Tom Hawkins led the way with a career-high seven goals as Geelong powered to a 62-point win over the Brisbane Lions on Saturday night.
The result shored up third spot on the AFL ladder for the Cats and set up a qualifying final clash with arch-rivals Hawthorn.
With Fremantle having beaten Port Adelaide earlier in the day, the Cats knew they had to win at Simonds Stadium to avoid slipping to fourth place and a nightmare trip to Sydney in the first week of the playoffs.
They did it with ease, extending their lead at every change to win 21.17 (143) to 12.9 (81) against the under-manned Lions.
Hawkins led the way with seven majors – giving him 62 for the home and away season.
Midfielder Mitch Duncan (35 possessions) and skipper Joel Selwood (29 disposals and two goals) challenged Hawkins for best afield honours.
If the late withdrawals of vice-captain Tom Rockliff (virus) and clever forward Dayne Zorko (personal reasons) were not enough bad omens for Brisbane, it became crystal clear it wasn’t going to be their night when the ball struck Darcy Gardiner flush in the temple in the second minute following an errant kick from teammate Pearce Hanley.
But they continued to battle away, with Irishman Hanley and young guns Lewis Taylor and Zac O’Brien among their best contributors.
Josh Green led the Lions’ goalscorers with three.
Hawkins kicked four of his seven goals in the opening half, but the Cats did most of their damage in the second as they recorded their biggest score of the season.
Geelong and Hawthorn will return to the MCG on Friday night to renew their great modern-day rivalry in the first week of the finals, only two weeks after the Hawks beat them by 23 points in round 21.
With Matthew Leuenberger returning to the Brisbane lineup after recovering from a serious knee injury, Lions coach Justin Leppitsch experimented successfully by also regularly deploying his other ruckman Stefan Martin at the centre bounces.
The Lions ended their first season under Leppitsch in 15th place with a 7-15 win-loss record.
Meanwhile, North Melbourne defeated Melbourne in Saturday night’s other match at Etihad Stadium.
The Kangaroos started the game knowing they would face Essendon in a sudden-death final seven days later – regardless of the result or margin against the Demons.
Brad Scott’s men looked every part a side that had nothing to play for in the opening half, but after the major break they moved the ball more intelligently and cranked up the pressure.
North booted five goals to one in the third quarter, laying the platform for the 19.9 (123) to 14.9 (93) victory.
Scott would have mixed feelings about his side’s fourth straight win, but his most pressing concern will be an update on defender Lachie Hansen’s hip niggle.
Hansen, who missed the past three games, returned against the Demons but was substituted at halftime.
Leigh Adams was left dazed after a clash of heads with Daniel Cross, the forward also landing awkwardly on his troublesome shoulder after the collision.
Captain Andrew Swallow was felled by an ungainly hit from Chris Dawes late in the third quarter, but played out the game.
Dawes, who booted two goals, then collected Jack Ziebell in the fourth term to earn the wrath of the majority of the 17,174-strong crowd.