Gary Rohan slots clutch goal after the siren to sink gallant Bulldogs

Gary Rohan's ice-cool set shot after the siren has snatched a thrilling five-point victory for Geelong over fellow AFL premiership fancies the Western Bulldogs.

Toby McLean gave the Bulldogs the lead with four minutes to play on Friday night when he capped his return from a nine-month lay-off with a knee injury by rolling through what could have been the match-winning goal.

But the frantic final stages ended with one last forward thrust for the Cats, with Isaac Smith's pass finding Rohan, who took a strong mark 40 metres from goal on a tight angle.

Rohan's shot started to the right but straightened up and sailed through to give Geelong a 12.11 (83) to 11.12 (78) victory at GMHBA Stadium.

The result drew the Cats (10-3) level on wins with the Bulldogs, who retain second place on percentage, one win behind ladder leaders Melbourne.

Geelong coach Chris Scott said there was nobody he would have rather seen with the ball in their hands than sharpshooter Rohan, who has kicked 22.8 in 11 games this year.

"I said that to him post-game and I genuinely believe it," Scott said.

"Not only in our team, but across the competition. I've thought that for a long period of time.

"Over the journey he's probably received some criticism for his consistency and he plays a position that's very hard to be consistent in.

"But in terms of standing up in big moments, backing your routine and wanting that situation, I can't think of many better."

Both sides lost key players in the bruising encounter, with Cats midfielder Mitch Duncan (knee) limping off in the opening few minutes and Dogs tall forward Aaron Naughton (ribs) hurt moments before half-time.

Geelon spearhead Tom Hawkins spent time off the ground in the final term with a neck injury but was later cleared of structural damage, while Rohan and McLean both passed concussion tests after separate heavy collisions.

Rohan, Jeremy Cameron and Sam Menegola each kicked two goals for the Cats, with defender Tom Stewart outstanding at half-back and captain Joel Selwood important.

Smith racked up a team-high 30 disposals on a wing and provided a comical moment when he climbed into an empty stand to collect a ball that had bounced over the fence, saluting the cheering crowd in the next bay.

Only 6,583 fans were on hand, under a limit of 7,000 imposed by the Victorian state government amid ongoing COVID-19 concerns.

Josh Bruce kicked three goals for the Bulldogs as Jack Macrae, Marcus Bontempelli and Tom Liberatore each had 30 or more disposals.

But they couldn't quite get their side over the line in a classic finish between two sides destined for finals action.

"The boys were enormous all night and there's a lot of emotion in a narrow loss like that," Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge said.