JOHNNO: Ace recruiting means Cats’ time at top isn’t done
Geelong's Billie Smedts marks the ball in front of the Crows' Ricky Henderson (Photo: Lachlan Cunningham/AFL Media)
AFL observers, especially Hawthorn fans, have enjoyed predicting when the great Geelong side of the last six years would begin to decline.
These pundits called it in 2011, only to see the Cats bounce back for a premiership. They called it last year, too, after the team was knocked out of the finals by a first-quarter rampage from Fremantle.
Even Geelong fans entering Simmons Stadium in their home town on the weekend would have walked in with anticipation and a touch of nerves, as word spread that 10 of their best 22 would not be playing against an Adelaide side coached by former son Brenton Sanderson.
The stadium is looking great, with the new stand nearly completed, and when they play their first game at the newly developed venue in June, it will be something different for all of the Cats faithful.
For the first time, the game will be held at night.
But in recent times, the playing group has had a renovation almost as substantial, and the buzz for Saturday’s game was about the youngsters that the Cats had in their team.
The afternoon ahead was an unknown. The Crows arrived at nearly full strength, only 20 days from their first home-and-away game against the Bombers in Adelaide.
In the first quarter the Cats kicked with a four-goal breeze and capitalised from the outset, surprising all at the ground by jumping to a 20-point lead within minutes. By quarter time that lead was out to 42.
Although the usual suspects in Jimmy Bartel, Harry Taylor, James Kelly, Andrew Mackie, and Paul Chapman were having a say, it was the younger brigade that had taken this game on, with players putting their hands up for a spot in Round 1.
The candidates were numerous. There was Billie Smedts, with his great agility and marking power; Mitch Duncan, with his superior work rate after a couple of seasons around the seniors; Steven Motlop, with his speed and creativity.
Jordan Murdoch was strong in the air and a class finisher for goal. Former steeplechaser Mark Blicavs got first hand on the ball in the ruck, and improved as the game unfolded.
George Horlin-Smith showed he has endurance and an effective kick, Taylor Hunt showed determination and skill, and Travis Varcoe was injury free and back to his running best while playing across half back.
Tall forward Shane Kersten kicked three clever goals, Josh Caddy already looks very comfortable after crossing from the Gold Coast, Cameron Guthrie showed courage with his head over the football, while Mitch Brown played a whole lot better in defence.
The Cats’ other new player was one who already has plenty of experience. Blue-and-white supporters are rapt that defender Jared Rivers has slotted into the team so well.
Everyone was asking the question of who would fill the role vacated by the great full-back Matthew Scarlett, and while no-one will be expecting to see the same heights reached, they have a very serviceable replacement.
Aside from performing at a high level, the most pleasing aspect was that these players did not drop off, and continued to be creative, even when they were challenged playing into the wind.
The Cats ended up winning by 63 points, and the younger players were the driving force behind the emphatic nature of the victory.
The Crows have some serious work to do over the next fortnight. They will be hit right between the eyes in training, as what they delivered on the weekend was not acceptable.
As for Geelong coach Chris Scott, well, he has his team flying at the moment, with some of his best players to come back into the side, while his younger ones are showing more than just good signs.
What would please genuine fans of football is that after their premiership run, the Cats don’t look likely to bottom out, with this crop of talent to take the club forward over the next five to seven years.
Six-time All-Australian Brad Johnson is a former Western Bulldogs captain, Team of the Century member, and played a record 364 games for the club. He now commentates for Fox Footy and writes weekly for The Roar.