Predictions of Geelong’s demise are dead set wrong
Jimmy Bartel against Daniel Kerr in the 2011 finals (Slattery Images)
All of us have at some point in the last six years written Geelong off. For some, the “end of the era” was after the 2008 Grand Final.
For others, it was during St Kilda’s unbeaten run in 2009.
For others, myself included, it was the end of 2010, after Gary Ablett and Mark Thompson departed.
For David King, it was late in the home and away season last year.
And now, it’s after the Cats have started the season 4-3 – a winning record, but outside the eight at this point for the first time since 2006 – that people are at it again.
“It’s a thing called hunger. Have the Geelong side got the hunger now to go through the process of all the hardships you need to display on a football field?” asked Mick Malthouse.
“Commentators are too scared to say it, the press is too scared to write it, and Cats fans are too scared to ask it. Has the empire crumbled?” wondered Mark Robinson.
“The perceived and imagined cracks of early last season have been more blatant through the early phases of this,” wrote Gerard Whateley, a Geelong supporter no less.
Of course, the great irony in all this is that this week’s premiership favourite, Hawthorn, are in the exact same position as Geelong. 4-3, outside the eight.
But let’s not bring into question the bizarre obsession with one-game trends and instead take a deeper look at the Cats and why they might have dropped three games.
When Chris Scott interviewed for the Geelong coaching gig, part of his plan was to play four players with 50 games or less experience in every 2011 game.
At that point in time, “playing the kids” seemed code for “the beginning of the slide”. But Scott’s plan proved to be a masterstroke. It made guys like Mitch Duncan, Trent West, Daniel Menzel and Allen Christensen go from unknowns to genuine best 22 material.
It also meant he had much fresher senior players by September, as they were rested more frequently during the season.
Ultimately, as we now know, Scott’s plan worked really, really well. What’s being forgotten at the moment is that he’s at it again.
Steven Motlop and Cameron Guthrie have played every game this year. Taylor Hunt, Billie Smedts, Jesse Stringer and Tom Gillies have all played at least four. Mitch Brown, Orren Stephenson and George Horlin-Smith have had a couple of runs.
Against Adelaide on the weekend, six Cats players had not featured in a premiership. There was a 1200-odd differential in games between that side and the 2011 Grand Final side, according to Geelong Advertiser scribe Nick Wade.
Meanwhile, the guns get rested. “They were both a bit sore,” was the excuse football manager Neil Balme gave for Jimmy Bartel and Matthew Scarlett missing last week’s game.
Joel Selwood and Tom Lonergan are others that have missed a game already. James Kelly has sat out two. Injured players are eased back in at a snail’s pace.
It’s a sound, proven strategy. However, the major consequence of it is that it makes them susceptible against teams like Fremantle, North Melbourne and Adelaide, sides short of the elite that manage to get themselves up against a big club.
The same thing happened last year with Geelong losing to Essendon, West Coast and Sydney.
History says those results didn’t affect their ability to stand up when it mattered, or against the clubs that were genuine chances to go all the way. The Cats won all three of their finals and all three of their games against Hawthorn and Collingwood in the regular season.
The only worry is that this year, there’s even more teams in that below-elite bracket, and some teams are hinting that they are ready to step up. That means the Cats will be tested more often, and finishing top four won’t be the cakewalk it has been in recent years.
But one thing is for sure: the Geelong side you see in September will have a very different look and feel about it to the one you see now.
We know because it happened last year.
The kids will have either sunk or still be swimming. The guns will be ready. There are injured players due back well before then, too (Travis Varcoe, David Wojcinski, Menzel, Dawson Simpson).
Writing off Geelong before we know what the real Geelong looks like, in a season as crazy as this one, is foolish.
Michael DiFabrizio is completing his journalism degree. As an AFL writer, he has been an expert columnist at The Roar since 2009, and appeared in The Age and on ABC television and radio. Follow Michael on twitter @mdifabrizio
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