Ablett blows chance to break Tiger spell
IT'S a goal which Gary Ablett normally kicks in his sleep.
But for one of the few moments in the champion midfielder's career, his running shot which would have clinched an incredible Geelong victory drifted only marginally right.
Instead, it was Richmond which rolled on to its 19th straight win at the MCG with a pulsating three-point victory.
The narrow triumph fortified the Tigers' position atop the ladder with three home-and-away rounds remaining in its flag defence.
But it wasn't without a significant scare and two crucial missed opportunities for the Cats, first from young Cat Jackson Thurlow midway through the last term and then later from Ablett within the last minute of this nailbiter.
Ablett could only look up at the scoreboard and shake his head after the uncustomary miss from 25m out on a reasonably tight angle.
He would love to have it again.
But Thurlow, 24, would have wanted the ground to swallow him up only minutes earlier.
The Cats had all the momentum when Thurlow took possession in the middle of the ground and a certain goal beckoned which would have cut Richmond's lead to four points.
But, in one of those crushing, heartbreaking slip-ups, the Tasmanian's butchered kick slipped off the side of his boot and trickled to an awaiting Tiger in the centre square and the moment was lost for Geelong.
Now the Cats wonder what could have been, and long for another shot at the premiership favourite sometime next month.
This was the biggest fortnight of Richmond's season, and yet again they passed the test, if only just.
If ever a couple of cracks were going to appear in this gold-plated Richmond armour, surely they would have come to the fore either against Geelong or Collingwood the week before, but the home of footy is a winter wonderland for Damien Hardwick's men as they charge towards another flag.
And they play the Suns, Bombers and Western Bulldogs, who are all outside the top-eight, on the run home.
"Dimma" would have to be happy, although this game showed the Tigers are not invincible.
Kane Lambert and Jayden Short were slingshots off half-back, Alex Rance won his battle with Tom Hawkins, Trent Cotchin got in the face of Ablett and Jack Riewoldt booted four goals in an engrossing battle with Lachie Henderson.
Unsurprisingly, the Richmond pressure and appetite for the contest was outstanding again and it was enough in the end, but things see-sawed in the second half.
Geelong challenged, kicking four straight goals either side of the halftime break to pinch the lead momentarily, but the Tigers responded with merciless precision to re-open a 25-point lead midway through the third term before Geelong's last term comeback fell short.
Not for the first time this season, it felt like all too much rested on the shoulders of the Cats' superstar midfield contingent in the first half, and we can include Tim Kelly in that bracket, incredibly, in his first year in the big league.
His quickness and courage around the contests make him the best first-year player in the AFL although the Tigers' pressure blunted the effectiveness of some of his disposal.
The Cats looked their best attacking the game through the corridor and a second-term zigzag goal helped ignite the comeback.
Paddy Dangerfield launched the ball out to Henderson, who went inboard to Mitch Duncan who set up Sam Menegola from long range and the Cats had some mid-game momentum.
Dangerfield has been forward for big chunks this season but the Brownlow Medalist was as busy through the midfield as we have seen this season with 30 possessions at the last change.
After a slow start, Ablett also got off the chain and hit up Kelly with a low bullet.
Joel Selwood committed himself harder than most, as always, too.
First-game ruckman Ryan Abbott, who was playing local footy a couple of years ago, stood up for the Cats, booting two set-shot goals.
But the Richmond surge towards back-to-back flags continues.