Cats come from behind to extend streak over Hawks

GEELONG 1.5 5.7 10.12 13.15 (93) HAWTHORN 4.3 8.9 10.10 12.14 (86)
Goals: Geelong: B Smedts 2 J Podsiadly 2 M Duncan 2 T Hawkins 2 A Christensen A Mackie J Selwood P Chapman T Varcoe. Hawthorn: L Breust 2 L Franklin 2 S Savage 2 B Guerra C Rioli D Hale I Smith J Lewis J Roughead.
Best: Geelong: Selwood, Chapman, Mackie, Motlop, Stokes, Hunt. Hawthorn: Mitchell, Gibson, Sewell, Birchall, Schoenmakers, Lewis.
Umpires: Matt Stevic, Shane Stewart, Mathew Nicholls.
Official Crowd: 76,300 at the MCG.

Geelong was in deep trouble late in the second term against Hawthorn. But not a single soul clad in brown-and-gold, player, coach or supporter, was foolish enough to yet think that a string of nine consecutive losses to the Cats was about to be broken.

The Hawks had led Geelong in the final term in six of those nine defeats and still come up with nothing, so a five-goal lead with only five or so minutes left in the first half provided little comfort. Less still after Tom Hawkins, to that stage badly beaten, and Travis Varcoe, bobbed up with a couple of overdue replies in ”red time”, the gap as the teams walked off at half-time now reduced to 20 points.

James Podsiadly celebrates a goal.James Podsiadly celebrates a goal. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

Indeed, after yet another narrow win to the Cats in these perennially-close games, the eighth of the 10 to be determined by nine points or less, you wonder whether Hawthorn would have been better off trailing badly at the long break, as indeed it did last year when Hawkins robbed it of victory after the final siren.

But again, this wasn’t as much about the Hawks’ mental fragility as it was about Geelong’s incredible capacity to rise to a challenge. And how. Those two goals on the stroke of half-time were all the sniff needed by skipper Joel Selwood and his veteran mate Paul Chapman to deliver their 2008 grand final conquerors another unwanted case of deja vu.

Selwood was already close to best afield when the third term started. He was a clear best on ground only 10 or so minutes of play later, by which time he’d engineered two of the Cats’ three goals for the term and kicked the other himself. It was the captain who’d wrenched the ball away from the Hawks’ Shane Savage to begin the forward thrust which was completed by Mitch Duncan, he whose clinical pass found Hawkins clear, and his own foot which did the scoreboard damage in between.

Chapman had been a lot quieter in the first half, but on cue responded with an extra dose of hardness and guile which some of his younger teammates had to that point lacked. Andrew Mackie, likewise, became not only a bulkhead against Hawthorn attacks, but a springboard for his side’s own, the highlight a very casual-looking but booming set shot which sailed home from close to 65 metres.

But it wasn’t just about the old hands steadying the ship. The electrifying pace and excitement of Steven Motlop also played a key part in the third-term turnaround, ditto Billie Smedts, while Taylor Hunt also provided plenty of drive. The result was the first four goals of the second, which made it six straight, and given the historical precedents, understandably had the Hawks feeling gloomy about where this game was headed.

Things had seemed so different only a bit over an hour earlier. Hawthorn’s intent was obvious from the moment Jordan Lewis backed back into an oncoming Hawkins in the opening seconds, followed by a couple of desperate smothers only moments after that. The odd senior Cat uncharacteristically flinching, as did Corey Enright in a marking attempt, wouldn’t have hurt the Hawks’ confidence either.

As would the first three goals of the game. Lewis had the first, then, after a series of Geelong misses, Luke Breust the second after a lovely tap from ruckman David Hale, the big man not necessarily an aesthete’s dream, but very effective, setting up two and kicking a third of Hawthorn’s four goals in the opening term.

The biggest eye-catcher, though, was sixth-gamer Brad Hill, the brother of Fremantle’s Stephen offering just as much dash as his sibling, with an added touch of the Cyril Riolis. Hill was everywhere, having racked up 10 disposals, four insides 50s and three score assists by quarter-time.

Hawthorn’s defensive pressure was spot-on, Geelong’s rather more sporadic. The Cats had too many fumbles, too few midfielders pulling enough weight, and a key forward pair in Hawkins and James Podsiadly off their games. They were in a deal of trouble once Lance Franklin bombed the first goal of the second term from 60 metres, and more still after he and Isaac Smith added a couple more in the space of just over a minute late in the term, the gap now 30 points.

Significantly, that was as much as Hawthorn had ever led by in any of these 10 clashes with Geelong since the ’08 grand final. That indeed, could have been the moment the dam gates burst, and five years of frustration were swept away. Instead, yet again, it was merely the beginning of the end.