Recent history at Kardinia Park offered no reason for optimism when the West Coast Eagles travelled down the Princes Highway to play Geelong in round 10, 2006.
And at half-time there was a sense of déjà vu as the Eagles struggled in the customary conditions. Bright sunshine prevailed, but so did the usual chill factor and a stiff breeze which blew straight down the ground.
It was always going to be hard work and when the Geelong led by 39 points at the half, few people at the ground expected the club’s run of outs at the Cattery to change in the ensuing hour. Few people, that is, outside of the Eagles inner sanctum.
The West Coast players had built a strong belief within that no matter what the circumstances of any match, if they stuck to the on-on-one game plan and continued a work ethic central to that plan, they could claw back and beat any opposition.
And while the position at the long break was precarious, it was by no means irretrievable.
Star midfielder Chris Judd was absent with a hamstring strain, but with Daniel Kerr, Ben Cousins, Chad Fletcher, Andrew Embley, Michael Braun and debutant Matt Priddis in the line-up there was still plenty of running power.
In the early stages of this match, though, it was the likes of Jimmy Bartel, Joel Corey, Darren Milburn and Corey Enright who were giving Geelong the advantage. They were generating plenty of ball and controlling the tempo of the game.
Cameron Mooney and Nathan Ablett were reliable marking targets up forward and Gary Ablett was also getting his hands on the ball. So all the important Cats players were involved.
Perhaps that was another factor as to why the Eagles were confident this game was far from gone. Key West Coast players knew they could exert greater influence on the game than they had managed to that point.
Adam Hunter had not enjoyed his best afternoon after being pushed into the dug out in the first quarter and receiving nasty facial abrasions. Embley was having a battle getting clear of Cameron Ling while Tyson Stenglein was also struggling to have an impact.
Clearly something had to change. Cousins had been physically belted in the first half every time he went near the ball and maybe Beau Waters had that in mind when he decided, early in the third term, that it was time to make a statement.
The Eagles hard nut cannoned into the Cats’ defensive lynchpin, Tom Harley, in the opening minute of the second half, his hit forcing Harley off the ground with a shoulder problem. It threw the Geelong defence out of synch.
Just the same, the Cats scored the first two goals of the quarter and the situation was starting to move beyond redemption for the Eagles when the margin blew out to 54 points.
From the moment that Paul Chapman hit the post to take the Cats to a 12.7 to 4.1 advantage this game took a remarkable twist. One of the most amazing comebacks in AFL history was about to be constructed.
It started with Dean Cox receiving a free kick from a ruck contest deep in the forward pocket which resulted in the first of 12 Eagles goals from the middle of the third term to the game’s conclusion.
But even that goal was answered quickly by Mooney, restoring the nine-goal advantage to the home team.
Four goals in the last eight minutes of the quarter saw West Coast garner belief in the cause. The last of them came from Andrew Embley as the nervous Cats tried to run down the clock, slow down the tempo of the game and retain possession.
A short pass into the midfield was thwarted by a brilliant spoil from Kerr. The ball found its way to Embley, who converted from just outside 50 to narrow the margin to five goals.
Still Geelong had an answer, with Bartel kicking truly from the pocket right on the three-quarter time siren to establish a 36-point break once more.
The Eagles needed a quick goal to start the final term and it came from Hunter. The card so often played by the coaching staff had produced its regular return when Hunter, who had been thrust forward, kicked a beauty from just on the 50 metre arc.
He pumped the air and encouraged his teammates to continue the surge. When Mark Nicoski matched Hunter’s effort minutes later, the margin was cut to 24 points. The Geelong natives were starting to grow restless. A muted, disbelieving mumble enshrouded the ground.
And then Cousins swooped from behind to catch Steve Johnson holding the ball as the Cats moved forward in search of a steadier. The resultant transfer of play ended in the safe hands of Stenglein, who produced another unerring kick. It was then just 18 points.
Embley then found another. After taking a tumbling mark about 60 metres from goal, he played on, was aided by a wonderful shepherd from Braun, hit the target from 55 and this stunning reversal looked unstoppable.
The juggernaut continued when Stenglein kicked his third after a high tackle and then Kerr, with five minutes to play, was rewarded for a gut busting run to mark in the right forward pocket. He had dug deep within to charge more than 100 metres down the ground to receive the ball and then had the composure to put the Eagles two points up.
Nathan Ablett kicked an answering goal to put the Cats in front again, but the advantage was short-lived. The Eagles powered forward again and Hunter made a dirty day memorable by kicking his second of the quarter and completing the greatest comeback in club history.
Round 10, 2006 v Geelong
West Coast Eagles 2.1 4.1 9.2 16.5 101
Geelong 7.2 10.4 14.8 15.8 98
GOALS – West Coast Eagles: Stenglein 3; R Jones, Embley, Hunter 2; Kerr, Cousins, Cox, Lynch, Graham, Rosa, Nicoksi.
Geelong: Mooney 3; Bartel, S Johnson, Chapman, G Ablett 2; Mackie, Kelly, N Ablett, Enright.
BEST – West Coast Eagles: Kerr, Cousins, Nicoski, Glass, Cox, Stenglein.
Geelong: Corey, Bartel, Mooney, Enright, Milburn, Ottens.