THE FALLOUT for Geelong could be significant.
As brave as the Cats were, Friday night's 19-point preliminary final defeat might have been this group's best shot to end a run of September outs under Chris Scott.
Since securing the flag in Scott's first year in 2011, they have now fallen at the penultimate hurdle four times.
Patrick Dangerfield ponders another missed opportunity. Picture: AFL Photos
This loss, after leading Richmond by 21 points at half-time, was shattering.
And as Geelong's devastated players trudged off the MCG, there were so many questions to ponder, and not many answers.
Has one of the game's all-time greats, Gary Ablett Jnr, graced the field for the last time, and will Harry Taylor join him in retirement?
TIGERS INTO ANOTHER GF Full match coverage and stats
With star Tim Kelly expected to request a trade, probably to West Coast, have the Cats just blown their chance for silverware while Patrick Dangerfield is at the peak of his awesome powers?
Dangerfield, who turns 30 in March, is now 0-4 at the preliminary final stage, including the 2012 loss to Hawthorn as a Crow.
The Brownlow medallist might never get the chance to perform on the last Saturday in September.
It would be a huge injustice, let alone if he doesn't achieve the ultimate, like champions Gary Ablett Snr, Tony Lockett, Nick Riewoldt and Nathan Buckley before him.
And how must Tom Hawkins be feeling after watching the Cats surrender while he sat powerless in the stands following his brainfade hit on Eagles backman Will Schofield?
Hawkins was outstanding in key moments in the semi-final, booting four goals to take his tally to 56 for the season.
>> We give the top 10 players a score out of 10. Swipe across
View this post on Instagram
He could have been the difference against the Tigers, and who knows if he will ever get the chance to repay his teammates.
The behemoth key forward turns 32 next year, and the cliff can come quickly.
Geelong has no obvious successor for Hawkins, and as inspirational as skipper Joel Selwood was in September, how many more times can the battered 31-year-old keep going back to the well?
Selwood (30 disposals, 14 contested) and Kelly (31, three goals) could scarcely have done more to will their side over the line on Friday night.
For the first half, Dangerfield looked set to seize this opportunity. He finished with 27 touches and a goal but, like the Cats, faded after half-time.
Dubbed a clash of 'chaos v control', it was Geelong's precision ball movement and manic forward pressure which won the day before the long break.
PLAYER RATINGS Every Cat rated from the preliminary final
The Cats had 11 forward 50 tackles, equalling their season average, as they adapted to life without Hawkins by bringing the ball to ground and swarming.
After weathering an early Richmond storm, they controlled the tempo and were on top thanks to vintage performances from Taylor, Ablett, Selwood and Dangerfield, Kelly's brilliance and Gryan Miers' (two goals) cameo role.
But the opening passage of the third term spelled trouble.
PLAYER RATINGS Every Tiger rated from the preliminary final
Richmond ball magnet Dion Prestia found space, boom recruit Tom Lynch converted and it started an avalanche to the Punt Road end.
The Tigers had 19 inside 50s to nine for the premiership quarter, with Lynch living up to his billing as the man to take Richmond to the promised land again after last year's preliminary final failure.
Geelong had no answers for the former Gold Coast captain, who bagged five on the big stage while Jack Riewoldt had a shocker.
The Cats' excellent fourth-quarter record in two previous finals this September – 40 points scored and just one conceded – gave them plenty of hope only four points down at the last change, but it wasn't to be as Richmond stormed to victory.
It means for the sixth year in a row, the flag won't be claimed by the minor premiers.
FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED Chris Scott, you were wrong
Speaking post-match, Scott conceded the Cats just aren't quite good enough and it's hard to argue.
For their last 13 games, they went win-loss-win-loss, and couldn't recapture the efficiency that was the hallmark of their 11-1 start.
There are holes on the list. Notably, the ruck, although Rhys Stanley battled manfully in the last two games after being overlooked for the qualifying final.
Geelong has taken just one top-10 pick since Selwood in 2006, and reportedly wants top-end draft picks if Kelly is to depart.
Four-time St Kilda club champion Jack Steven is on the radar and could help fill the Kelly gap at his best, while Charlie Constable should receive more opportunity.
Through geography and an outstanding culture, Geelong will remain a destination club.
That should keep the Cats in contention, as will their remarkable home ground record.
Scott's men are so tough to beat at the Cattery it arguably inflates their standing during the regular season before they find their true level come September.
The coach is right when he says Geelong needs to get better.
The question for the short-term is how?