In a Friday night (Melbourne time) Semi-Final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the Geelong Cats picked themselves up from their previous week's loss to the Collingwood Magpies, to keep their finals hopes alive and defeat the reigning Premiers, the West Coast Eagles. The Cats had been under intense media scrutiny all week, as many pundits predicted the Cats would again drop out of the finals series with two straight losses. The Eagles too had their own mid-week drama to deal with, as small forward Willie Rioli was handed a provisional suspension for interfering with a urine test administered by the Australian Sports Anti-doping Authority.
The Cats opened the game with a burst of goals. Their plan was clear. Run the ball through the middle of the ground, using handpassing and accurate kicking to catch the Eagle intercept markers [mark = catch] out of position. After nine minutes of play the Cats had booted three goals, keeping West Coast scoreless. Geelong's Captain Joel Selwood continually put his body on the line and midfielders Tim Kelly and Cameron Guthrie used their pace and ball skills to break the Eagles defensive lines. The Eagles abandoned their zone defense structure and played a man-on-man defense,
which suited the big Geelong forwards Tom Hawkins and Esava Ratugolea. Hawkins and Ratugolea played apart on most occasions, reducing the opportunity for Eagle defenders, Jeremy McGovern and Tom Barrass, to double team Hawkins. The shifting of former Olympic hurdler, Mark Blicavs, from the ruck to the wing caught the Eagles off guard; and they had difficulty finding a match-up for his height and pace. The big Cat forwards dominated in the air and by quarter time Hawkins had booted one goal and Ratugolea had kicked two.
Half way through the quarter the Eagles began to play the game more on their terms by holding the ball at half back and working the ball across the field until an opportunity arose. At the 19-minute mark a pass from Jack Petruccelle found unlikely forward Mark Hutchins who handpassed to Jack Darling in the square. Darling opened his account from point-blank range. Geelong responded in the final two minutes of the quarter with two big marks and goals to Ratugola.
In the second quarter, the Cats were again on top, with an opening goal to Hawkins after he won a marking duel against McGovern. A minute later, Luke Shuey and Jamie Cripps combined pass to Petruccelle who booted the Eagles second goal from 50 meters. At the seven-minute mark, Kelly roved a loose ball on the boundary, to run forward and kick truly to send the Cats further in front. For the rest of the quarter the Eagles were first to the ball and played the game on their terms. Naitanui dominated in the ruck against Rhys Stanley. Naitanui's former Fijian compatriot, Ratugolea, briefly competed in the ruck against Naitanui but only won one hitout. The Eagles' mercurial forward, Liam Ryan, goaled from a free kick and then a Ryan pass found Darling who booted his second. A rare goal from Chris Masten bought the Eagles within ten points just before the main break.
The Cats booted a goal in the first minute of the third quarter courtesy of a big mark by Ratugolea. The Eagles than sprang to life, led by Liam Ryan who kicked to Darling who played on and snapped a goal from close range. Andrew Gaff then booted two in quick succession to put the Eagles in front. Eagles ruckman Tom Hickey received the benefit of a soft 50-meter penalty, to kick truly and put the Eagles further in front. Shannon Hurn's intercept marking stopped a number of Cat attacks. It was left to Joel Selwood to inspire the Cats by intercepting a Lewis Jetta defensive kick, and kicking truly. Jetta made amends two minutes later when he kicked long to Jake Waterman who marked, played on and passed to Kennedy, who marked close to goal. Kennedy's set shot put the Eagles a goal in front. The Cats got on top in general play in the second half of the quarter but could not make scoreboard progress. At the final break the Eagles lead by four points.
The final quarter was all Geelong, as Patrick Dangerfield broke the tag of Elliot Yeo, to drag down some big marks up forward. The Cats added four goals and one point, while restricting the Eagles to one solitary point. The Eagles' flag defense ended with a whimper.
Next week, the Geelong Cats meet the Richmond Tigers in a Friday Night preliminary final and a spot in the Grand Final at stake. Geelong may be without full forward Tom Hawkins, who appeared to catch Eagles defender Will Schofield with a crude off-the-ball blow to the head and may face a penalty. On the positive side, Ratugolea performed well up forward and Irishman Zach Toohey, showed a welcome return to form to provide plenty of run out of defense. The Cats will need everything to work right to defeat the Tigers. It is possible that this week's result was just a "dead cat bounce". The Eagles now have a longer than expected off-season to work out what went wrong with their premiership defense.
Scores Geelong Cats: 5.2 7.3 9.9 13.10 (88) West Coast Eagles: 1.1 5.5 10.7 10.8 (68) Best Geelong Cats: J Selwood, Guthrie, Tuohy, Hawkins, Kelly West Coast Eagles: Gaff, Hurn, Shuey, Yeo, Darling
Article last changed on Friday, September 13, 2019 - 9:25 PM EDT