GEELONG 3.3 7.5 9.8 10.9 (69)WESTERN BULLDOGS 0.4 3.6 6.11 7.14 (56)
Goals: Geelong: M Duncan 2 S Kersten 2 T Hawkins 2 A Christensen J Bartel J Murdoch S Johnson. Western Bulldogs: M Bontempelli 2 S Crameri 2 L Dahlhaus L Hunter R Griffen.
BEST Geelong: Johnson, Bartel, Duncan, Taylor, Selwood, Enright, Mackie, Caddy, Motlop. Western Bulldogs: Liberatore, Griffen, Murphy, Bontempelli, Dahlhaus, Boyd, Hunter, Macrae.
Umpires: Chris Donlon, Andrew Mitchell, Brendan Hosking.
Official Crowd: 24,776 at Simonds Stadium.
It was wet, windy and cold, but Geelong has a habit of not letting the weather conditions change how it goes about things, and one player does it better than most. Early in the second quarter, Steve Johnson was on his hands and knees in the centre square, reaching for the ball as Will Minson hovered above him.
Less than a minute earlier he had taken a mark deep in the forward line, turned to take his side-on set shot and slotted it off two short steps.
The difference between Geelong and the Western Bulldogs revealed itself early in a match that might not have meant a whole lot had the Cats not been reaching for a top-four spot and needing to win every possible game as the draw gets harder for other sides and starts easing a little for them.
The Cats wanted the ball as badly as the Bulldogs did, from the very start. They didn’t always get it, but the early numbers were a little misleading because it was what either side did once they did get to the ball that mattered most, and said a lot about where the match was headed.
The Cats were clean and creative, but not too much so. They were confident, but sensible, too. Tom Hawkins simply made sure he got into the best spot in a first-quarter contest so that when the ball inevitably dropped, he was in the best position to grab it, turn and kick a goal.
Jimmy Bartel simply made sure he was the player who kept his feet in another contest, his snap looking a much easier shot than it would have been had an opponent still been by his side.
Once Mitch Duncan had half-intercepted Bob Murphy’s kick across the back of the centre square he trusted Bartel to finish the job, ran on, got the ball back and skidded his shot through the empty goal square from 50 metres. Space was something the Cats kept trying to create: if they couldn’t kick cleanly to a teammate they often placed the ball over his head, so that if he turned and got to it first he had time to do something that wasn’t too rushed or messy. Through Bartel, Duncan, Johnson, Cam Guthrie, Harry Taylor and others the Cats were sure, steady and safe.
The Bulldogs played a more hurried, hopeful game, especially early and largely by force. When they got the ball they threw it quickly to boot, sending quick kicks forward that ended up either at a one-on-one contest they couldn’t always win, or in the hands of a loose Geelong player. Three times, that player was waiting in the goal square.
The Dogs had their first good patch at the end of the second quarter when they scored two goals in a row for the first time, reducing a six-goal margin to a more gettable four after Stewart Crameri kicked into an open goal and Luke Dahlhaus juggled a mark.
In the third quarter they got even better, winning 10 more contested possessions than the Cats. Tom Liberatore had seven possessions for the quarter, Matthew Boyd got busier, Ryan Griffen, Dahlhaus and others got going and twice, Marcus Bontempelli finished off with classy goals.
For all their work they gained back only eight points and in the last quarter still had a very good side to keep getting around. Geelong’s endeavour hadn’t gone anywhere; when the Bulldogs had the run, their tackle count simply went up, Bartel finishing with 15 in a second-best ever team tally of 130.