Andrew Mackie lies on the ground dejected after Geelong was defeated by the Sydney Swans. Photo: Getty Images
HERE'S how fine a line football has. Geelong, the unkillable, is staggering as we speak, at least by its own impossibly high standards.
Seventh on the ladder at 7-5, the Cats probably cannot make the top four now, and by extension, seem highly unlikely to defend the premiership. But Chris Scott's team has had a string of close games in 2012 and it could have been otherwise, quite easily.
A four-point loss to Fremantle in Perth to start the season is an example. Against Collingwood in round eight the Cats drew level with the Magpies with two minutes to go only to suffer for a split-second decision by Josh Hunt to tackle Alex Fasolo after the Collingwood player had marked near the wing, Hunt convinced that he had touched the football. The 50-metre penalty made Fasolo's match-winning goal a certainty, and then Scott Pendlebury kicked another on the siren.
Then there was last Friday night in Sydney. In front with two minutes to go after a dynamic last-quarter revival, Geelong conceded a goal to Andrejs Everitt and was five points down when David Wojcinski ran on to a loose ball in the middle of the ground.
Wojcinski trapped it and headed forward; because Sydney was in its zone press, there was no one in Geelong's half of the ground. There were 26 seconds on the clock when Wojcinski the roadrunner baulked Heath Grundy and bolted towards goal.
But Grundy made the match-saving play with his outstretched right hand, spiking the football as Wojcinski passed him, and diving on it as it bobbled out of the Geelong player's grasp. Sydney held on.
Two games and percentage behind fourth-placed West Coast, Geelong should win its next two games against Port Adelaide and Gold Coast. Beyond that it has a tough draw and looks more likely to sit in the bottom half of the eight as some kind of wildcard entry.
The Cats still have to play the entire top four again, and they have only four more games at Geelong. It looks like it will take at least 16 wins to make top-four, and to do that, the Cats would need to win nine of the last 10.
Moreover they looked slow on Friday night when Sydney turned on the afterburners in the first quarter at the SCG. Here was a wonderful football irony: stodgy-by-repute Sydney was too quick, and free-wheeling Geelong had to shut the game down to get it back on its terms.
Sydney rightly gets plaudits for being a perennial power; the Swans have only missed the finals once in the past nine years and are a contender again. But Geelong is on another level for consistency, even up against Sydney. It has been ''up'' since 2005, the year of the Nick Davis heist game, with three flags and only one dip, in 2006.
The wheel is meant to turn. In Geelong's case, their numbers just keep coming up, and warrior-footballers such as Joel Selwood, Jimmy Bartel, Paul Chapman and Matthew Scarlett refuse to allow the slide to happen.
They are too good to write off, even now. What can be deduced is that Geelong probably will not make the top four but will be mightily dangerous as a bottom-half-of-eight team. A little like North Melbourne in 1997, when the Roos had a bad injury run and plummeted from the premiership in the previous season to seventh.
In those days, the first round of finals were all knockout, with second (Geelong) playing North in seventh. Wayne Carey duly kicked seven goals, and out went Geelong. Although North expired in the preliminary final, it had enough star quality to get there.
No one will want to play Geelong in a final regardless of where it finishes.
The season is about to get more interesting. For instance Geelong has a stretch between rounds 16 and 20 when it plays the top four, plus Hawthorn. The Hawks (8-4, sixth) probably need to win eight of their last 10 to go top-four, which makes the likes of this Friday's clash with Carlton pivotal.
For Al Clarkson's team, the games against Collingwood, Essendon and Geelong from rounds 17 to 19 will likely decide their fate. They also have to meet Sydney (at the SCG) and West Coast in the last two rounds, so it is a hard road.
But again, even if they are outside the top four, they are potentially dangerous with the Franklin-Rioli factor and Luke Hodge potentially reinjecting himself into the side.
Adelaide (9-3) has six more home games at AAMI Stadium and could yet threaten the top four, Essendon keeps performing and so does Sydney. Collingwood is a given, the deepest team in the competition and with superstar quality at the top.
As for the defending premier, Chris Scott continues to treat each game the same way. ''There's no such thing as a make-or-break game until the mathematics say that you can't make it,'' he said last Friday in Sydney. ''We can win every game from here, and what will be, will be.''
People keep saying that 2012 is a unique season and it looks that way. If Hawthorn and Geelong find themselves between fifth and eighth, you might well have the deepest finals series ever.