This was not just a win for the ages. This was a win for the aged.
Geelong put the oldest team ever to play in an AFL game out on the park and produced one of the game’s great performances.
Chris Scott’s 200th win as an AFL coach was the win that brought him his second premiership and vindication as a coaching great – the sort of coach who has a 70 per cent win-loss record, the best in footy history.
If his first triumph in 2011 was with the team that Bomber Thompson built, this one was with the team that he evolved and stuck by. When Melbourne routed Geelong in last year’s preliminary final we thought the Cats dynasty was done. We were wrong. Too old, too slow? Too good.
Scott nursed his oldies through the year, then unleashed them on the Swans.
Of the six goals that the Cats kicked before quarter time in an extraordinary burst Sydney never recovered from, five were kicked by players more than 31 years old. Tom Hawkins (34) got them rolling with his power at forward-50 stoppages with two goals. Isaac Smith (33) outran younger Sydney players for two of his own. Mark Blicavs (31) added a fifth before youngster Brad Close got in on the act.
If it was Scott’s vindication, it was captain Joel Selwood’s legacy. The 34-year-old had 12 first-term disposals and rolled on to finish with 26, including a last-quarter goal that left him in tears in his fourth premiership. Smith outran them all day, finished with 32 disposals and three goals and a Norm Smith Medal in his fourth flag (three at Hawthorn). He is the oldest Norm Smith Medal winner in history.
Sometimes statistics lie. Sometimes they tell you all you need to know. At quarter time, we had just seen one of the more devastating first-quarter blitzes in recent grand final memory and one of the more accurate sets of statistics we have seen.
The Cats hammered them at stoppages 12-9. Paddy Dangerfield, the 32-year-old Brownlow winner who finally got his flag, charged out the front end of centre clearances to give the Cats inside-50s, which Geelong dominated 20-8. The Swans spent the entire term defending.
And they couldn’t defend the inside-50 stoppages. Hawkins rag-dolled Tom Hickey twice close to goal and scored. Tom McCartin was too far away to do anything about it.
They smashed them at the contest. They were plus-19 in contested possession at quarter time, an extraordinary number. Sydney couldn’t alter the pace of the onslaught because they couldn’t get their hands on the ball.
They outran and outspread them. They were plus-39 in uncontested possession at quarter time. Smith, who runs smarter and harder than most, scored twice because he was prepared to work to be dangerous.
Sydney needed to take away Geelong’s marking game, one of their acknowledged strengths, but they got drowned in the deluge of that as well. Geelong had taken 35 marks by quarter time. Sydney had 13. If you can’t win a contest and can’t take a mark, you have zero control.
Sydney’s own golden oldie Lance Franklin (35) found out that age doesn’t work for everyone. He lacked opportunity and had a stinker, drawing a bronx cheer from the crowd when he got a couple of his five touches for the game in the final term.
Franklin can console himself that he wasn’t alone. One team fired. The other froze. Geelong’s grand tour de force was Sydney’s nightmare. Everywhere you looked there was a Sydney player who wanted more time than he had. The first and third terms were horrendous and the last quarter irrelevant, leaving Sydney competitive in just 30 minutes of two hours of football.
Chad Warner kept running. Luke Parker kept trying. Robbie Fox may have been their only winner on the day against Jeremy Cameron, and Ryan Clarke did well on Tom Stewart. There was no good news for the Bloods anywhere else.