GEELONG 5.5 10.9 13.14 16.15 (111) NORTH MELBOURNE 2.2 5.4 9.8 13.13 (91)
Goals: Geelong: T Hawkins 4 J Bartel 2 J Murdoch 2 M Duncan 2 C Enright G Horlin-Smith J Selwood J Stringer M Blicavs S Motlop. North Melbourne: D Petrie 3 L Thomas 3 R Bastinac 2 R Nahas 2 A Black J Ziebell M Daw.
BEST Geelong: Hawkins, Kelly, Bartel, Guthrie, Stokes, Motlop. North Melbourne: Greenwood, Harvey, Ziebell, Thomas, Bastinac.
INJURIES Geelong: Lonergan (concussion). North Melbourne: Tippett (shoulder).
Umpires: Chris Donlon, Matt Stevic, Jason Armstrong.
Official Crowd: 27,402 at Simonds Stadium.
Geelong came into this game off a six-day break from a fruitless trip to Perth, having lost two of its last three games and with another short week looming before taking on the in-form Swans at the SCG. Defeat stood to make mid-season life uncommonly awkward for the Cats.
Any pre-game jitters among fans harbouring dark thoughts were banished by quarter-time, at which point North Melbourne trailed by only 21 points but was so ominously and distantly in arrears to both the naked and statistical eye that recovery was a long-odds proposition.
The damage in the end was only 20, but even as the Kangaroos won the second half and drew to within 16 points with time left to pinch it in the last, it felt like they were in the contest in theory for far longer than reality. Fittingly, Tom Hawkins crowned a hulking night by finding Mark Blicavs to make it safe.
There is little Geelong's cherished veterans haven't done, so a first Friday night game at Simonds Stadium was cause for celebration. Jimmy Bartel and James Kelly marked it with a retro flourish, leaving their mature-aged roles behind, returning to the centre square and winning 23 first-quarter possessions between them, 40 to half-time and 65 for the night.
Kelly drifted back to play loose and mop up before surging forward seemingly without a care in the world, and at 30 is purring towards 250 games in irresistible form. Bartel likewise seems to be getting better still from an even higher base, and even a shuddering head clash with Luke McDonald only served to energise him.
By contrast, Andrew Swallow didn't touch the ball until the game's 23rd minute, was promptly penalised for a throw, and kicked his only other first-term possession straight to Bartel. Nick Dal Santo had a solitary kick for the quarter, Michael Firrito didn't get a touch.
Up forward Hawkins absorbed Scott Thompson's regulation level of attention with aplomb, keeping his feet in the contest like a mighty oak and shrugging off anyone who came to the North full-back's aid. The second-quarter goal he provided for George Horlin-Smith was unstoppable in a fashion that would have key defenders waking in fright, and his own goalkicking was clinical.
The clearly-hampered, stilted Hawkins of 2013 has been replaced by a forward line force who finished the night with four and a share of the Coleman Medal lead. On current form he'd be a worthy winner.
Belted by Fremantle in contested possessions, the Cats turned that most prized category around for a plus-three advantage. Joel Selwood, a virtual lone hand against the Dockers, had the luxury of spending time up forward and watching others get their hands dirty.
He'd have been especially pleased with what he saw in the clinches from Cameron Guthrie, who continues to stand out in elite company. Mitch Duncan and in bursts Jackson Sheringham, Jordan Murdoch and Jesse Stringer did enough to ensure Steve Johnson's absence wasn't critical.
When Andrew Mackie's errant pass from full-back gifted Jack Ziebell a goal midway through the third, it was the first time North had kicked two in a row and had a sliver of hope. But Hawkins soon controlled the traffic around him and carved a path for Duncan to swoop and restore the advantage.
Yet with Levi Greenwood slogging away, Brent Harvey getting plenty of it and Drew Petrie and Lindsay Thomas making the most of limited opportunities up forward, the Roos clung on. Majak Daw, Petrie and Ryan Bastinac, who injected life as the sub, all goaled after Bartel's double at the start of the last term to make it far more interesting than it should have been.
The Cats lost Tom Lonergan in the second quarter to concussion, which allowed Blicavs to try his hand as a key defender on Daw and at times Petrie. North's substitution was more dire, Joel Tippett suffering what appeared to be a serious shoulder injury while laying a tackle.
It was the most painful thing that went wrong on Friday night, but not the only one.