It all began back in May 2007, Geelong, who had shown a flash of improvement in their finals campaigns of 2004 and 2005 had fallen back to the pack in 2006 with just 10 wins, prompting a club-wide review, including that of senior coach Mark Thompson.
However, after five rounds of the 2007 season Geelong had dropped three of its first five games, and was sitting in tenth place on the ladder, albeit with a healthy percentage of 120.1.
So it was that the round six encounter with Richmond at Etihad Stadium would ignite an era for the Cats that would rate amongst the very best in the last three decades of national competition.
Geelong’s astounding 157-point win was the highest score ever at Docklands, in addition to being both the greatest loss in the history of the Richmond Football Club and the highest score the Tigers have conceded in 99 years of VFL/AFL football.
Of course Geelong would drop just one more game in 2007 in the penultimate round, on their way to the premiership, the Cats’ first since 1963 with a record 119-point thumping of Port Adelaide.
2008 would prove to be the Cats’ most successful home and away season, with just one defeat in the minor rounds, but they would be brought undone with Hawthorn’s upset win on Grand Final day.
Redemption was on the Cats’ collective minds for the 2009 season, and they remained undefeated with St Kilda until round 14, where the Saints would hold on in one of the classic home and away games. Geelong would end up finishing second, three games clear of the Western Bulldogs and ultimately would meet St Kilda again in the Grand Final.
Geelong trailed 9.4 to 9.11 at the final change, but a memorable toe-poke from Gary Ablett would get the Cats home as Paul Chapman kicked the goal to give Geelong the decisive lead late in the final term. The 2009 premiership was the second for this group and was some consolation for the events of grand final day the previous year.
The 2010 season saw the Cats drop off just a fraction, finishing second on the ladder before another classic final against the Saints, which the Cats lost after Cam Mooney was penalised for an in the back free as Cameron Ling kicked what could have been the winning goal. Two weeks later, Geelong lost the preliminary final to a rampaging Collingwood on its way to ending a 20-year premiership drought of its own.
Over the off-season of 2010/2011, the Cats said goodbye to Gary Ablett to the Gold Coast Suns and to Mark Thompson as coach, welcoming Brad Scott in that role. As a result, a seemingly reinvigorated Geelong won 19 games in the minor round, including a 96-point thumping of the top of the table Magpies in the last round.
Geelong and Collingwood played off in the big dance and after an arm-wrestle for three quarters, the Cats ran all over the top of the Pies to claim a 38-point win and a third flag in five seasons, a truly remarkable effort.
Geelong’s quest for a fourth flag in 2012 seemed unlikely after they missed the double chance for the first time since 2007, winning ‘just’ 15 of their 22 matches. Geelong hosted Fremantle in an MCG home elimination final but fell short by 16 points, which had many fans asking if this was end of an era for the men from Kardinia Park, and could the Cats’ be a serious challenger again in 2013?
Well Geelong bounced back magnificently, qualifying in second spot with 18 wins, but they blew a golden chance for the all-important week off with another finals loss to Fremantle, this time at Skilled Stadium. Still, they bounced back with a semi-final win over Port, and at times looked like they had Hawthorn’s measure in the preliminary final, ultimately missing out on another grand final berth by just five points.
Again doubters set in about Geelong’s chances in 2014, and while their wins were not as impressive as in previous seasons, the Cats still looked dangerous as a realistic flag hope until they gave up a 33-point lead to Hawthorn in round 22, only to fall by 23 points.
While they defeated the Lions with ease the following week, ultimately the Cats exited the finals in straight sets with losses to Hawthorn and North Melbourne, becoming one of the few sides to finish in the top four and not make at least a preliminary final in the modern era.
So the challenge for 2015 was to bounce back once again, after their poor 2014 finals campaign, though with three early losses the naysayers were out again for Geelong. However, again the Cats bounced back, winning nine of their next 13 games to be sitting inside the top eight after round 19. Though their loss to long-time nemesis Hawthorn in round 20 and the unexpected draw with the Saints the following week meant that the Cats needed to win both their last two games to qualify for an ninth straight finals campaign.
However, with their heavy loss to Collingwood at the beginning of round 22, the dream is now over.
Still it has been a wonderful ride for all at the Geelong Football Club for the last nine years, and the joy of the three premierships of 2007, 2009 and 2011 will always stay in the hearts and minds of every Geelong supporter, player or administrator.
While the finals era is over, the Cats still have plenty to look forward to with a number of promising players on their list, so don’t expect Geelong to slip foo far down the ladder in coming years, in fact it wouldn’t shock if Geelong was even back in finals contention in 2016.
With Geelong, we’ve just had to expect the unexpected.