In a season that the AFL chose ‘Greatness’ as its one-word promotional theme for the finals, it was fitting that the Geelong Cats confirmed their greatness by securing the 2011 Premiership in a match befitting the hype that surrounded it.
The Cats – like Serena Williams at the Australian Open – seem to favour winning the big one in odd years, and can now add the 2011 Premiership Cup to those won in seasons 2007 and 2009.
While those celebrating the Cats’ victory would not yet be ready to acknowledge as much, it cannot be long before father time finally catches up with Geelong’s ageing stars and the club begins to lose ground to the competition’s up-and-comers.
Yes, it is true, this is the same thing many pundits predicted at the same time last year after Geelong was thumped by Collingwood in a Preliminary Final.
While the Cats were able to rouse themselves this season and secure the ultimate prize, this is not a side at the peak of its powers.
The Cats may challenge again in season 2012, but next year will surely be the club’s last chance to achieve premiership success with this group of players.
The Magpies, on the other hand, are a different story.
Collingwood will rue a missed opportunity in finishing runner-up this year. Just over a month ago, many were wondering if 2011 would prove to be most dominant season by any side in VFL/AFL history, with the Magpies having lost only one match for the season and holding the best percentage of any team in history.
Then came a crushing loss to Geelong in the final round of the home-and-away season, and two sketchy wins over West Coast and Hawthorn leading into the Grand Final.
Collingwood’s 2011 season, when it dominated most of the year, only to lose the Grand Final, bears similarities to Geelong’s 2008 season, when it lost a single match in the home-and-away season before losing to Hawthorn in the Grand Final that year.
Geelong went on to win two of the next three premierships after the disappointment of 2008. Time will tell if Collingwood can do similarly, but there is no reason to think the Magpies are not capable of continued success for some time yet.
While Geelong is unquestionably a team closer to the end of its glory years than the beginning, the Magpies have a host of young players, who should ensure they feature at the top end of the ladder for many years to come.
Magpies stars Travis Cloke (24 years old), Scott Pendlebury (23), Dale Thomas (24), Harry O’Brien (24), Chris Dawes (23) and Ben Reid (22) should form the core group of players around which the Magpies can achieve continued success in the next five years.
Two big questions remain after the final siren had sounded on AFL Grand Final 2011.
What effect did the round 24 thrashing that the Cats dished out to the Magpies have on the finals campaign of both sides?
Ahead of that game, I wrote that the Cats desperately needed a victory, coming off the back of a loss to Sydney and a narrow win against Adelaide. The Magpies, at that point, had nothing riding on the result.
History shows the Cats thumped the Magpies in that match, and from that point on, Collingwood seemed to have lost its air of invincibility, while Geelong’s confidence only grew.
The Magpies had narrow and unspectacular victories over the Eagles and Hawks in the lead-up to the Grand Final, whereas the Cats accounted for both these sides with much greater ease.
Did the match to finish the home-and-away season – that was said to mean nothing – ultimately define the finals? That match seemed to be the tipping point where Collingwood lost its self-belief and likewise, gave the Cats the confidence they needed to win the flag in 2011.
The second question that lingers is whether Mick Malthouse’s imminent departure from the club had an adverse effect on the players and coaching staff ahead of the Grand Final?
Much was made of Malthouse’s emotional display after the narrow Preliminary Final victory against the Hawks, and so much of Grand Final week seemed to centre on the Mick Malthouse show.
Four-time premiership coach Leigh Matthews, commented on Channel Seven’s AFL Game Day program yesterday that anything which caused that much of a distraction can never be good for a side, leading into such an important match.
In any event, to the victor go the spoils, and the Geelong club song is fitting. The Cats proved to be the greatest team of all in season 2011.
See you next year.