NORTH MELBOURNE 2.1 7.5 9.8 11.10 (76)
GEELONG 3.4 7.5 9.6 10.7 (67)
Goals: North Melbourne: Wright 2, Petrie 2, McKenzie 2, Dal Santo, Thompson, Harvey, Mullett, Thomas. Geelong: Hawkins 3, Duncan, Horlin-Smith, McIntosh, Guthrie, Sheringham, Murdoch, Johnson.
Best: North Melbourne: Cunnington, Dal Santo, Ziebell, McKenzie, Bastinac, Wood. Geelong: Stokes, Hawkins, McIntosh, Guthrie, Mackie, Duncan.
It was a small moment in a largely mundane practice match, but for a man whose last AFL game was almost two years ago it was a blessed relief. For his Geelong teammates, it was cause for a spate of hand raising worthy of a gospel session.
Late in the first quarter at Simonds Stadium, Steve Johnson gathered, feined, shimmied and crossed the 50-metre arc before dishing to a teammate at his left. Hamish McIntosh's wobbly 35-metre shot on the run was hardly poetry in motion, but it bounced through, and by the time he reached the interchange bench his hand was stinging from a team's worth of high fives.
The last gasps of the pre-season answered few questions, although they did produce a first win of 2014 for North Melbourne, who will enter a season deemed to be more pivotal than most with some much-needed confidence after hanging on for a nine-point win.
Geelong coach Chris Scott sought out North's Brad at three-quarter time and the twins agreed to shorten proceedings, which might have irked the 4594 fans who are used to seeing their beloved Cats leave the ground winners, but ensured Lindsay Thomas' goal midway through the last quarter was enough to get North home.
McIntosh impressed against his old team, moving and marking well, playing more than the flagged 60 minutes of game time and finishing with 15 hitouts. But Dawson Simpson (12 hitouts) also contributed; if the Cats decide only one can back up Mark Blicavs against Adelaide on March 20, the victor might have to be decided via an arm wrestle.
More decisive was the further evidence that Tom Hawkins is entering 2014 in far better fettle than the creaking key forward who was hampered by back problems last year. His movement in kicking three goals on Friday night screamed of a footballer who is again in rude health.
In an open contest missing the intensity that will return like an echo in round one, the Kangaroos finally began to click at the tail end of an underwhelming pre-season. Former Saint Nick Dal Santo stood out with 24 touches; Ben Cunnington had 26 times, Brent Harvey made the sort of impact from limited game time he will be seeking, and Brad McKenzie's left boot loomed as a growing threat.
Captain Andrew Swallow missed, as did Luke McDonald, the much-touted father-son who is expected to be out there when the serious stuff starts against Essendon on March 21.
Jimmy Bartel and Joel Selwood sat out for Geelong, but Mathew Stokes (31 possessions), Mitch Duncan and Cameron Guthrie rounded out the sort of pre-season campaigns they'd wish you could earn Brownlow Medal votes for.