Gary Ablett’s storied AFL career will end on the biggest stage as the Geelong Cats advance to next Saturday’s grand final against Richmond.
The dual Brownlow Medallist was an influential figure in the Cats’ 40-point win over the Brisbane Lions at the Gabba on Saturday night to ensure an all-Victorian final in the Queensland capital.
Geelong’s win means the 357th and final game of Ablett’s honour-laden career will be a chance at a third premiership.
The 36-year-old played a key role in getting the Cats over the Lions, showing all of his big-match experience in the third quarter.
Ablett kicked two goals in the 11.16 (82) to 6.6 (42) victory to help ensure his decorated career lasts one more week.
Mitch Duncan, Sam Menegola and Patrick Dangerfield were important for the Cats and Tom Hawkins kicked two goals in an entertaining duel with Harris Andrews.
Gary Rohan finished with three majors, completing his haul with a set shot after the final siren.
Brownlow Medal favourite Lachie Neale overcame a slow start to finish with 24 disposals, eight clearances and two goals for the Lions, but was part of a midfield unit that was outworked and outmuscled for long periods.
Geelong’s triumph in front of 29,121 fans – predominantly favouring Brisbane – came after four successive defeats in preliminary finals and set up the first all-Victorian grand final since their last appearance in 2011.
Versatile star Dangerfield started in attack and Geelong’s midfield didn’t miss him early as they dominated clearances 15-4 in the first term.
But the Cats couldn’t make their territorial dominance count and led by just five points at the first break after kicking 2.5.
Charlie Cameron took his chances at the other end, kicking two first-quarter goals, the second after catching Jack Henry holding the ball.
Neale didn’t have a kick in the first term but helped lift the Lions in the second when he had 10 disposals, five clearances and a goal as the contest evened up in the middle.
Ablett fired in the third term as Geelong edged out to a game-high three-goal lead despite continuing to be wasteful in attack.
Ablett’s first goal came from a Dangerfield throw that went unseen by the umpires, but there was no doubting his second, a 55m bomb on the run out of a centre bounce.
The Cats got a fast start in the final term and Gryan Miers’ goal at the one-minute mark was a hammer blow to Brisbane, who were unable to fight their way back.
There was a brief chance when Lachie Henderson gave away a 50m penalty to Ryan Lester by kicking the ball away after a mark, but the Lions defender pushed a straightforward shot wide.
The margin blew out in the dying stages.