On May 6, 2007, a new era of dominance in the AFL officially began.
Geelong’s season came to a crashing halt in the space of 40 second-half minutes as Richmond reversed a 21-point halftime deficit to earn a second AFL grand final appearance in three years.
While some would believe that the Cats folded like a house of cards after the main break, the Tigers showed too much class to meet the challenge reversing first-half fortunes to win by 19 points.
Geelong had the momentum heading into the change rooms at the main break after Patrick Dangerfield kicked a goal close to the second-quarter siren after receiving a 50-metre penalty, and while Cats fans had great reason to be brimming with optimism, the magic of the opening half was lacking.
As much as the semifinal win over West Coast belonged to the Cats’ old guard of Tom Hawkins, Joel Selwood and Gary Ablett, the team’s young guns ruled the roost in the first half. Tim Kelly and Gryan Miers kicked two goals apiece while Brandon Parfitt and Quinton Narkle complemented Kelly’s bid for best player afield.
But after halftime, while the Cats were missing the influence of the suspended Hawkins as a big marking target inside 50, Tigers stalwart Dustin Martin was becoming more and more of an influence, whether it was running off the ball behind Geelong defenders or winning hard balls along the wings, and Tom Lynch’s accurate goal-kicking proving why he was the recruit of the last off-season as Richmond took the lead with a 5-1 goals edge in the third term.
But the Cats’ one goal was crucial, as Lachie Henderson – oddly enough, the player who was recalled in Hawkins’ absence – marked and kicked strongly through the big sticks after the siren. That gave Geelong a chance, trailing by just a mere four points heading into the all-important final quarter.
Yet in the end, as Cats’ fans would be waiting for their old Premiership heroes to deliver a famous victory, Richmond also have a few of their own from two seasons ago and the likes of Martin, Jack Riewoldt, Dion Prestia and Shane Edwards rose to the occasion to propel the Tigers into a grand final.
Is it the end of the line for some of the Cats’ veteran players? Or did their younger players’ relative lack of experience on the big stage cost them a bit in the end? There will be big calls either way.
As well as a lot of big question marks – in the residue of the end of their season, as well as with this match itself.
Will Ablett pull the pin on a sensational career – arguably being the best overall player of the last generational cycle – after 18 seasons? Or will he play on for one more year, knowing how close the Cats came to the grand final this year?
And are there other multi-Premiership veterans who may join him?
Should key forward Esava Ratugolea been a bigger presence in light of Hawkins’ enforced absence? Especially when there were big marks inside the Cats’ forward 50 begging to be taken?
As aggressive of a reputation as Geelong’s back six traditionally has, who takes the blame for not picking up Martin – who could quite possibly be the most in-form player in the AFL caper ahead of the finals – on his many uncontested runs down the wing and getting behind that defence?
And speaking of Geelong’s defenders, did they lack a tall option outside of Mark Bliclavs and Harry Taylor to deal with Lynch, who took ten marks in addition to kicking five goals?
Geelong showed a lot of promise on the night, but in the tale of two halves of footy, it wound up being a case of “what might have been” as they fell one big step short.