Swans captain Adam Goodes sheds a tear as he walks off the ground after his team's win over the Cats in 2011. Photo: Paul Rovere
SYDNEY had far more important matters on their mind than history when they upset Geelong at Simonds Stadium two years ago.
The Swans were high on emotion, desperate to win for co-captain Jarrad McVeigh, back home mourning the death of his baby daughter Luella from a serious heart condition.
When the siren heralded a shock 13-point victory, the players, wearing black armbands, embraced each other, McVeigh's co-skipper Adam Goodes wiping away tears and looking to the heavens.
''We really wanted to do it for 'Macca', we wanted to make sure we put out a proud effort and play the way he wants us to play,'' veteran Ryan O'Keefe said in the rooms after the game.
Two years on, as Sydney prepare to return to the same ground in search of a crucial win late on Saturday afternoon, it's a famous victory that continues to grow in legend. Because for visiting teams, a win at the Cattery is as close as football comes to dreaming the impossible dream.
Geelong's home ground is officially the most impenetrable fortress league football has seen - that Sydney win is the only one of 42 games the Cats have lost there since round three of 2008, close to six full seasons ago. Geelong won 29 straight at home before that August Saturday afternoon, and have won a dozen since.
It's a record even the great teams of bygone eras, when the VFL had only 12 teams and sides stayed at the top of the football tree for longer, can't match. The closest are South Melbourne and their famous ''foreign legion'' of the 1930s, who dominated the old Lake Oval for four seasons from 1933-36, winning 31 of 32 home games. The next best record is held by another modern-day contemporary, and the side most frequently compared with these Cats, Leigh Matthews' Brisbane, which won 28 of 29 games at the Gabba between 2001 and 2003, in the midst of their premiership hat-trick. The only other contemporary fortress is Patersons Stadium, where West Coast won 24 of 25 games between mid-2004 and early 2006.
The others are all very much slices of football history. Melbourne's time as the undisputed heavyweights of the VFL had them win 27 of 28 games on the MCG between 1955 and 1957, and Collingwood's Victoria Park, Richmond's old Punt Road home and Carlton at Princes Park more recently had their turns at near-invincibility.
But nothing like Geelong have known these past five years. The Cats have been aided by the scheduling of all eight non-Victorian teams at Simonds Stadium, and also been able to avoid big-drawing local rivals such as Carlton, Collingwood, Essendon and Hawthorn, but they've still come up against 13 different rivals, including perennial finalists the Swans five times.
And their wins have tended to be big ones. The average winning margin in Geelong's 41 victories is a more-than-healthy 55.6 points. Just four of them have been by fewer than 27 points, and 17 have been by more than 10 goals, including the famous 186-point belting of Melbourne in round 19 of 2011.
Former Geelong premiership captain Cameron Ling says there's no great mysteries of the Cattery that confound opponents. ''It's a pretty long ground, I suppose, and a bit skinnier compared to the MCG,'' he says. The biggest advantage is simply familiarity, in an age where no other Victorian team gets to train on the ground it plays home games on. ''There's got to be something in the fact you train there, every day, every session, consistently over a long period of time, you just get a great feel for the place.'' Nor does a five-minute car trip for most of the Cats, compared to a flight then an hour-long bus trip for most of their rivals hurt.
The Geelong crowd isn't noted for its ''feralness'', but, notes Ling, it's more the lack of support for the opposition which has an impact. ''They certainly pumped us up, but it's probably also a touch deflating on an opposition when they've done all this work and kick [a] goal and there's only 50 or so people clapping.'' Sydney's cause two years ago wasn't hurt by its own little bubble of emotion about the McVeigh family tragedy. Nor the fact that the Swans needed to win to ensure they would be playing finals.
The Swans staved off the usual Geelong modus operandi of the blistering start, hitting the front just before quarter-time and keeping it.
The margin hovered around the two-goal mark, but three goals in quick succession midway through the final term effectively sealed victory. Goodes starred with 30 disposals, Ben McGlynn beat Geelong skipper Joel Selwood at the clearances, and in the ruck, former Cat Shane Mumford was also a key.
The Cats were disappointed not to extend their unbeaten run at home to 30, but not shattered. ''It's not such a bad thing to play a game like that,'' Corey Enright would muse later. ''It was pretty scrappy and it wouldn't have been great to watch, but it's finals-like footy, I guess, the intensity and hopefully we can learn from it.'' They did, of course, stunning Collingwood the following week by 96 points and sweeping through the finals, beating the Magpies again on grand final day to win their third premiership in five seasons.
This time around, the stakes are high for both teams. Geelong need to win to ensure they get a home qualifying final. Ditto for Sydney's chances of doing so, the Swans facing Hawthorn in the final round next week.
Plus, of course, the memory of doing what these days seems nigh on impossible. Beating the Cats at home.
''This is big for us. It's huge,'' Sydney veteran Jude Bolton said after the 2011 win. ''To stop their home run and home streak is something we will remember down the track.'' Do it again, and the Swans will recall this encounter just as fondly.
THE AFL'S FORTRESSES
Simonds Stadium (Geelong): Round three, 2008 to round 20, 2013. 41 wins from 42 matches.
Lake Oval (South Melbourne): Round 10, 1933 to round 17, 1936. 31 wins from 32 matches.
Gabba (Brisbane): Round 10, 2001 to round 10, 2003. 28 wins from 29 matches.
MCG (Melbourne): Round two, 1955 to round 12, 1957. 27 wins from 28 matches.
Victoria Park (Collingwood): Round three, 1969 to round 17, 1971. 26 wins from 27 matches.
Punt Road (Richmond): Round five, 1932 to round four, 1935. 26 wins from 27 matches.
Princes Park (Carlton): Round 10, 1993 to round 17, 1996. 25 wins from 26 matches.
Patersons Stadium (West Coast): Round eight, 2004 to round five, 2006. 24 wins from 25 matches.