Tom Hawkins led the way with a career-high seven goals as Geelong powered to a 62-point win over the Brisbane Lions on Saturday night.
The result shored up third spot on the AFL ladder for the Cats and set up a qualifying final clash with arch-rivals Hawthorn.
With Fremantle having beaten Port Adelaide earlier in the day, the Cats knew they had to win at Simonds Stadium to avoid slipping to fourth place and a nightmare trip to Sydney in the first week of the playoffs.
They did it with ease, extending their lead at every change to win 21.17 (143) to 12.9 (81) against the under-manned Lions.
Hawkins led the way with seven majors – giving him 62 for the home and away season.
Midfielder Mitch Duncan (35 possessions) and skipper Joel Selwood (29 disposals and two goals) challenged Hawkins for best afield honours.
If the late withdrawals of vice-captain Tom Rockliff (virus) and clever forward Dayne Zorko (personal reasons) were not enough bad omens for Brisbane, it became crystal clear it wasn’t going to be their night when the ball struck Darcy Gardiner flush in the temple in the second minute following an errant kick from teammate Pearce Hanley.
But they continued to battle away, with Irishman Hanley and young guns Lewis Taylor and Zac O’Brien among their best contributors.
Josh Green led the Lions’ goalscorers with three.
Hawkins kicked four of his seven goals in the opening half, but the Cats did most of their damage in the second as they recorded their biggest score of the season.
Geelong and Hawthorn will return to the MCG on Friday night to renew their great modern-day rivalry in the first week of the finals, only two weeks after the Hawks beat them by 23 points in round 21.
With Matthew Leuenberger returning to the Brisbane lineup after recovering from a serious knee injury, Lions coach Justin Leppitsch experimented successfully by also regularly deploying his other ruckman Stefan Martin at the centre bounces.
The Lions ended their first season under Leppitsch in 15th place with a 7-15 win-loss record.
Cats coach Chris Scott was happy with his team’s last hitout ahead of an eighth straight finals campaign.
“It was a pretty good performance, especially the second half,” he said.
“We had a few young players in who performed well and have really pushed their case.
“Obviously this game means slightly different things to different individuals but the young players who came in and who haven’t played consistently for us during the year certainly didn’t do their case any harm.
“On that level it was positive and more broadly the preparation for our finals campaign was rounded off I think.
“We’re in a good place.”
Leppitsch was pleased with the Leuenberger and Martin combination.
“We used them more as a midfield combination tonight rather than as ruckman and forward,” he said.
“I think there’s something to work with there.”