While Chris Scott has now coached Geelong into seven final series in his eight years at the club, it’s now been seven years since the Cats won a premiership, and their recent final performances have been poor.
The second-last Thursday night game of the year is upon us, and what a cracker we’ve got lined up, with an extraordinary amount at stake for both teams.
Sydney are coming off a loss to ladder-leader Richmond, which isn’t necessarily a big deal, especially down in Melbourne. But it did drop them down from second to fourth, level on ten wins with four other teams.
Another loss here may well see the Swans struck from the top four altogether, with fifth-placed Port Adelaide sure to beat St Kilda at home on Saturday.
Geelong are in a more perilous state. Despite having the third-best percentage in the competition, they sit in eighth, two games outside the top four. They too have lost to the Tigers in their recent past – again, no disgrace in that – but they followed it up with an unforgiveable loss to the Western Bulldogs.
They will drop out of the eight with a loss, given North in ninth and Hawthorn in tenth can be expected to win this weekend and leapfrog them.
Sydney’s midfield will be weakened by losing Isaac Heeney, who is possibly leading their best and fairest, to concussion, while Geelong’s will be strengthened by gaining Scott Selwood, who may get a minding job.
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The Cats coaching hierarchy might think it’s pointless to try and stop Josh Kennedy and Luke Parker on the inside, while also backing Joel Selwood and Patrick Dangerfield to be more than a match for them, so Scott Selwood might go to Ollie Florent, who has shown that he can influence matches in recent times. Could the impressive young Swan get his first taste of a tagger at AFL level?
George Hewett has been in fine fettle as Sydney’s run-with player, and might go to Selwood, particularly if they think Dangerfield will be spending a fair bit of time up forward – which he has been doing against the better sides.
Zak Jones may see some more midfield time with Heeney out, as could Jarrad McVeigh and/or Jake Lloyd. Will Hayward could move through there at times, and could John Longmire send Ben Ronke through the middle? A similar player to Jack Higgins at Richmond, we’ve seen him have an impact as a mid in recent weeks for the Tigers.
So Longmire has a few choices up his sleeve if he wants to be more adventurous than he is known for. These younger players are required to step into the breach, especially given Dan Hannebery and Kieren Jack are struggling to have an impact – the reserves may be beckoning for one or both of these veterans.
Heath Grundy should take Tom Hawkins, assuming Dane Rampe will get first crack at Dangerfield like he did in their semi-final last year. Dangerfield split the game open in the first half playing as a forward, having six shots at goal by halfway through the second term.
Aliir Aliir has come back into the team in good form as an intercept marker. Jake Lloyd has been bringing his own football in the last couple of months, distributing it through wing and half-back. One of the best kicks in the league, the Cats shouldn’t give him too much space to operate in.
Down the other end, Mark Blicavs could be set to take match-up on Lance Franklin, although in last year’s final Tom Stewart did a sterling job. Geelong have kept Buddy quiet in recent times – last year he was held to a combined 22 touches and one goal in his two outings against them.
Sydney have won six of the last eight against Geelong, including earlier this year down at Kardinia Park – funnily enough, the Swans have won their last three matches at the Cats’ home fortress.
The last time they met at the SCG was 2014, where Sydney won by 110 points. Enough time has passed and the teams are so different, that result is irrelevant to proceedings.
In cricket terms, Geelong’s tail is a bit longer than Sydney’s, and that may prove decisive. In general terms, the Swans are probably too good to drop two in a row, while we’d normally think the Cats aren’t going to lose three on the bounce, but one of these things is going to happen.
The Round 6 match between these teams was full of momentum swings. At one point through the second and third terms, the Cats kicked six goals in a row, while the Swans ended up kicking the last five majors of the game to win.
Tonight will be more of a struggle, with no more than 12 points between them all night, and Sydney being in front when the final siren sounds.
That’s my Thursday night forecast. What’s yours?