Cats smash Lions to book grand final berth

·3-min read

Geelong are one win away from an elusive AFL premiership after banishing their preliminary final demons with a 71-point thumping of the Brisbane Lions at the MCG.

Lifted by a heroic performance from star veteran Patrick Dangerfield on Friday, the Cats booked their second grand final appearance in three seasons by winning 18.12 (120) to 7.7 (49) in front of 77,677 fans.

Geelong will enter the September 24 decider on a 15-game winning streak and are guaranteed to start the game as warm favourites no matter if the Sydney Swans or Collingwood win the other preliminary final.

It was the Cats' sixth preliminary final since 2013, but they have not won a flag since 2011 and their only grand final appearance in that period was a loss to Richmond in 2020.

Young speedster Max Holmes is in some doubt for the decider after being subbed out with a hamstring injury in the third quarter.

The 20-year-old looked heartbroken on the bench, punching the ground, as Irishman Mark O'Connor was substituted into the match.

But Cats coach Chris Scott was confident Holmes had avoided serious damage and optimistic he would play in the grand final.

"I went down there thinking the worst (about Holmes), but I bounced out of the rooms," Scott said.

"It's not a sure thing but the quality of our medical staff, when they say they're optimistic, it gets me up on my toes."

Dangerfield set the tone for Geelong, booting the first goal of Friday night's match on his way to a first-quarter tally of nine touches and two majors.

The Brownlow medallist finished with 28 possessions, approaching the match with a steely determination to win the premiership that has eluded him in 302 games with Adelaide and the Cats.

"Compared to where he's (Dangerfield) been previously, it's chalk and cheese," Scott said.

"He's a bit older but he goes into the biggest game of the year in the best shape he's been for years."

The Cats fielded the oldest team in VFL/AFL history with an average age of 28 years 173 days, including 10 players aged more than 30, but it was not just their established veterans who stepped up.

Brownlow medal favourite Lachie Neale's influence was curbed after the Lions superstar opened the finals series with two dominant midfield performances.

Neale was restricted to just one touch in the second quarter as Geelong built a matchwinning lead, skipping away to a 30-point lead at halftime.

Geelong's defenders dominated Lions tall forwards Eric Hipwood and Joe Daniher as Tom Stewart, Jack Henry and Sam De Koning took intercept marks with ease.

Any hope the Lions had of repeating their second-half heroics from the semi-final win against Melbourne were ruined at the start of the third term when Joe Daniher kicked a set-shot out on the full, before Tyson Stengle snapped an opportunistic goal a minute later for Geelong.

Star forward Tom Hawkins (four goals) and dynamo Tyson Stengle (three) were crucial, while Gryan Miers and Gary Rohan slotted multiple majors.

In a blow for the Lions, former No.1 draft pick Cam Rayner was helped off the field with an ankle injury and was subbed off for Rhys Mathieson.

Rayner missed the entire 2021 season after rupturing his ACL and had taken time to recapture his best form this year.

Lions coach Chris Fagan said the Cats taught his team a lesson after two memorable finals victories over Richmond and Melbourne.

"There's been a lot of good things that have happened this year, tonight wasn't one of them," Fagan said.

"We should also talk about the learnings we get from playing against a great side like Geelong, who just played a brilliant finals game and look in great shape for next week."