teams
Geelong faces a nervous wait on the outcome of scans for star goalkicker Jeremy Cameron, who was taken to hospital after a bruising collision with Bombers defender Jayden Laverde. Both players were left reeling on the ground after the crunching hit, with Cameron later subbed off. The Cats reported he suffered a hip pointer injury but was seen in the rooms struggling to breathe, indicating a possible broken rib. Thankfully for the Bombers, Laverde returned to the field and played out the second half. But there's more concern over midfielder Kyle Langford, who limped off with a hamstring injury in the first quarter.
A debut to remember
There were big question marks heading into Saturday afternoon's match about where Essendon's goals would come from. Jake Stringer's failure to overcome a nagging groin injury meant the Bombers were missing four of their top five goalkickers from last season. Step up, Nic Martin. After only joining the club last month via the pre-season supplemental period, Martin proved he could be a handy foil up forward with five goals and 27 disposals in an excellent debut.
GEELONG 7.5 12.9 17.14 20.18 (138)
ESSENDON 2.1 3.3 6.3 11.6 (72)
Geelong: Hawkins 4, Stengle 4, Cameron 2, Close 2, Holmes 2, Dangerfield, Dahlhaus, Tuohy, Higgins, Guthrie, Evans
Essendon: Martin 5, Wright 2, Caldwell 2, Smith, Cutler
Geelong: Dangerfield, Stengle, Hawkins, Parfitt, C.Guthrie, Selwood
Essendon: Martin, Merrett, McGrath, Parish, Caldwell
Geelong: Cameron (hip pointer)
Essendon: Langford (hamstring), Laverde (hip)
Geelong: Francis Evans (replaced Jeremy Cameron in the second quarter)
Essendon: Tom Cutler (replaced Kyle Langford in the first quarter)
Crowd: 54,495 at the MCG