It was the encounter that really mattered, the contest that would send one team packing and the other into the next round of AFL finals.
And to Melbourne it mattered more, as they made pointedly clear with a fanatic, no-quarter-given first quarter that took Geelong by storm and surprise, setting the pattern for the remaining three quarters.
In their first finals appearance since 2006, Melbourne ended Geelong’s AFL season on Friday night with a gutsy 29-point elimination final win at the MCG.
The Demons jumped the Cats early on Friday night then held their nerve to record a 10.15 (75) to 6.10 (46) win in front of a crowd of 91,767 spectators, a record attendance for a fixture between the sides.
The win set up a cut-throat semi-final against Hawthorn next Friday night for Simon Goodwin’s troops.
The Demons were on song early then terribly wasteful, kicking 1.10 for the second and third quarters, but Geelong picked the worst possible time to kick its lowest score of the season.
Reeling from the Demons’ first-quarter assault, Geelong’s confidence and competence went to the dogs.
It isn’t often that Gary Ablett kicks into the man on the mark – but in the game really mattered, at a moments that really mattered, he did not once but twice.
As much as the Cats struggled to find their rhythm, they were still well in the contest midway through the third quarter before an inexcusable act of ill-discipline from skipper Joel Selwood proved pivotal.
With Tom Hawkins lining up for a goal that would have cut the margin to 15 points, Selwood gave away a free kick when he grabbed Jake Melksham high as the pair went to the interchange bench.
Even so, a 23-point three-quarter-time deficit still was not beyond the Cats.
But it was fitting that Nathan Jones, the player with the longest streak of games without playing a final, kicked the first goal of the last quarter to the delight of long-suffering Melbourne supporters.
Young forward Sam Weideman was outstanding with 24 possessions and three goals, with Clayton Oliver (29 disposals) and Angus Brayshaw (26) providing the midfield grunt and polish in equal measure.
The young Demons quickly allayed fears they might struggle to handle the heat early, rattling the Cats with a withering burst of five unanswered goals to lead by 31 points at the first break.
Goodwin’s side continued that domination everywhere but on the scoreboard in the second quarter.
Melbourne attacked in waves, going inside 50 on 17 occasions to Geelong’s six, but somehow failed to kick a goal, while the Cats ground out their first two goals of the match to trail by 23 points at half-time.
Selwood’s third-quarter brain fade robbed his side of momentum, but the Demons still had much work to do.
Geelong famously swooped from the clouds to break Melbourne hearts in a last-gasp win when the sides last met, but Jones’ goal was the first of four last-quarter majors that ensured there was no repeat.
The Cats superstar trio of Patrick Dangerfield (25), Gary Ablett (27) and Selwood (25) were prominent but Chris Scott will be left to lament an uneven performance.