After coming so close, but so far, to a premiership in 2019, Geelong entered 2020 with surprisingly little hype for a reigning minor premier.
The Geelong Cats had one of the best line-ups to ever play the game from 2007-11, but there’s no reason to believe the current back-line will be better than the one during the golden era.
The team during this period in the late 2000s won three grand finals with the likes of Gary Ablett in his prime and Jimmy Bartel winning some of the game’s premier awards.
They also had a stellar backline. This included the man who is considered to be one of the greatest backmen of all time, Matthew Scarlett.
They also had the likes of Corey Enright and Harry Taylor during the best years of their defence. The rest of the players included Andrew Mackie, Tom Lonergan and Darren Milburn.
On the other side, we have the current back seven, which will be the best Geelong has ever produced. It’s full of young guns and many up-and-coming players, as well as a few more seasoned players who have been around the traps for a while – if not at Geelong, then at another club.
This is the backline that Chris Scott can select. Playing in the back pockets, Jake Kolodjashnij, Lachie Henderson and playing fullback Tom Stewart. Playing at halfback, Jed Bews, Harry Taylor and Zach Tuohy. Finally, playing a roaming free defender role, Mark Blicavs.
This team conceded the least points out of any team in the competition last year, even beating Richmond who have the best defender in the competition, Alex Rance.
This goes to show just how effective this Geelong team is in defence.
When comparing the two line-ups, one thing that stands out is the enormous difference in the experience of players in the two backlines.
On one hand we have a team with every player having over 200 games, the least being Tom Lonergan with 209 games, and the highest Darren Milburn, who had 292.
On the other hand, Geelong now has an extremely youthful side. The player with the least experience in the current side is Tom Stewart with 43 games at end of 2018 season, and the highest (not including Harry Taylor as he played in both eras) is Zach Tuouhy with 168.
There is a vast difference in both teams’ experience levels. Speaking in general, players who have played longer and have more experience are better than those who are in their first couple of years playing.
This however does not seem to be the case for some players, especially for Tom Stewart.
One of the other astounding things about this new team is that it isn’t anything fancy. It is made up of a bunch of mostly unknown players.
Mark Blicavs was almost an Olympic steeple chaser and hadn’t even touched a footy until he was 18. Tom Stewart was playing local footy in Geelong while Matthew Scarlett was playing for the Cats. Jed Bews’ father, Andrew Bews, captained Geelong in 1990 and 1991 and was drafted under the father/son rule.
Jake Kolodjashnij has a twin brother who plays for Melbourne as of this year. Tuohy is Irish-born and came from Carlton just like Lachie Henderson.
They all have their own stories but none of them are fancy players.
In the Golden Era, the team was full of all-star names and players. They had a sexy team who had their own brand of footy which flowed very well.
The present-day team is much different to the older one.
During the dynasty of the Cats, the stand-out backman was Matthew Scarlett. During the period of 2007-11, he made all but one of the All-Australian sides. Since retirement he has been inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame.
Alongside him, Corey Enright made the All-Australian team four times during the time frame too. As well as them, Harry Taylor made it twice and Darren Milburn both it once.
In 2018, two players were nominated for the All-Australian team and one made it. Both Mark Blicavs and Tom Stewart were nominated and Tom Stewart was selected for the side.
The fact that a 43-gamer can be put into an All-Australian line-up with some of the greats of all time such as Lance Franklin and Dustin Martin both in their primes shows his level of skill.
This is impressive, as in his second season he was honoured with selection into the side.
Very few players get this opportunity ever, so to be so early into his career and doing things like that is promising for the future of the Geelong backline.
Even now, during the JLT pre-season competition, Geelong has shown off another great young backman.
In the game against the West Coast Eagles, Jordan Clark – a rookie recruited last year at pick No. 15 – played very well.
He received praise from one of the game’s premier commentators Garry Lyon, who said: “It’s the kind of thing that you know he’s got courage and he is going to go when he has to… but then he has skill on top of it, the confidence to back himself.”
For a few years, Geelong has had a progressively better backline. The trend has now continued with the pick up of Clark.
I do believe that the players that are currently in the backline still have a way to go to be better than the 2007 one.
However with the way things are looking, one or two more years may show something incredible.
There is a wealth of talent coming through which will continue to stock up the already excellent backline.