Steven Motlop’s brilliance has proved the difference as Geelong rallied in the last term for a pulsating nine-point AFL win over Essendon.
Motlop kicked two outstanding last-quarter goals in the 13.11 (89) to 11.14 (80) win on Friday night at Etihad Stadium.
The agonising loss capped a tough day for Essendon, who were in the Federal Court on Friday morning to start their legal proceedings against ASADA.
There were four lead changes in the final term before Motlop sharked the pack brilliantly and put his team ahead.
Tom Hawkins then kicked his third goal seconds before the final siren.
Motlop looked as though his night might be over when he limped from the field after a fierce tackle from Courtenay Dempsey early in the last term.
But he quickly returned to the field and midway through the term evaded three Essendon opponents to kick a miraculous goal.
Geelong remain far from their best, but have again defied speculation that their golden era is coming to an end.
There was much pre-much focus on Essendon’s Paul Chapman, who was playing against his old club for the first time.
But none of the expected fireworks happened and Jed Bews held Chapman to only 11 possessions and no goals.
Motlop, Jimmy Bartel, Mitch Duncan and Joel Selwood were best for Geelong, while Essendon’s Dyson Heppell racked up 40 possessions and was crucial in their second-half revival.
The first half belonged to Geelong, who took the initiative by kicking the opening two goals.
With Hawkins marking strongly and fellow key forward Shane Kersten also looking dangerous, the Cats broke out to a 22-point lead.
Crucially, Geelong were on top in contested possessions – a prime area of concern for coach Chris Scott.
Selwood, who looked as though he was nursing a sore quad, went forward and kicked two goals in the second term.
The Cats extended their margin to 28 points at the long break and looked ready to put Essendon to the sword.
But Geelong have only won three seconds halves this season, a statistic Essendon undoubtedly would have noticed.
Playing with much more dash and confidence, the Bombers dominated from the start of the third quarter.
They kicked 5.5 to only two behinds and amazingly had a four-point lead at three-quarter time.
Adding to Geelong’s concerns, key defender Harry Taylor was forced off in the third term with a knock to the head.
Taylor was able to return to the game in the last quarter.
Geelong coach Chris Scott praised his team for being able to weather Essendon’s third-term comeback and then rally for a vital win.
“One thing I know about our guys is they don’t give up,” he said.
“The momentum can turn a little bit against them – and there are some things we need to fix when that happens.
“But I was pretty confident at three-quarter time.
“I knew we didn’t have any players who would throw in the towel.”
Just as Scott praised his team’s spirit, Essendon coach Mark Thompson cursed another lost opportunity.
The loss leaves the Bombers potentially two games outside the top eight and facing a massive away match next Saturday night against top side Port Adelaide.
It was almost a carbon copy of the round-two loss to Hawthorn – a poor first half, great fightback and then an inability to close out the tight last quarter.
Essendon also lost to Melbourne by a point a fortnight ago.
“We’re full of anger and disappointment … it’s pretty tough,” Thompson said.
“It was hard work to get back into the game, hard work to get in front and then it seemed relatively easy to lose it … shit happens.”
Thompson had sympathy for Chapman’s quiet night, saying it’s hard to players to go up against their old club.
The Bombers coach also dismissed Friday’s court action as a factor.
The proceedings were televised, but Thompson said the only TV his players watched before the game was the NBA draft.