Chris Scott was left wrestling with mixed feelings as Geelong survived a massive scare to lock in an AFL top-four spot with a nerve-wracking six-point win over lowly Sydney.
The injury-ravaged Swans stunned the Cats early with four of the first five goals and led until the four-minute mark of the final term.
Class eventually told as Patrick Dangerfield's three late goals helped drag Geelong over the line in a crucial 10.9 (69) to 9.9 (63) victory at Metricon Stadium.
Gary Ablett showed flashes of brilliance on his return to action, but it took a desperate late smother from Mark Blicavs on James Rowbottom to secure the result in the dying seconds.
It gave Geelong fourth spot on the ladder and a double chance for the finals, starting with a qualifying showdown with either Brisbane or Port Adelaide.
"To give ourselves a chance, that's a pat on the back for that, but it's a bit of a punch in the guts as well," Cats coach Scott said.
"We've got to steel ourselves and do everything we can to play our best footy.
"There are no guarantees, but we won't die wondering."
Geelong stars Sam Menegola, Brandon Parfitt and Tom Stewart all gave strong contributions but the Cats' midfield struggled to gain ascendancy against a Swans on-ball division led by experienced campaigners Josh Kennedy and Luke Parker.
Ablett's first two touches were goal assists and he kicked one himself before quarter-time to help stem the tide.
Parfitt and Coleman Medal leader Tom Hawkins finished with two goals each for Geelong and Dangerfield's three majors proved the difference when the game was on the line.
"We've got confidence that our guys hang in when things aren't on our terms and we were good enough to do that," Scott said.
"We didn't play well early and let the Swans have their game ... but in the end it (the performance) was OK.
"I think the takeaway for us is that AFL footy's hard. It has been for a long time."
Sydney lost James Bell early to concussion after a head clash with Jordan Dawson and registered their highest first-quarter score of the season (5.4).
Chief goal sneak Tom Papley was an ever-present threat in attack but was wasteful in kicking 2.5 for the Swans.
His first-quarter miss from the top of the square running into an open goal was a moment he would rather forget.
"We did a lot right and our players played with real energy and passion," Swans coach John Longmire said.
"We were playing against a team that had a lot on the line, a very experienced team, and our blokes jumped out of the blocks and had a real crack.
"There was a lot to like but unfortunately just didn't get there in the end."