Geelong will meet Collingwood in an AFL preliminary final for the third time in four seasons after cruising to a 69-point semi-final win over Fremantle at the MCG.
The Cats won 20.15 (135) to 10.6 (66), a result that was never in doubt after they belted the shell-shocked Dockers 8.1 to 1.1 in a dominant first term.
Cats coach Mark Thompson had warned his side after last weekend’s fast-finishing four-point loss to St Kilda that he would not tolerate another slow start against Fremantle, and his players responded.
They put on 5.1 before Fremantle scored – with a rushed behind early in time-on – then piled on three more goals in the last five minutes of the quarter, after Dockers captain Matthew Pavlich posted his side’s first.
When Geelong key forward James Podsiadly – back from a two-game suspension – kicked his third major five minutes into the second quarter, the Cats were 49 points clear and the contest was as good as over.
The Dockers, playing at the MCG for the first time all season, were hampered by giant ruckman Aaron Sandilands coming into the game with a knee injury.
The big man started in attack and Geelong had three goals before he moved into the ruck, but even then his effectiveness was limited by his struggle to jump off the ground.
Fremantle had plenty of other concerns, notably their minimal early defensive pressure, allowing the Cats to speed from defence into attack down the middle of the ground with ease on numerous occasions.
Running defender David Wojcinski was particularly damaging, finishing with two goals, and contributing to several others.
The Dockers eventually lifted in the second quarter, sparked by speedy small forward Michael Walters snapping two goals in three minutes to reduce the margin to 37 points.
But while they matched the Cats for most of the middle two quarters, they never got closer.
They kept their hopes alive by going goal for goal for most of the third term, but an excellent 45m snap to Geelong captain Cameron Ling and a goalsquare mark and goal to Cameron Mooney, both in time-on, created a 49-point buffer at the last change.
Geelong rammed home the advantage in the final quarter, ensuring Fremantle’s first finals campaign in four seasons ended poorly.
Brownlow Medallist Gary Ablett starred for the winners with 36 disposals and some fine midfield clearance work, while Podsiadly, Steve Johnson and Mathew Stokes each kicked three goals, among 13 goal-kickers.
Pavlich kicked four for the Dockers and Walters three, with David Mundy their best in the midfield.
The Cats play Collingwood, the minor premiers, at the MCG next Friday night, having beaten them at the preliminary final stage enroute to both their 2007 and 2009 premierships.
Geelong coach Mark Thompson said the start against the Dockers was exactly what he was looking for.
He said while the middle two quarters were not perfect, he felt the team was well prepared to take on the Magpies.
“The way we started (against Fremantle) and the way we finished last week were terrific signs, it’s the best we’ve used the ball for a long time, so there were many aspects of tonight’s game we’re very happy with,” Thompson said.
Looking ahead to the preliminary final, he said the Cats needed to match the “hatred” Collingwood would have, given Geelong had denied them a grand final berth twice in the past three years.
“I’ve got no doubt that they’re a little bit jealous of us and envious of what we’ve achieved and that they’re after us,” Thompson said.
Fremantle coach Mark Harvey said while his side had made big strides this season, up from 14th last year, he had reminded his players after the match that it would not be easy to get back there.
“If you think that (it will be), you could disappear quickly out of the finals race, that was the main point and to learn as much as you can out of the experience of the past two weeks,” Harvey said.
He said his team was outclassed by the Cats and punished heavily for some bad disposal errors, particularly in the first half.