AFL: Geelong Cats beat Sydney Swans in semi-final knockout

In this season of nonplus, this might have been the most confounding twist yet. At one end of the MCG, the great Buddy Franklin, playing in his usual position, was double-teamed, and halved as a force, contributing not a single goal, and usually innovative Sydney could do nothing about it.

On one leg, Franklin sported what may have been a wad of padding, or a floatie. Either way, he played as if marooned, drowning not waving.

At the other, the great Paddy Dangerfield, playing out of position, was double-teamed, and yet somehow redoubled as a force, kicking four first-half goals, and so did those around him, and sometimes proxying for him, profit, and the usually enterprising Sydney could do nothing about that, either. He kicked no more after half-time; he had no need.

So did the Cats, down in estimation, confidence and personnel, and having lost Tom Lonergan, Buddy's notional opponent, before the game, summon up one of the great counter-intuitive finals wins. So on they go, to Adelaide and a preliminary final, and even with a little in reserve after sitting out the final quarter, which was played as if in ceasefire mode.

Geelong had and used the double chance. Sydney has been on its last chance for months, and finally it expired. It was one thing for them to give the competition a six-game head-start, another to give Cats six goals head-start in a do-or-die final.  So out they go.

The solution to the riddle of this night's result was manifest at each end, but the working-out was up the ground. There, the Cats won all the contests, strategic, mental and physical. They broke even at clearances, the Swans' patent strength, this despite sacrificing Dangerfield to the forward line detail. In this enterprise, Mitch Duncan was outstanding, and Sam Menegola, surplus to requirements last week, no less.

Geelong monopolised the ball, with the dual effect of denying it to Sydney and taking the usual manic finals burr out of the game. This was control, but the Swans prefer, would you believe, chaos. And they were helpless to manufacture it. Here was a page from the playbook of Hawthorn, the only team to beat Sydney since April, until now. This was apart from anything else a finely worked coaching triumph. Captain Joel Selwood said coach Chris Scott was the three-voter this night.

And slowly it dawned on you that well as the Swans had done even to be here this season, the Cats were always hereabouts, and resilient as Sydney has been this last decade or so, the Cats have always been thereabouts, too. They have their pride, and it showed, glinting like an Anzac Day medal.

Quiet night: Sydney's Lance Franklin failed to make an impact. Photo: Wayne Ludbey

Quiet night: Sydney's Lance Franklin failed to make an impact. Photo: Wayne Ludbey

In prospect, this was the calm after the storm created by Richmond the previous Friday night. Both teams were from out of town. Geelong generally misses home, Sydney makes itself at home wherever it goes. Hence the apprehension.

A day of drenching rain added to the dampening. "The platforms are wet, because of the rain," said the Met man on Jolimont station, and you knew then that it was going to be a night of trying too hard. The crowd dribbled in, finally reckoning up at just more 55,000.

But the rain did have the effect of making the MCG and everything in it sparkle as if sporting a new coat of paint. That charm will have been lost on Sydney.

The last thing Geelong could afford Sydney was the flying start that has been a feature of their recent meetings. Artfully, they moved the game into a lower key than is usual for finals, and usual for Sydney, which thrives on a more frenetic beat.

The conditions helped, affecting handling and footing. After Dangerfield kicked two early goals, the Swans were forced to order a man back as rearguard, The overall effect was further muffling. Meantime, the Cats set a swarm on Franklin, outnumbering him so completely that the umpires might have called for a count. Tactically, this was to be expected.

The surprise was that Sydney had no counter. Sydney, such a self-assured team these last four months, were befuddled. And duly the Geelong goals rained, six in a row, 11 of 13 until the game was asleep and the counting could stop.

If you were to single out a goal as symbolic, it was the one kicked by Duncan from a 50-metre penalty against Franklin, who if he made any movement off the line, it can only have been a sideways glance. The Swans might have guessed then that this was not to be their night.

Reports of Sydney's death in April turned out to be greatly exaggerated. Reports of Geelong's death last week turned out to be even more exaggerated. The Cats did, and the Swans died.