Janet Linn reporting for AFANA from Melbourne, Australia
After a disappointing loss against Hawthorn in the Qualifying Final last week, Geelong coach Chris Scott was not about to take an over-optimistic approach to the Semi Final against Port Adelaide. However during the week he did say that he was confident “our best footy will still be good enough” to progress the Geelong’s Finals’ campaign.
Port Adelaide was coming fresh off one of the upsets of the season, after bundling huge Melbourne club Collingwood out of the Finals series with their “never say die, run all day” brand of football. Given the basket case that was Port Adelaide just over twelve months ago, coach Ken Hinkley and the Port players could have been excused for resting on their laurels and satisfying themselves with their gains so far but that is not the Power way and so a great contest got underway in front of over 52,000 fans on a glorious evening at the MCG.
Before each Finals game, the crowd rises, joining the players and officials in the Australian National Anthem during which they stand opposite one another, some dour, some nervous, all with their game face on. The Cats won the toss and the contest began full of fast, furious and desperate football. After a clean take and strong “don’t argue” (the name given to a difficult move made by players to maintain their balance when a tackle is attempted, they hold an arm at full stretch and push off the chest of their opponent to get into the clear) Steven Motlop, a 22 year old Cat with speed and talent to burn, passed brilliantly to Finals’ specialist Paul Chapman, a forward in the twilight of his career. Chapman is very popular with the Cats’ fans but his age (he will be 32 in several months) has put him in retirement territory with the Cats yet to offer him a contract for next season. Injured for much of the year, he has struggled to regain a permanent place in the Geelong team but recent good form saw him as the sub then selected for the full game. With something to prove, Chapman slotted a spectacular goal from a very difficult position deep in the forward pocket. The first goal was on the board and the Cats looked very threatening when they found space outside the contests. Port was struggling to enter the forward 50 meter arc and players chose to pass the ball around to short targets to settle and set up attacking forays but the Geelong defense stood tall with Andrew Mackie, James Kelly, Harry Taylor and Jared Rivers picking off every Port kick that came at them. The skillful kicking from both teams was a treat although Geelong players were getting more benefit from their use of the ball as Chapman goaled for his second. Captain Travis Boak made a statement when he passed the football to Brad Ebert who kicked Port’s first goal, the margin only six points in spite of the Cats’ dominance. Hard work by Hamish Hartlett and Justin Westhoff got the ball to a gut running Angus Monfries who kicked a goal from 30 meters out. Scores were now even and the Cats were in more trouble minutes later when Josh Hunt was penalized for a throw in Port’s forward 50 and Lobbe’s goal gave Port an unexpected one goal lead at quarter time.
Geelong players needed to switch back on but the second quarter belonged to the Power. Relentless attacks by Port saw three early points before Logan, Monfries and Robbie Gray combined in some inspirational play, getting the ball to Westhoff whose goal increased the Power’s lead to 15 points. It doesn’t happen often but the Cats lost their composure under Port’s onslaught, over-running balls, rushing their kicks and making mistakes. Mitch Duncan stepped up and kicked a great goal to get one back. Steve Johnson was everywhere, working hard and willing Geelong back into the contest. Port’s Kane Cornes found Hartlett in space and when he saw Monfries miles in the clear he passes the ball on. Monfries short-passed to Logan who goaled. Cat veteran Kelly was also trying everything to inspire his teammates but misses to Bartel, Hunt and Podsiadly didn’t help the cause. A couple of lucky breaks from the umpires saw the Power’s lead extend to 23 points at half time after Westhoff and Gray made the most of their free kicks to score six pointers.
It was clear that Geelong needed more from their forward line, in particular Tom Hawkins and James Podsiadly, both of whom had been very quiet in the first half. There was also some upside for Port with Jay Schulz and Ollie Wines low on first half possessions. The Cats declared their intentions from the first bounce when captain and hard nut Joel Selwood took the ball straight out from the center. The magician Johnson found Hawkins 35 meters out at a 60 degree angle and Hawkins kicked truly. Cats’ fans went crazy, announcing a second half revival with loud chanting and cheering. Selwood, Johnson, Kelly and Joel Corey were playing like men possessed and Chapman was the target again, scoring his third goal. The Cats continued to storm Port’s defenses and Bartel kicked a huge goal from 50 meters to narrow the margin to a paltry three points. The roar from the Cats’ fans was deafening. Three points in succession to Geelong and scores were level. Port players had lost their way, Geelong had all the momentum and when Hawkins was awarded a free kick for high contact, he made no mistake to grab the lead for the Cats. A mystifying free kick to Schulz in front of goal gave Port the equalizer but the Cats’ brilliance was on display again when Johnson stopped a contested ball with his foot and backed it up with a super-slick handpass to Motlop who ran in to score an easy goal. At the final break it was Geelong by seven points and the Semi Final was either side’s to win.
Port Adelaide has had a reputation all year for solid finishes and a high level of fitness to underpin them. For Geelong the outlook was promising with the “Old Guard” – hardened Finals and Premiership players and teammates – firing on all cylinders with a strong ensemble of young support acts like Motlop, Duncan and Christensen showing flashes of outright magic. The quarter began with a classic Cats’ attack - Christensen passing to Podsiadly, 50 meters out directly in front of goal. Incredibly the big “Pods” kicked a point but Port Adelaide was not so lucky when another dubious free kick, this time against Power defender Alipate Carlile, gave Joel Corey a soda of a goal to take the Cats out by 14 points. A turnover gave Port a chance and Monfries’ pass to Broadbent ended with a goal to reduce the lead to 8 points. The game-winning moment came from a Paul Chapman act of brilliance. When Port was awarded a free kick in Geelong’s forward area, Cornes played on. The Cats’ veteran chased down the Power defender in an act of sheer will and determination and won a free kick for holding the ball. Chapman converted for his fourth goal, followed by majors from Christensen and Selwood to put the game beyond doubt. Three late goals to Schulz, Westhoff and Hartlett brought the Power to within ten points. However any threat to the win was eliminated as the professional Geelong outfit chipped the ball around to use up some precious seconds before Motlop got hold of the ball to goal from outside 50 meters and seal the Cats’ advance to the Preliminary Final against arch-rival Hawthorn.
Port Adelaide remains the revelation of the 2013 AFL season. In the Finals series, Power players stood up on the big stage. In this game they gave their all against a formidable opponent, a highly experienced team full of class and Premiership players. The Cats’ “old guard” stood firm and set the example for their rising stars who responded in kind and dug deep to secure a place in the next contest. The Preliminary Final looks likely to provide another phenomenal contest between two teams who have entertained fans in close games during September for the past several years.
Scoreboard Geelong: 2.2 3.6 8.12 13.18 (96) Port Adelaide: 3.2 7.5 8.5 12.8 (80) Best players Geelong: J. Selwood, J. Kelly, S. Motlop, S. Johnson, A. Mackie, P. Chapman Port Adelaide: T. Boak, C. Wingard, J. Westhoff, H. Hartlett, T. Logan
Article last changed on Sunday, September 15, 2013 - 6:23 AM EDT