Cats weather Brisbane storm

A storm warning was issued by the Bureau of Meteorology ahead of Sunday’s AFL match at the Gabba between the Brisbane Lions and Geelong. It was overcast, sticky and a dense blob of rain on the radar was moving in steadily from the west. The Gabba might have been greener than ever, but the football was never going to be pretty.

Andrew Mackie is chaired off after his 200th game. Photo: Getty Images

In such conditions, the best users of the ball were always going to stand out. In the first quarter, the Lions dominated general play, racking up a whopping 96 possessions to 69, with Daniel Rich (in his 100th game), Sam Mayes and boom recruit James Aish all prominent.

But they couldn’t find anyone to finish off their work. After peppering the sticks early for a disappointing total of three behinds, they were penalised when Mathew Stokes – one of the few players to shine in the greasy conditions – hit Tom Hawkins on the chest with a clean pass in pelting rain. It was the only goal of the quarter. The Lions had spoken after last week’s loss to Hawthorn about needing to get the ball into the right players’ hands. And in the second quarter, the versatile Mayes was sent forward to provide an alternative to Jonathan Brown on a bad day for big men. Mayes responded with two goals – one scrambled off the deck, the other a set shot.

Dayne Zorko got involved, too, showing clever, evasive movement to rove a goal from a throw-in, then feeding Mayes his second after taking a couple of bounces down the Vulture Street wing on a day where space was at a premium. Josh Green, who had done a lot of the earlier peppering, finally added a little salt with his first.

By then the Lions were 10 points clear … and smelling blood. They have troubled the Cats recently, scoring a famous last-gasp win in round 13 last year, then nearly toppling them at the Cattery in round 22. But you can’t hold back class, and even this re-made, remodelled version of Geelong still has plenty of it.

Three goals in not much more than a minute of football just before half-time was enough to restore the Cats’ early advantage. Taylor Hunt got them going, bombing a ball from outside 50 metres that rolled through for a goal. Hawkins got another out the back; Travis Varcoe dodged and weaved and bent through a third.

The gap widened after half-time. Josh Caddy slapped an overhead ball straight to a running James Kelly, who put it down Varcoe’s throat for another goal – a play that paid no heed to the conditions. Old names popped up on the scoreboard – Jimmy Bartel, Joel Selwood – but also newer ones in Jordan Murdoch and George Horlin-Smith.

A four-goal margin at three-quarter-time, even with the rain having eased, was a chasm the Lions were never likely to bridge. When Brown missed an early opportunity to keep his side, and the crowd, in the contest, the Cats duly rushed the ball straight to the other end for Horlin-Smith to poach his second.

A few minutes later, Rohan Bewick sat atop the shoulders of defender Andrew Mackie for what would have been a serious mark of the year contender, only for the ball to bounce off his chest. While everyone else was watching the replay, Bartel snapped another goal for Geelong to all but finish the match.

Stevie Johnson finished with 36 possessions for Geelong and Pearce Hanley 32 for the Lions. But others were more efficient, as well as industrious: Varcoe notched 10 tackles to go with his two goals, and Mackie, in his 200th match, was as poised as ever in the backline, picking out targets with ease.

Andrew Stafford – The Age