Geelong – a win for mateship

Joe Karsay Columnist

By Joe Karsay, 5 Oct 2011 Joe Karsay is a Roar Expert

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    If you want one, overarching reason why Geelong have been the best team in the AFL for half a decade – it is that unlike most modern teams who talk about mateship, these boys live it.

    In an era where financial self-interest has eroded loyalty, the Geelong players have put success and mateship above it – their reward will be eternal – history will now remember them as one of the best AFL teams of all time.

    It is now footy folklore that around 2005 when it became apparent that Geelong were putting together one of the most talented, even and deep squads in the AFL – the players (many of whom had grown up together) – made a pact.

    The pact was to stick tight and stay together. Under a salary cap this meant that they would need to take less pay than they would be offered elsewhere.

    Players such as Matthew Scarlett or Jimmy Bartel could have named their price at any other club in the AFL (we have seen how much their lost brother Gary Ablett Jr was worth on the open market). The cult of the celebrity sports star does not seem to have reached Geelong.

    Joel Corey, Corey Enright, Paul Chapman, Cameron Ling (the list could go on) it is these types of mature, strong willed and strong bodied players that have stood up when it has counted over the last five years. The whole of this list is certainly greater than the sum of its individuals.

    Lines like “the team is bigger than the individual” can sound trite until you see it in practice. Having already won two premierships by 2009 (ample success to put out the fire of ambition in most people) it was commonly assumed that the era was over by 2010.

    The Cats in 2010 were plagued by speculation about whether the prodigal son Gary Ablett Jr, would chase the cash and sunshine on the Gold Coast.

    The season ended with the worst possible news: the departure of Ablett (arguably the best player in the AFL) and Mark Bomber Thompson – the master coach and architect of the blueprint. The winds of change seemed to be turning into a cyclone at this seaside town.

    At the same time Collingwood, the sleeping behemoth, were filling the power vacuum fast. Having won the premiership in 2010 it was widely believed that the Collingwood of 2011 was an improved model, as evidenced by their minor premiership.

    If Collingwood would have been victorious on Saturday they would have equaled Geelong’s two recent premierships and would have been mentioned in the same breath of history. They had the added motivation of sending Malthouse out a winner. As it turns out Geelong won the day and now own the era.

    Respect must be paid to Chris Scott who did not create the culture at Geelong but obviously knew how to harness it. Scott is far more mature than his thirty five years would suggest.

    Rather than coming in and trying to impose himself on the playing group he let the natural leaders in the team lead. By all accounts Scott won over the leadership group at Geelong within a very short time of joining them.

    This was no mean feat – it is human nature to become very attached to familiar processes and people – resistance to change is also very natural.

    To take an ageing side who had just lost their superstar and coach and get them up for one last premiership – in his first year of coaching – is surely one of best debut seasons by a coach in any sport?

    One can only imagine how Gazza and Bomber would have been feeling watching Geelong win another Flag – no doubt part of their motivation for leaving was the belief that the premiership window had closed. A few of the older players rubbed salt into Thompson’s wounds by claiming that the win would not have been possible without a fresh voice.

    There may be truth in this jibe – Geelong under Thompson were wedded to a game of high possession, rapid fire hand balling, and this style was becoming less effective against the forward press defence that now prevails.

    Even Thompson himself after the huge loss to Collingwood in the 2010 preliminary final conceded that the players had stopped listening.

    It is doubtful that a team has had a better five year period in the professional era – Geelong have won 105 out of their last 121 games. The only question that remains is how Geelong’s three premierships over five years rank against Brisbane’s three‘peat in the early two thousands?

    I will dodge this bullet by quoting the beautiful truism used by one of the Cats themselves when asked after the siren how it compared to their other premierships: “It’s better because it’s happening now”.

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