GARY Rohan landed a match-winning goal after the siren to clinch Geelong victory – and premiership favouritism – over the Western Bulldogs in a heart-stopper on Friday night.
In shades of Billy Brownless against the same opponents 27 years earlier, Rohan sank the Dogs with a 45m set shot deep in the left forward pocket in front of 6583 fans at GMHBA Stadium.
After a gather from Cam Guthrie on the wing and release to Isaac Smith, Rohan marked strongly in front of an oncoming Taylor Duryea in the dying seconds before landing Geelong its sixth straight win, 12.11 (83) to 11.12 (78).
Comeback Dog Toby McLean looked to have secured the Dogs a major scalp on enemy territory just moments earlier, dribbling a goal in his first game after a ruptured ACL nine months ago.
However, Rohan had other ideas, his goal the 13th lead change in an epic see-sawing affair and extended the Dogs' losing streak at the venue to 10 games.
Billed as a mouth-watering blockbuster between two top-four sides, the first quarter offered little as both sides traded mistakes and one goal apiece.
It came to life in the second term when Josh Bruce kicked the best of his three goals with a brilliant snap from the right forward pocket before Geelong threatened to blow the game open, regaining the lead with three goals in a two-minute burst.
After the Cats lost Mitch Duncan to a knee injury in the first term, Aaron Naughton was subbed out at half-time with rib damage before Dogs teammate Anthony Scott bobbed up with two third-quarter goals.
Dogs skipper Marcus Bontempelli, who was impressive throughout, made time stop around him with a left-foot snap out of a contest before Geelong rallied again.
Misses from Bontempelli and Scott to start the final term ultimately proved costly as the lead changed a further three times in the final term before Rohan decided the outcome.
Tom Stewart finished with 15 intercept disposals in a best-on-ground performance that saved the undersized Cats defence on numerous occasions.
Pair of guns subbed out
Cat Mitch Duncan and Dog Aaron Naughton would sit among the top handful of each club's most important players and both finished the game in tracksuits. Duncan was taken out of the game after twisting his knee in a marking contest in the first quarter. After a short-lived attempt to strap it up, he was replaced by Quinton Narkle. Naughton then copped a hit to his ribs from Jed Bews on the half-time siren and took close to a minute to get to his feet before Mitch Wallis took his place for the second half.
Tough Dog beats the clock
Western Bulldogs premiership forward Toby McLean was recalled as a late inclusion on Friday night, just a tick over nine months after rupturing his ACL. The 25-year-old replaced Stefan Martin (shoulder) in the Dogs' side and, apart from an injury scare during the third quarter, didn't miss a beat to finish with 21 disposals. McLean was fit to return at VFL level three weeks ago before the competition was put into hiatus due to COVID-19, meaning his return against the Cats came without any formal match practice.
Fetch it yourself
Isaac Smith would've been excused for thinking he was back playing for Redan in the Ballarat Football League. The triple-premiership Hawk, who was plucked out of local footy as a 22-year-old, was forced to go and pick up his own ball from over the fence in a vacant Gary Ablett Terrace during the second quarter. Given the 7000-cap on local fans due to COVID-19, the end behind each goals were left vacated, aside from a small group of the Geelong cheer squad at the Barwon River end.
GEELONG 1.4 6.6 9.10 12.11 (83)
WESTERN BULLDOGS 1.4 5.5 9.8 11.12 (78)
Geelong: Cameron 2, Menegola 2, Rohan 2, Close, Hawkins, Dahlhaus, Selwood, Ratugolea, Parfitt
Western Bulldogs: Bruce 3, Scott 2, Liberatore, Weightman, Johannisen, Bontempelli, Daniel, McLean
Geelong: Stewart, Selwood, Menegola, Smith, Dangerfield, Parfitt
Western Bulldogs: Liberatore, Bontempelli, Macrae, Bruce, Daniel, Williams
Geelong: Duncan (knee), Henderson (hip) replaced in selected side by Narkle
Western Bulldogs: Naughton (ribs), Martin (shoulder) replaced in selected side by McLean
Geelong: Higgins (replaced Duncan)
Western Bulldogs: Wallis (replaced Naughton)
Crowd: 6583 at GMHBA Stadium