Geelong has put old rivals Hawthorn to the sword, and calmed fears that 2020 would be a defensive low-scoring season with a brilliant performance at Kardinia Park.
After the first four quarters of football in the restarted season, there had been grumbling from fans and pundits at the low-scoring grind of Richmond’s MCG draw with Collingwood.
Just 10 goals for the match shone a negative spotlight on the move to shortened 16-minute quarters for the 2020 season.
Then Geelong and Hawthorn came out at Kardinia Park and quickly proved they didn’t need lots of time to put points on the board.
The Cats finished off a four-quarter effort to win 17.6 (108) to 7.5 (47).
Geelong took just 21 seconds to get things moving, with ruckman Rhys Stanley winning the clearance as Geelong went straight forward for Luke Dahlhaus to kick the opening goal.
Like Collingwood the night before, it was the Cats who got the jump, booting the first three goals of the game.
Hawthorn found an answer in the first quarter, and ended up kicking four of their own in the opening term for a combined total of nine.
And unlike the first game of the round, the scoring didn’t dry up.
Whether that was because both sides lacked the shutdown qualities of Collingwood and Richmond or were better in attack is a matter for debate.
But in all, 24 goals were kicked in a much more entertaining contest.
Cats answer the critics
After round one, there were concerns about Geelong’s list and playing style, following a 32-point loss to GWS in Sydney.
The Hawks were ultra-impressive, beating the fancied Brisbane Lions comfortably.
Since then there has been a break of more than 11 weeks — and it became clear at Kardinia Park that the early form had gone out the window.
If there had been any questions about the Cats’ older players, they were answered.
Gary Ablett kicked two goals and could have had a third by half-time. He had four score involvements, three inside 50s and two tackles inside 50 as he helped the Cats lock the ball in the forward 50.
Ablett began the second half in similar fashion, crafting a perfect kick to Stanley that set up another goal and gave Geelong a 13-point break.
At 36 years of age, Ablett has made it clear that this is his last season in the AFL.
On his first four quarters’ evidence, the dual Brownlow Medallist will have plenty to offer his team.
His defensive pressure up forward, his vision and pin-point passing, not to mention his reminder that he can still kick one from outside 50, make him extremely dangerous.
Another veteran, skipper Joel Selwood, had 28 disposals, eight clearances, three tackles and a goal.
On the other side, another “old stager” was making the most of his opportunities.
Shaun Burgoyne was a key for the Hawks up forward as they came back from a solid margin.
He kicked a goal, had two goal assists and a couple of tackles as his renowned game sense came to the fore.
Tough night for tall timber at Kardinia
There were plenty of tall forwards on offer at Kardinia Park, but they weren’t the key to the game.
Tom Hawkins and Esava Ratugolea for the Cats and Jonathon Patton for the Hawks had quiet matches.
Instead it was a night for the small forwards.
Aside from Ablett, it was players like Dahlhaus, Joel Selwood, Tom Atkins, Gryan Miers, Mitch Duncan and Sam Menegola who were finishing off attacks for the home side.
Stanley kicked a couple of goals, but as a ruckman rather than a tall forward.
For Hawthorn, the likes of Luke Breust, midfielder Oliver Hanrahan and Burgoyne got on the scoreboard.
Patton grabbed a goal and Gunston two, but it was a game for quick movement and sharp passing rather than aerial contests.
The Cats were playing at home, but in front of a sea of empty seats.
It was the intent of the Geelong side that made the difference.
They dominated the clearances, contested possessions and inside 50s, making relatively easy work of the Hawks.
The Cats were able to rotate many players through the middle, and the Hawks did not have the answers.
Danger breaks out late in 250th
It may have been Patrick Dangerfield’s 250th, but Hawthorn was not in a mood to give out any presents for his landmark game.
The Geelong star was corralled and kept silent for a fair part of the game by Liam Shiels.
Dangerfield, who is capable at his best of breaking games open, was stifled to the point that he had just seven touches to half-time.
It took him until more than halfway through the third term before he made an impact, closing down Isaac Smith to get a holding the ball call.
He went back and kicked the goal, and minutes later had a chance for another when Ablett found him in the right forward pocket — only to hit the post with his set shot.
Later on he was slung in a tackle by Burgoyne, although it appeared to be careless rather than intentional.
Dangerfield’s head hit the ground, and although he got up, it was called as a dangerous tackle and Burgoyne might find himself mentioned by the Match Review Panel.
As the Hawks faded in the second half, he came more into the game, and finished with 24 disposals, five clearances and a goal.
By three quarter-time, the game was gone for the Hawks, with the Cats leading by 37 points.
Geelong went on with it in the final term, kicking four goals to no score in what was a diversion from the usual thrillers played between the sides in the last decade.
The Hawks will have to back up against Richmond next week at the MCG, while Geelong will stay at Kardinia Park for a Saturday night match against Carlton, before matches against Melbourne and Gold Coast.