'The Geelong way' delivers a night to remember

THEY call it "the Geelong way."

From the foundations laid four years prior, to the off-field appointments, then the recruiting of the eventual match-winners in the club's inaugural AFLW win on Saturday night, it's easy to see why. 

Coach Paul Hood couldn't hide his pride in praising the 22-disposal, eight-tackle game of No.1 draft pick and fellow Geelong local Nina Morrison post-game. 

Morrison's skill combined with former North Geelong star Maddie Boyd's two goals and local PE teacher Renee Garing's gut-running to help the Cats upstage Collingwood in a one-point thriller.

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The trio were part of a 14-strong contingent of VFLW Cats graduates who went from playing games at quiet suburban grounds last July to a loud and vibrant GMHBA Stadium in February.

Morrison admitted to being unable to hear her teammates in a frantic final two minutes as the Cats pushed to save the game on the broadcast wing.

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The Cats and Magpies clash in Round 1 of the AFLW

Pre-game, the 18,429 fans were treated to a festival-like atmosphere in the stadium surrounds, with free activations, promotions and giveaways from local businesses. The team banner had a clear message: 'Her Story, Our Future'.

Post-game, they jumped for joy as the Cats held on to secure victory with 21 new heroes to celebrate. 

The buy-in from members of the local community, each with their commemorative tickets in an AFLW first, typified the commitment the Cats first displayed back in 2015. 

Former Geelong head of football Steve Hocking, who spoke at the pre-game function in his new role as AFL football operations boss, revisited a moment that took place in the bowels of the new Brownlow Stand during its redevelopment. 

"At one stage we took (CEO) Brian (Cook) downstairs to show him through on a tour," Hocking told an audience that included AFL boss Gillon McLachlan, Cats AFL coach Chris Scott and former Victorian Premier Steve Bracks. 

"We got to the back end of the tour and there was a hole in the ground next to all these other pools. 

"He looked at me and said, 'What's that?' I said 'That's another pool.' He said, 'How the hell did you get that through (budget)? 

"It was about a million-dollar spend. 

"It was one of the many things we tried to do with four-and-a-half-thousand square metres (for the women's program). 

"Thinking ahead, we recognised there was always going to be multiple programs operating through here."

A jubilant Cats coach Paul Hood after the club's debut AFLW victory

As the stadium redevelopment forged ahead throughout 2016, Hocking and Cook watched on as the first AFLW season took place in 2017 without the Cats among the initial intake of eight clubs. 

The pair went about adding resources to Geelong's football home to ensure the club wouldn't miss out a second time. 

Later, on July 28, 2017, Hocking and seven other Geelong representatives found themselves at AFL headquarters. 

Knowing the AFL committee they would be presenting to included eight faces, Hocking wanted to send eight members of the working party up the highway to match one-for-one.

"We finally trotted up the road and got into the big house, sat in the boardroom and we went to work.

"Interestingly since, talking to Gill, said to me 'It was a risky move, no CEO and no president there to get involved' and we just talked about the reasons for that.

"It was a genuine reflection of what was going on at Geelong and that was that the key people were actually working in it. Rather than rolling the president and CEO out, it was rolling out a team of people who were able to bring it to life.

"That's the Geelong way."

Thirty-two days later, Hocking accepted his new role at the AFL and a further 27 days on, the Cats joined North Melbourne in winning the ninth and 10th AFLW licences. 

The "Geelong way" extended into the club's off-field AFLW appointments, who were responsible for building a list to begin playing in 493 days.

Hood, a former local teacher and the Cats VFL men's coach, was joined by operations manager Ben Waller and strategy and pathways manager Simone Bellears as the club's key pillars. 

They landed Melbourne star Richelle 'Rocky' Cranston (who missed the club's debut game through suspension), along with her Demons teammate Anna Teague, while Maddie Boyd arrived from stints at Melbourne and GWS.

Also lured away from the Demons was the new face of the Cats' venture, captain Melissa Hickey (a relative of club legend Reg Hickey), who was also absent from the field on Saturday night as she continues to recover from a knee reconstruction. 

Geelong captain Mel Hickey celebrates with her teammates after the win

Local talent was next.

Morrison was joined by draftees Denby Taylor and Olivia Purcell as members of the Geelong Falcons' 2018 TAC Cup premiership in the Cats' side on Saturday night.

It's the success of Morrison and co. that local administrators hope will influence the next wave of talent in a region already bursting at the seams with participants.

Two years ago, before the first AFLW season, female participation in AFL Barwon sat at 59 players. It has since ballooned to more than 1600.

In 2018, local ground allocations were stretched with the demand. 

After Saturday night's success, the region's sports administrators may need to follow Hocking's lead and start planning for even more.  

Local talent Maddie Boyd, Nina Morrison and Denby Taylor celebrate their thrilling win