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Cats fired up for clash with AFL premiers

Geelong veteran Isaac Smith insists there are no lingering scars from heartbreaking AFL defeats to Melbourne but admits there will be “a bit of feeling” in their first-versus-second battle.

Both sides will be bolstered by key inclusions on Thursday night, with Demons premiership duo Max Gawn (syndesmosis) and Luke Jackson (knee) back from injuries.

Cats skipper Joel Selwood (managed) and key defender Sam De Koning (cork) will also return after one match each on the sidelines.

Gawn and the Demons loomed large over Geelong late last season, with the All-Australian ruckman kicking an after-the-siren goal to sink the Cats in round 23.

He then booted a career-best five goals in an 83-point preliminary final drubbing before Melbourne went on to claim a drought-breaking flag.

The two sides meet for the first time since then at a sold-out GMHBA Stadium.

“Individually you don’t like losing big games but if you look at history, you’re going to lose them (sometimes),” Smith said.

“We came up against a white-hot Melbourne that proved to be the best team in the competition.

“Does that make you angry? To be honest, it would be a hard life if you were angry for a long time about that.

“But to have a top-of-the-table clash against them at our home ground, obviously there will be a bit of feeling there.”

After the preliminary final, it emerged Geelong had a virus sweep through the side in Perth during the build-up.

The Cats (11-4) are back purring now, buoyed by six straight wins, including last week’s 112-point thrashing of North Melbourne, in a streak that has seen them surge into second spot.

A win over Melbourne (12-3) could see them leap into first place on percentage.

“The circumstances are very, very different this time,” Geelong coach Chris Scott said.

“(The preliminary final) is certainly relevant to the discussion (but) it’s just not as relevant to us.”

Melbourne used Sam Weideman and Mitch Brown as a makeshift ruck combination in last week’s win over Adelaide after Jackson was a late withdrawal.

Gawn missed a second straight match with his ankle setback, which he suffered before the mid-season bye.

Demons coach Simon Goodwin declared his star ruck combination “100 per cent” fit for a contest that offers both sides an early taste of September.

“It’s exciting, it feels like a final and our players are looking forward to it,” Goodwin said.

“There’s a lot of excitement around the group and a lot of energy this week.

“There’s no bigger challenge than to head down to Geelong and play on their home ground.”

The Cats have a 4-1 record at the Kardinia Park venue this season.

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