After a fairly dull first half, Geelong ran away in the third quarter before surviving a furious fightback from Greater Western Sydney in the last to claim a 35-point semi-final win.
Having come into the match on the back of three straight losses, there were fears an otherwise superb season for the Bulldogs could end in a flash. Instead, they’re well and truly back and will have the Brisbane Lions sweating in next week’s semi-final.
Here are my talking points from the last of this weekend’s finals.
The Geelong story over the last ten years has, unfortunately, been one of home-and-away success failing to translate once September rolls around.
However, Tom Hawkins simply cannot be tarnished with the same brush.
With the Giants finishing furiously in the fourth quarter and seriously threatening what looked like an unassailable Cats lead, Hawkins stepped up with his side’s next three goals to finish with five in total for the evening.
Five for the night, three for the quarter – what a performance from Tom Hawkins tonight ????
— Fox Footy (@FOXFOOTY) September 3, 2021
In last week’s disaster against Port Adelaide, he could hold his head high having kicked two of his side’s five majors.
His kicking boots deserted him in last year’s finals series, seeing him finish with 7.10 from four matches – including an infamous return of 0.5 in the qualifying final.
Still, he was lively in every game and you have to go back a long way to find a finals loss that Hawkins was both quiet in and could have actually made a difference.
Since bursting onto the scene in Geelong’s 2011 premiership triumph, Hawkins has been one of the most reliable and consistent key forwards for a very long time and his side’s inability to get it done at the pointy end shouldn’t be used to diminish the fact he has.
After not having a massive impact in last week’s loss to Port Adelaide, Patrick Dangerfield was again fairly quiet for Geelong in tonight’s win.
He was well held by professional tagger Matt de Boer in the first half, being restricted to just nine touches, three contested possessions, one clearance and no score involvements.
De Boer himself was able to grab ten disposals, seven contested possessions, two clearances and three score involvements in the same time period.
But De Boer didn’t follow Dangerfield as closely in the second half and the 2016 Brownlow medallist was able to finish with 21 disposals, 13 contested possessions, eight clearances and five score involvements.
Not a bad evening by any stretch, but certainly nowhere near the impact we’ve come to expect of Dangerfield over so many years.
So, the obvious quandary for Cats fans is whether to be worried about Dangerfield’s slump or be buoyed by the fact they may have another gear left in them yet if he can return to top form.
Toby Greene’s suspension for umpire contact overshadowed a lot of the buildup to this match, but Jesse Hogan’s late withdrawal with a calf injury was arguably just as impactful.
Harry Himmelberg struggled as the lone key forward option for much of the evening, with his two final-quarter goals his only involvements in the match.
In the first half, when the Giants were playing good football, the Hogan- and Greene-shaped holes in the forward line were blindingly obvious.
It was GWS who held a 27-26 lead in the inside 50 tally, with their midfield fighting for a slender lead in the clearances and staying in the contested possession fight.
But their entries resulted in a single mark inside 50 and just three goals, whereas the Cats clunked six grabs and had five majors on the board.
Their pressure once the ball hit the deck was superb too – they led the tackles inside 50 count 10-2 at the half – but Greene’s absence meant they just didn’t have the class at ground level to turn that pressure into points.
Hogan and Greene weren’t the only players missing from the GWS forward line; Jeremy Finlayson and Brent Daniels were also absent – with the club’s injury list throughout the year constantly bulging.
You have to wonder how different the game could have been if they had the cattle up forward when the game was there to be won.
After a fairly lacklustre first half that saw Geelong lead by 15 points without really impressing, Nick Riewoldt was unequivocal on Fox Footy’s commentary in his assessment of what it means for next week’s preliminary final.
“The biggest takeaway from the first [half], is that I don’t think Melbourne are quaking in their boots right now,” he said.
“It can change from week-to-week, but nothing there would be scaring me.”
Despite improving solidly in the second half and running away with the game, Matthew Pavlich was also not worried on Melbourne’s behalf post-match.
When asked plainly by Jason Dunstall as to whether he saw anything that would keep Simon Goodwin up at night, Pavlich was blunt.
“To be honest, no I didn’t. Nothing that really would’ve scared the Dees.”
He did, however, note that Geelong have the potential to cause the prelim opponents headaches and put forward a path to victory.
“The only thing that may worry the Demons is that mix of [Esava] Ratugolea, [Gary] Rohan, [Jeremy] Cameron and Hawkins. If they get enough supply, that could worry the Melbourne defence.”
Those are my talking points from tonight’s semi-finals. Let me know what yours were in the comments.