Geelong coach Chris Scott has urged players and their families to roll with the punches as the AFL attempts to navigate its way through the latest COVID-19 crisis.
Steven Motlop loves his music. Perhaps, as the Geelong Cats approach the final match of their season, he’s particularly fond of the 1970/80s English rock band, The Clash.
After all, one of their smash hits was 1982’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go”, a song most likely bouncing around beneath the headband and luscious locks of the highly sought after line breaker.
And perhaps, taking a more modern outlook on the music industry, Geelong’s list management team may currently enjoy the workings of another Brit, Sam Smith, particularly his love anthem “Stay with Me”.
Such has been the form of Motlop in the second half of the season, any scenario in which he leaves the club will be considered a sizeable loss.
After a club imposed suspension in Round 2, many feared the worst: that Motlop was destined to join Harley Bennell on the list of insanely talented players that may potentially botch it all with their off-field performance.
Sure, he recited the old spiel, something along the lines of ‘I’ve let my teammates down… I’ll have to earn their trust back’, but until Round 17, they were mere words, left hanging bleakly and unfulfilled in the air.
Then, this happened:
Round 16 – Three goals, 23 touches
Round 17 – Two goals, 31 touches
Round 18 – One goal, 29 touches
Round 19 – One goal, 32 touches
Round 20 – No goals, 18 touches
Round 21 – One goal, 33 touches
Round 22 – One goal, 15 touches
Is it a coincidence that rounds 20 and 22 were losses, and Round 21’s draw was only so because of a running Motlop goal being denied?
What Steven Motlop has done in the second half of the season is transform himself from a blue and white accessory to a blue and white necessity.
In a team where Allen Christensen is long gone, Nakia Cockatoo is still developing, and Steve Johnson’s future hangs in the balance, a line breaking x-factor is of the highest calibre to any team.
What’s even more frightening is that, for all his recent dominance, he’s showing no signs of reaching anywhere close to his ceiling.
At the close of Round 22, Motlop will have played only two games more than he did in 2014, and yet he boasts 94 more touches, nine more goals, and 40 more tackles.
Here is a player whose development continues to accelerate, his club imposed suspension the spark needed to ignite the fiery determination that all the game’s greats have possessed.
Indeed, even when looking beyond his own club Motlop’s statistics provide a frightening prospect for any opposition.
Before Round 22 began, Champion Data had Motlop as a ‘midfield-forward’, and in this department he read:
First for metres gained
First for uncontested possessions
Second for average disposals
Third for goals scored
Speaking on Open Mike this week, club president Neil Balme said Motlop is “a very good player… but not a great player”. And he’s right. Motlop hasn’t showcased his ability consistently enough to warrant the respect players like Joel Selwood and Luke Hodge demand from the opposition.
But, perhaps ironically, slow and steady wins the race for Motlop, and if he continues to devote himself to performing at his current high standard for a consistent period of time, then he becomes a player as important as another club’s number 32 (who’s not named Travis Cloke).
The focus for the Cats in this coming trade period therefore must be to secure Patrick Dangerfield and retain Steven Motlop. Fail to achieve one of these goals and Geelong’s improvement next year will be minor. Fail to achieve either and they’ll find themselves going backwards. Succeed in achieving both, and they become a genuine contender in 2016.
The latter scenario is what the Cats must strive for, and the cost (both literally and figuratively) will, as Chris Scott said in Friday night’s post match presser, be “brutal”. Club champions will have to go, their desire to go on mercilessly snuffed out by the very people who were there to witness what their greatness helped to achieve.
But past greatness must be sacrificed to achieve greatness once more.
And, make no mistake, if Motlop and Dangerfield are standing side by side in Geelong’s 2016 blue and white guernsey, the Cats will purr fiercely once more.