After coming so close, but so far, to a premiership in 2019, Geelong entered 2020 with surprisingly little hype for a reigning minor premier.
Every team that misses the chance to play in the ‘big one’, the AFL grand final, is naturally disappointed, but in Geelong’s case this missed chance would be extremely disappointing.
After his initial success in his first year as coach in 2011, winning the flag, Chris Scott has proved a master at coaching the team during the home-and-away season but less adept in the heated cauldron of the finals series – in fact he has a better winning record than any coach who has coached over 50 games. Smart recruiting, aided by a group of superstars, has meant Geelong has missed the finals only once, in 2015, in Scott’s nine years at the helm.
Is the window now closing on the Cats’ opportunity to reward their large band of dedicated supporters with a premiership cup?
Despite finishing on top of the ladder in an admittedly close home-and-away season, Geelong lost their qualifying final to Collingwood, a club that, due to a last-round upset of West Coast by Hawthorn, was fortunate to make the top four and play a final on their home ground. The Magpies jumped Geelong early and the Cats were never quite able to bridge the gap in a close game.
The semi-finals saw Geelong fast out of the blocks, and although last year’s premiers managed to lead by a small margin in the third quarter, the Cats stars made sure the momentum stayed with them.
Even against the Tigers the Tom Hawkins-less Cats gained the early momentum, but the value of a week’s rest and a strong, disciplined, well-drilled and experienced Richmond team proved unstoppable after half-time.
Geelong’s galaxy of superstars is aging. Gary Ablett will turn 36 in May next year and Joel Selwood 32. Harry Taylor will turn 34 in June by Tom Hawkins turning 32 in July. Tim Kelly may not be there, and the highest elite game player after the fab four is Mitch Duncan, who missed Friday nights game. Duncan played his 200th game during the year and is level with David Wojenski in 36th place on Geelong’s all-time top 100 game-players list, but below him in the top 100 is only Cameron Guthrie and Mark Blicavs, who both rank in the 70s.
No other player will break into the club’s top 100 game players in 2020, and while the club have recruited some quality players over the past few years, of which Patrick Dangerfield is the stand out – and admittedly is in the team’s top 100 goal kickers – none have been at the club long enough to form part of a well-oiled, close-knit unit like the Tigers.
Gary Rohan, Luke Dahlhaus and the considerable homegrown talents of Esava Ratugolea, Tom Atkins, Tom Stewart, Jed Bews, Gryan Miers, Jack Henry and other recruits, like Zach Tuohy, Brandon Parfitt, Quinton Narkle, Sam Menegola and Jake Kolodjashnij, will keep the Cats’ competitive over the next few years, but without a crop of future superstars, they’ll inevitably slip down the ladder.