Cats’ recruitment working wonders
The Geelong cheer squad display their banners during the 2013 AFL Round 15 match between the Geelong Cats and the Hawthorn Hawks. Photo: Michael Willson
The way the AFL competition is set up, the league’s aim is for every team to experience time at the top and also rebuild down near the bottom.
However, it’s not as simplistic as that, with clubs like Melbourne still rebuilding and at rock bottom, seven years since they last played finals.
Geelong on the other hand, with all the youngsters they’ve chosen to make their debuts over the past two years – more than Melbourne, the Western Bulldogs and St Kilda, who are all starting over – are once again in contention to win their fourth flag in seven years.
They actually deserve at the moment to have their noses in front in regard to flag favouritsm just ahead of Hawthorn, considering they get to play their qualifying final at home at Kardinia Park this week against Fremantle, which is a venue they have tasted defeat at once since the start of the 2008 season.
It’s a magnificent achievement as they have lost several of their premiership stars from the grand final wins of 2007, 2009 and 2011, but Geelong has been clever, as most of them have been staggered retirements or departures.
Those who have left in that time include club legends such as Cameron Ling after the 2011 flag, Matthew Scarlett last year – who was joined in retirement by David Wojcinski – Tom Harley moved on after their triumph in 2009 and injury forced out hardnut Max Rooke at the end of 2010.
There was also the high profile move of the great Gary Ablett to the Gold Coast. Dual premiership defender Darren Milburn also called it a day in 20111.
Those players were always going to be hard to replace, but Geelong has basically made it a seamless transition through the canny and brilliant recruiting of their guru, Stephen Wells.
He has recruited for specific needs to replace those retiring or close to retiring players and, as usual, that strategy has come up trumps.
With Scarlett at the end, they felt they needed an experienced tall defender to try and fill that void and Jared Rivers from Melbourne became that man. Injury has restricted his input, but he has settled in well when fit.
The continual development and improvement of midfielders Allen Christensen and Mitch Duncan and exciting small forward Stephen Motlop have ensured that the loss of Ablett, although missed, hasn’t been a gaping hole that will never be filled.
George Horlin-Smith, Jordan Schroeder, Brodie Murdoch and Jackson Thurlow are the big bodied-midfielders Wells loves and should be more than adequate replacements for greats like Joel Corey, Jimmy Bartel and Corey Enright when the curtain is drawn on their remarkable careers.
As injuries catch up with reliable back pocket Josh Hunt, Cameron Guthrie has taken that spot like he has been there forever.
Key forward Shane Kersten has been plying his trade with the VFL team, but looks to be an ideal replacement for James Podsiadily and although the ruck is probably the Cats’ only weakness, the talented Nathan Vardy and the former Australian steeplechase representative Mark Blicavs are more than holding their own.
The recruitment of Blicavs has been a stroke of genius, considering how little footy he had played when Geelong took a punt on him for this season as a rookie.
He probably wasn’t expected to play any senior footy in 2013, but he has been a revelation, playing 19 matches with his football skills improving out of sight to complement his strengths, which are obviously his athleticism, agility and running power.
Josh Caddy, the homesick midfielder from the Gold Coast who was a top ten draft pick for the Suns in 2010, is also a permanent member of that outstanding Geelong midfield now and has a long and prosperous career in front of him in the hoops.
With the VFL side on top of the ladder and into the preliminary final already and eying off back-to-back premierships in that competition, Geelong at this stage can keep rebuilding and contending for the ultimate, which I am sure will have most of the other teams green with envy.
Dan Lonergan has a reputation as one Australia's most respected and versatile commentators. In more than 16 years as an ABC Grandstand broadcaster, Dan has covered AFL footy (including four Grand Finals), cricket, tennis, and three Olympic Games, including London 2012 where he commentated as many as 16 sports.
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