Patrick Dangerfield has upstaged Luke Hodge in his 300th AFL game to steer Geelong to a nailbiting three-point win over arch-rivals Hawthorn.
Isaac Smith, who missed a shot after the siren in last year’s qualifying final against the Cats, missed once more with just five seconds left as Geelong held on for 13.10 (88) to 12.13 (85) win.
The margin was never more than three goals in another see-sawing edition of the storied Hawks-Cats rivalry.
Dangerfield’s five-goal heroics looked to have the Cats home, before late majors to Ryan Schoenmakers and Hodge set the platform for a late Hawthorn steal.
Hodge’s long bomb reduced the margin to four points with just 18 seconds remaining.
Tom Mitchell’s clearance and 42nd possession of another stunning performance made its way to Smith via Jack Gunston, only for the winger to send his running shot to the right.
Cats coach Chris Scott, who saw his side beat the Hawks by 86 points earlier in the season, paid tribute to both sides.
“Professional sport is such a beast that you’re driven to move on very quickly after good performances but I think it’s appropriate to stop and reflect a little bit on how fortunate we are to be a part of it,” he said.
“And for the fans to continually witness these contests … it’s a credit to both clubs that there can be a period of transition and the contest can still be so fierce.”
The 70,345-strong crowd also saw an out-of-the-box performance from Dangerfield.
The Brownlow Medallist’s day appeared over in the first term when he was laid out in a fair bump from Jarryd Roughead and immediately put his hand in the air for a trainer.
He was rushed down the race but emerged shortly after with a severe limp.
In his absence, Hawthorn kicked five of the next six goals to get control of the contest.
While clearly hampered, Dangerfield returned and was sent forward by Scott, snapping the Hawks’ run with a fine snap and goal from the pocket.
He finished with 5.6 including three third-term goals that gave Geelong their strongest buffer.
No Hawk defender could lay a glove on Dangerfield, with Hodge even sent to man-mark the former Crow at one point without success.
Hawthorn coach Alistair Clarkson said Smith shouldn’t feel the weight of the world on his shoulders, with “hundreds of moments” prior to his fateful kick to win it.
“I’m a bit flat because we lost a game of footy I thought we could have won,” he said.
“It shouldn’t come down to the last seconds of the game. If we had played better in the earlier parts of the game we should have had a margin.”
The Cats jumped temporarily to the top of the AFL ladder with the win, while Hawthorn stays 13th and are set to miss the finals for the first time since 2009.