Reigning AFL premier Geelong proved yesterday it remains the master of the big occasion, charging down premiership favourite Hawthorn to reinstate itself as this year's team to beat.
Triple-premiership stars Joel Selwood, Jimmy Bartel, James Kelly, Corey Enright, Paul Chapman and Joel Corey all rose to the challenge as the Cats came from three goals down at the last change to defeat the Hawks 14.8 (92) to 13.12 (90) in an MCG classic.
Power forwards James Podsiadly (five goals) and Tom Hawkins (12 marks, three goals) were also key pillars.
It was Geelong's eighth straight defeat of the Hawks, keeping intact their perfect record since the 2008 grand final loss.
Despite the Cats winning three of the past five flags, the Hawks had started the season as the overwhelming choice of rival captains to claim this year's title, that popularity seemingly vindicated by their opening round win over Collingwood.
But the Cats, who defied the doubters last season when they overcame the loss of coach Mark Thompson and star player Gary Ablett, showed the off-season loss of premiership skipper Cameron Ling and ruckman Brad Ottens had not dulled their class.
Defeated coach Alastair Clarkson was certain Geelong deserved premiership favouritism.
''They're sitting there laughing down there, while you guys make great scenes about Hawthorn being the premiership fancy,'' Clarkson said.
''They've got the best side that's probably ever played the game.
''They've won three of the last five flags and they're just slipping under the radar saying 'We're going to sneak up on everyone'.''
Geelong's big-game temperament was underlined by two telling final-quarter statistics - the Cats winning the centre clearances 5-0 and scoring 4.1 for the term, while the Hawks botched chances with 0.5.
But it was personified by skipper Selwood, who bounced back from several heavy head knocks, including a huge last-quarter shoulder bump from Hawk Brendan Whitecross.
Selwood lay motionless for some time, but after a brief spell on the bench was back throwing himself fearlessly into the action.
Cats coach Chris Scott labelled Selwood ''probably the toughest footballer I've ever seen''.
Hawkins, who came of age with a starring role in last year's grand final, showed his confidence and bullish strength continue to grow.
''Now we're starting to see after four or five years in the system, he looks like a really dominant key forward,'' Scott said of the 23-year-old Hawkins. AAP