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By David Reed 3:45 PM Sat 29 August, 2009

GEELONG has enjoyed the perfect finals tune-up and got some game time into a couple of returning stars in its 40-point win over Fremantle at a soggy Skilled Stadium.

The Cats led at every change in the 14.10 (94) to 8.6 (54) victory, becoming the first side in AFL/VFL history to win 18 or more games in three consecutive seasons.

Their quest for the 2009 flag got a serious boost with James Kelly and Brad Ottens making promising returns from long-term injury lay-offs.

Borderline duo Simon Hogan and Ryan Gamble also did their chances of playing finals no harm with hard-nosed displays on a day when there was nowhere to hide on a muddy Skilled Stadium.

With Steve Johnson likely to miss a month after hip surgery and Paul Chapman’s fragile hamstrings still keeping him out, this side may be pretty close to the one that features in Geelong’s finals campaign.

They might have lacked the sparkle Chapman and Johnson bring, but their tenacity and willingness to sacrifice for the cause could not be questioned.

Fremantle, on the other hand, might want to put this one down the experience.

A number of their kids took a fair while to get involved in the game. At half time only one player, Paul Hasleby had 10 possessions or more. And he had just the bare 10.

Garrick Ibbotson, Clancee Pearce, Matt de Boer, Chris Mayne and Stephen Hill had a total of 16 possessions between them in the first half.

Des Headland was also missing in action and had just the solitary handball in the first half.

Their skipper Matthew Pavlich also had a tough day against Joel Corey, playing mainly in the midfield.

But he had plenty of mates.

Anyone playing in the Fremantle forward line generally had a stinker.

Matthew Scarlett, Darren Milburn, Andrew Mackie and Tom Harley must have rubbed their hands together when they saw the rain bucketing down when they woke on Saturday morning.

The car parks were so muddy they were closed before noon and the bounce of the ball brought up water on the ground in the VFL precursor.

They were the sort of conditions the Cats love and their 22nd straight home win (16th at Skilled Stadium) appeared inevitable even before the ball was bounced.

That first bounce didn’t happen for a while though.

After three Fremantle players targeted Mackie as they went to their position, Hayden Ballantyne was awarded a free kick inside the forward 50m arc after the Cats reacted.

He didn’t make the distance and soon enough the game was being played on Geelong’s terms.

It took six minutes for the first goal through Cameron Mooney but the arrival of Ottens and Kelly soon after was greeted by loud cheers.

Both had significant impacts almost immediately with Kelly’s 11 first-term possessions all class.

Ottens also quickly revived memories of his clearance talents and took a couple of nice marks up forward.

Fremantle only got the one goal for the first term through Pavlich while the Cats skipped away to a 23-point lead.

Fremantle also managed only one goal in the second term, which came just 41 seconds before the long break to Hill from the goalsquare.

In between Geelong monstered the contests and slammed on another four goals to lead by 43 points at half time.

Steven Dodd found some fight after the half-time siren and a push and shove erupted. His opponent Ablett had his eye on a big win however and the Cats kept their form going after the long break.

David Wojcinski celebrated his 150th game and Geelong life membership with a trademark running goal in the opening 35 seconds of the second half to continue the rout.

And when Tom Hawkins marked strongly and kicked his second goal a couple of minutes later, the margin was out to 55 points and the contest was effectively over.

Fremantle showed some pluck to get a few goals back but the damage had been done.

Ablett must have gone close to more Brownlow votes with 35 possessions but Scarlett was clearly best afield.

Geelong 5.1 9.3 11.6 14.10 (94)
Fremantle 1.2 2.2 5.4 8.6 (54)

GOALS
Geelong:
Hawkins 3, Hogan 2, Mooney 2, Gamble 2, Rooke, Ablett, Byrnes, Wojcinski, Corey
Fremantle: Pavlich, Hill, Broughton, Mayne, Headland, Bradley, Ballantyne, Duffield


BEST
Geelong:
Scarlett, Milburn, Ablett, Bartel, Hogan, Enright, Corey
Fremantle: Pavlich, Sandilands, Duffield, Hasleby, DeBoer

INJURIES
Geelong:
David Wojcinski (ankle), Max Rooke (quad)
Fremantle: Nil

Reports: Steven Dodd (Fremantle) reported for charging Gary Ablett (Geelong) in the second quarter by umpire Findlay.

Umpires: Nicholls, Schmitt, Findlay
Official crowd: 18,196 at Skilled Stadium


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