Geelong has firmly silenced critics who doubted their aging list would win a Premiership, beating Sydney by 81 points in the AFL Grand Final.
The Cats had the oldest team in the league’s 126-year history on Saturday but were in the running with a 20.13 (133) to 8.4 (52) win in front of 100,024 fans at the MCG.
It was the first decider in football’s homeland in three years after two seasons were impacted by the global pandemic.
The Cats’ 10th flag was their second under Chris Scott and first since 2011, after a heartbreaking run of five preliminary finals losses and one major finals loss two years ago.
“They’re so hard to win,” Geelong captain Joel Selwood told Seven Network.
“Every side says it, but I think we deserve it. (We just) beat away.
“We don’t apologize for being up there and trying every year… that was built over five or six years.”
Isaac Smith (32 disposals, three goals), Patrick Dangerfield (26 disposals), Tom Hawkins (three goals) and Mark Blicavs (23 disposals) were all standouts – and all among the 10 cats aged 30 or older – during the young defender Sam De Koning shone in the back half.
A three-time Premiership player at Hawthorn before moving to Geelong, Smith won the Norm Smith Medal for Best Outfielder in a brilliant finish to his second season with the Cats.
Small striker Tyson Stengle, axed by Adelaide after off-field indiscretions, completed his remarkable story of redemption with four goals.
Selwood (26 disposals, one goal) was instrumental in his record-breaking 40th finals appearance.
Dangerfield became the second player in history to win his first Premiership after more than 300 games.
“This is Everest. This is the climax. That’s what it means, I think, to be happy,” Dangerfield told Seven Network.
“It was worth the wait and is better than I could have ever imagined. It’s fucking special.
“We could kind of enjoy it because we just played such a complete game.
“It always felt like we’d been building all year and I think it peaked today.”
Most of Sydney’s guns didn’t fire and Sam Reid’s pick backfired spectacularly when he was substituted for the adductor injury he brought into the game.
Chad Warner (29 disposals, 10 clearances, two goals) and Luke Parker (23 disposals, 14 tackles) were the Swans’ best, while superstar forward Lance Franklin was kept scoreless by Jack Henry.
Minor Premiers Geelong entered the grand final as hot favorites on a 15-game win streak.
Hawkins got them off to a quick start as he kicked the first two goals of the game in identical fashion, passing Swans ruckman Tom Hickey on throw-ins on the boundary and really snapping.
Smith also kicked two early majors as the Cats stacked to six in the opening period to take a commanding 35-point lead by quartertime.
It was the widest margin at this stage of a grand final since 1989.
Geelong’s pressure was immense and Sydney shrank.
The result was put to bed early in the second half when two errors from Tom McCartin deep in defense led directly to Geelong goals.
McCartin was first caught by Mitch Duncan, who was holding the ball, and then had a kick across the baseline that was intercepted by Brad Close.
Smith’s third big moment later blew the lead to 54 points and the Cats were never in danger from then as Sydney posted their lowest result of the season.
Before the impact, there was heartbreak for Geelong youngster Max Holmes, who was ruled too big a selection risk due to doubts about his hamstring.
Mark O’Connor replaced Holmes and joined Zach Tuohy as the first Irishman to win an AFL premiership since Sydney’s breakthrough Tadgh Kennelly in 2005.