Geelong have survived a huge third-quarter scare from Adelaide to give their three retiring champions an appropriate send-off with an entertaining 39-point AFL win at Simonds Stadium.
Despite the 17.17 (119) to 11.14 (80) win, the Cats will still miss out on playoff action for the first time since 2006, while the Crows can look forward to an elimination final against the Western Bulldogs.
Steve Johnson, James Kelly and Mathew Stokes were chaired from the ground on Saturday by their Cats teammates, ending celebrated careers totalling 715 games and eight premierships.
As befitting one of the most-enigmatic players in the sport, Johnson mixed sublime skill with several frustrating errors.
His worst moment came during the third quarter when he chose to snap over his shoulder rather than kicking a regulation drop punt for goal from 30 metres out, only for it to fall 10 metres short.
It came midway through a run of five successive goals from the Crows which allowed them to narrow the margin to a single point.
But the Cats were able to steady, kicking the next three majors and then outscoring Adelaide by six goals to two in the final quarter – the most popular coming from Johnson who lifted the crowd into a frenzy with a brilliant mark in the goalsquare.
Adelaide’s Sam Jacobs was the dominant ruckman on the ground, while Eddie Betts kicked a game-high four goals for the Crows, all of them coming in the second half.
Rampaging midfielder Patrick Dangerfield was also among the Crows’ best players, which would have produced mixed emotions from the Simonds Stadium faithful as he has been strongly linked to a move to Geelong next year.
In a moment of sporting theatre, the Cats’ fans stood and cheered as Dangerfield took a shot for goal after the siren – only for it to drift in for a point.
Ahead of next weekend’s knockout final against the Bulldogs, Adelaide will be sweating on the fitness of important utility Brodie Smith, who hobbled off the ground in the first term after injuring his right ankle and was unable to return.