Geelong have overcome a spirited St Kilda by 27 points at GHMBA Stadium in a result that could yet prove fatal to Alan Richardson’s coaching tenure.
Saturday night’s 12.12 (84) to 8.9 (57) win puts the Cats eight points clear at the top of the AFL ladder and fully extinguishes any slim hopes the Saints had of playing finals this season.
Faced with the daunting task of taking on the ladder-leaders at their home fortress, the Saints fought valiantly and took the lead during the second quarter.
But the Cats wrestled the game back onto their terms after halftime, Gary Ablett snagging two late goals in quick succession to put the result beyond doubt.
The Geelong champion had looked proppy for much of the game after spending time off the ground receiving treatment for a suspected hip issue.
Fellow stars Mitch Duncan (33 disposals, one goal) and Patrick Dangerfield (32 and one) did most of the damage with Saints tagger Jack Steele managing to subdue Tim Kelly.
Key forward Esava Ratugolea slotted two majors on his return from a hamstring injury.
While the Saints averted what had loomed as a potential blowout, another loss can only spell bad news for besieged sixth-year coach Richardson.
In the past 11 rounds, the Saints have won just twice – against lowly Gold Coast and Carlton.
St Kilda football boss Simon Lethlean declared last month the Saints needed to show clear improvement for Richardson to remain coach beyond this season, stressing that this meant beating teams above them on the ladder.
Four straight losses to Brisbane, Richmond, North Melbourne and now Geelong have left Richardson’s position virtually untenable.
Saints fans at least got a glimpse of a brighter future with ruckman Rowan Marshall (31 hitouts, 21 disposals and a goal) among St Kilda’s best while fellow youngsters Hunter Clark, Ben Long and Callum Wilkie were also impressive.
The Cats had the run of play in the early going but St Kilda ramped up their intensity in the second term.
Josh Bruce went back with the flight and was crunched in a contest that brought the ball to ground and set up Jack Lonie’s crumbing goal.
Rowan Marshall laid out Geelong forward Luke Dahlhaus with a hip and shoulder shortly after kicking truly from a soaring mark.
And when Ben Long ran down Zach Tuohy and drilled his set shot from 45m, the Saints had four straight goals and held a 10-point lead.
But the Cats found another gear and dominated from there to reassert their status as premiership favourites.