A flawless end to an immaculate season. Before Saturday, Geelong were the best team of 2022. Top of the ladder. On a 15-game winning streak. There to be beaten. The mostly likely side to do it were Sydney. But if form really does go out the window in big games, the Swans hurled theirs into oblivion in the grand final, blown away by 81 points by a Cats outfit as magnificent as their opponents were textureless.
This decider, on return to a full house of 100,024 at the MCG after a two-year hiatus, was a famous victory for the ages. The 20.13 (133) to 8.4 (52) result is the equal fifth-biggest grand final win in VFL/AFL history. It was also a belting with shades of Geelong’s 119-point 2007 premiership triumph over Port Adelaide, and one that was all but over after the opening quarter. A 35-point quarter-time lead – the biggest in a grand final for 33 years – set the Swans an almost-insurmountable task. They stemmed the bleeding in the second term but by the third the result was academic.
For Chris Scott, undoubtedly one of the best coaches the game has seen, it is a first piece of silverware since he won the flag in his first year at the Cats in 2011. Reward, too, for his smart list management. For turning age into an asset and fashioning a collective unit of consistency which was on display from the first siren to the last.
And for captain Joel Selwood, now a four-time premiership winner who kicked a goal late on in his 355th and possibly final game, it was all too much.
“They’re so hard to win, they’re so hard to win,” he said. “Every side says it, but I think we deserved one. Just been bashing away. We don’t apologise to being up there, having a crack at it each year.
“This has been built over five or six years. There have been a lot of good people … in and out of the program. I hope they’re sitting back really proud today. It just hasn’t been 12 months in the making.”
Geelong’s lineup on Saturday was the oldest team to ever play in the VFL/AFL – grand final or not – with an average age of 28 years and 173 days. The Swans, young and comparatively inexperienced, had been a revelation this season, with a roster of emerging talent and an energy that helped them squeak past Collingwood last weekend.
But while Sydney were wearing red it was Geelong who were red hot, all form and speed, aggressive on the ball and causing mayhem for defenders who spent the entire first quarter under siege and unable to organise. Robbie Fox played a lone hand, keeping Jeremy Cameron honest. But the Cats entered forward-50 in open space and breached Sydney again and again.
Tom Hawkins drew first blood, and second, and would finish with three goals, to be bested only by Tyson Stengle’s match-high four. Then Norm Medallist Isaac Smith, who scored three of his own and led the field for disposals, kicks and metres gained. And then Mark Blicavs.
By the end of the opening onslaught Lance Franklin had one disposal and Isaac Heeney hadn’t touched the ball. Geelong, meanwhile, had racked up almost double Sydney’s disposal count, nearly triple the inside-50s and triple the number of marks. Geelong had won the contested possession by 20.
The Swans needed a response. They had to slow down the game. Franklin emerged in the second term higher up the field. He grabbed the ball and clattered the post, harried and hassled with little support. It wasn’t until Hayden McLean took a smart one-handed mark in the goal square before converting the straightforward set shot that the energy of the context shifted ever so slightly.
They started to chip away. Heeney kicked a major from his third touch of the match. Last time these teams met, at the SCG back in round two, Heeney was best on ground with five goals and Franklin scored the 1,000th of his career. Here both struggled to assert themselves into a game in which nothing seemed to fall their way.
By half-time they had stopped the rot but the deficit still stood at 36 points and Sam Reid had departed with a flare-up to his adductor injury, returning to the bench for the second half before eventually being subbed out for Braeden Campbell.
Geelong didn’t take a chance with the injured Max Holmes, a tough call that paid off as Mark O’Connor slotted in seamlessly. Patrick Dangerfield was Patrick Dangerfield-esque throughout, dominating the centre clearances all the way to the veteran’s first flag, while Tom Stewart and Sam De Koning were unimpeachable in defence.
A six-goal third quarter put the result beyond doubt as Stengle, picked up as a delisted free agent and playing in the SANFL this time last year, joined an elite group of Cats to kick four or more in a decider. He now stands beside the likes of Cam Mooney, Paul Chapman, Steve Johnson, Bill Brownless, Doug Wade and Gary Ablett senior.
There were late consolations for the Swans, as Chad Warner added two late goals and Tom Papley added one just before the siren, but they were again outscored by a Geelong team already on an inexorable march to glory some time in the making.