GEELONG has overcome a West Coast onslaught and their own poor September record to book an AFL preliminary final berth, defeating the Eagles by 20 points in a gripping semi-final at the MCG.
The Cats will face Richmond for a spot in the grand final after withstanding an inspired Eagles comeback on Friday night to prevail 13.10 (88) to 10.8 (68) before 51,893 fans.
Spearhead Tom Hawkins booted four majors but is certain to face match review scrutiny for an off-the-ball hit on West Coast opponent Will Schofield.
Schofield was slow to get back to his feet after Hawkins collected him with a swinging fist to the head well behind the play in the third quarter.
Just 48 hours after learning of star forward Willie Rioli’s bombshell provisional suspension for allegedly substituting a urine anti-doping sample, West Coast looked flat early but worked their way back into the contest.
The Eagles led by four points at the final break but Hawkins booted the opening goal of the final term and the Cats didn’t look back.
Goals to Jed Bews and Luke Dahlhaus and another to Hawkins put the result beyond doubt with the Eagles held to a solitary point for the quarter.
Recalled midfielder Cam Guthrie was outstanding for the Cats with 33 disposals while skipper Joel Selwood – playing in a club record 29th final – wound back the clock with a dominant first half and finished with 26 touches and a goal.
Importantly, the Cats also have the monkey off their back after avoiding becoming the first minor premiers in 36 years to bow out of the finals in straight sets.
Chris Scott’s team had gone into the match having won just three of their past 13 finals and with Scott under pressure for his decision-making.
The big pre-game question was what effect the highly popular Rioli’s suspension would have on his West Coast teammates.
And from the moment Jack Darling fumbled a regulation chest mark in the opening minute, the Eagles looked flat.
Hawkins booted the Cats’ first major, and another dropped mark – this time by the normally ultra-reliable Jeremy McGovern – led to Tom Atkins kicking their second.
First-year player Atkins was also responsible for another demoralising moment for the Eagles when he ran down a completely unwitting Chris Masten to take back possession, while Esava Ratugolea booted back-to-back goals.
West Coast looked down for the count before Liam Ryan, who went without a touch in the first term, unleashed a long-range set shot quickly followed by goals to Darling and Masten.
Eagles wingman Andrew Gaff stood tall in the third term with back-to-back goals and when Tom Hickey converted from a 50-metre penalty against Geelong opponent Sam Menegola, the Eagles had booted seven of the last eight majors.
But Selwood answered back from a set shot and the Cats carried the momentum into a dominant final term.
© AAP 2019
GEELONG 5.2 7.3 9.9 13.10 (88)
WEST COAST 1.1 5.5 10.7 10.8 (68)
Goals: Geelong: T Hawkins 4 E Ratugolea 3 T Kelly 2 J Bews J Selwood L Dahlhaus T Atkins. West Coast: J Darling 3 A Gaff 2 C Masten J Kennedy J Petruccelle L Ryan T Hickey.
Umpires: Simon Meredith, Mathew Nicholls, Andrew Stephens.
Official Crowd: 51,813 at MCG.