Cats’ sigh of relief as Blues almost flip script
THE script writer down at Kardinia Park is usually on the money.
And after the opening 10 minutes the story was once again unfolding exactly how the locals had planned.
Three minutes in debutant Jamaine Jones, whose remarkable story from foster home to the AFL had been highlighted in the lead-up, snared the opening goal with his first kick.
That certainly got the faithful excited but they went up a level at the six-minute mark when the man they'd all come to see put himself into the spotlight.
All week the build-up had been about Gary Ablett's first game back at GMHBA Stadium which had been delayed until Round 10 because of recent hamstring issues.
The return of the messiah even had the local paper handing out face masks.
Ablett received a free-kick for too high and then went back and slotted the goal from 40 metres which sent Cats fans into meltdown.
A minute later Jordan Murdoch, who is probably at the complete opposite end of the fans love scale to Ablett, at least got a cheer by kicking a goal in his 100th game.
Then new recruit Stewart Crameri continued his impressive showing as a Cat by nailing a long set shot to make it four goals to zip.
Given Geelong were coming off a horrible performance against Essendon and Carlton had lost by 109 points the previous week, the script was screaming a regulation romp by the Cats.
But then something which certainly wasn't in the script changed the tone of the whole match.
Esava Ratugolea has been a revelation for Geelong this season and quickly become a cult hero among the faithful.
At the four-minute mark of the second quarter Ratugolea got his right leg stuck underneath him in a marking contest where his teammates Patrick Dangerfield and Joel Selwood spoiled each other.
It soon became apparent that something serious had happened with a stretcher called for the 19-year-old who it was later revealed had broken his leg.
Cats football manager Simon Lloyd confirmed the injury at half-time on Fox Footy.
"It's a suspected broken leg," he said.
"It's hard to assess now. They're the sort of things we'll assess during the week after seeing how bad the break is."
Despite only playing in his eighth game, Ratugolea had already become a crucial piece in the Cats' puzzle given the excitement he'd generated in his role as the second tall forward and back-up ruckman.
After his departure, the game degenerated into a scrum with skill error after skill error making it unwatchable at times.
There was only one goal scored in the second quarter through Sam Menegola which gave the home side a 14-point lead at the main break.
Those wanting to see the Cats flick the switch were left scratching their heads.
The same problems which have haunted them all season were happening again against the bottom-placed side.
Despite starting the game with the big three - Ablett, Patrick Dangerfield and Joel Selwood - in the middle of the ground the Cats were 0-6 in centre clearances in the first quarter.
The trend continued throughout the night with Carlton star Patrick Cripps putting on a clinic in contested possessions.
Selwood was locked in an interesting battle with Blues tagger Ed Curnow while Dangerfield (29 possessions and eight clearances) had his usual flashes of brilliance including the crucial opening goal of the final quarter.
The ruck problems continued with Rhys Stanley doing nothing to enhance his prospects of keeping the job while young gun Tim Kelly had his second quiet game in a row.
There was one constant for the Cats with Tom Stewart continuing his All-Australian form, collecting 28 possessions across half-back.
The Blues would be kicking themselves about what might have been in their first visit to Geelong since 1997.
While they looked outclassed at times, they hung in there and if it wasn't for some misfiring in front of goal they could have easily snatched an unlikely victory.
It took Tom Hawkins to kick two goals in as many minutes in time-on of the last quarter to seal the deal for the Cats.
The highlight of the whole night came with less than a minute remaining with Menegola kicking a goal-of-the-year contender.
For Carlton, Cripps continued his incredible season with 31 possessions but it was a different story for the Blues two other highly rated young guns.
Charlie Curnow didn't enjoy his return to his hometown, managing just one goal from eight touches while Jacob Weitering's return after a spell in the VFL wasn't spectacular.
The statistic which probably explained what a mess this game was for most of the night was the free-kick count which numbered 60.
We're pretty sure that wasn't part of the script.