Sam Menegola had never tasted defeat at AFL level before the finals.
The 24-year-old onballer took a convoluted path to senior football, spending time on both Hawthorn and Fremantle’s lists without playing a game before making an impressive debut for Geelong in round 18 this year.
With Menegola quickly cementing his spot in the side, the Cats finished their season on a winning streak before edging Hawthorn in a thrilling qualifying final.
Then Friday’s preliminary final came around and things came crashing to earth, with Sydney smashing the Cats in a blistering performance at the MCG to book their third grand final appearance in five years.
Describing the Swans as the fiercest opponents he’d faced in his brief AFL career, Menegola said the loss showed Geelong had plenty to work on.
“We never stopped believing but it was probably pretty obvious throughout the night that we just couldn’t get our game going the way we would have liked to and we really struggled to stop theirs as well,” he said after the game.
“We thought we were well-placed if it was a grind and they just blitzed us early.
“There’s some good stuff to come out of the year but we need to improve. Tonight was pretty clearly showing that.”
The East Fremantle product struggled to make much of an impact against Sydney but was not alone in a side lacking contributors across the ground.
Geelong will take his run of games, averaging 24 touches, three clearances and four marks, as a positive as it looks to build a stronger support cast for midfield stars Patrick Dangerfield and Joel Selwood, who again carried much of the load against Sydney.
Menegola, who bounced back from a knee injury sustained during this year’s preseason, says he’s keen to see what he can do with an extended run.
“There’s a bit of me that’s excited about what I can do with some continuity,” he said.
“It would be nice to actually get the start of a season out after a solid preseason next year.
“There’s heaps of stuff that I’ll take that are positives from this year and there’s a heap of stuff that even before tonight we’d identified as ways we could improve my game.”