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The decade that was: Geelong Cats

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Roar Guru
3 days ago
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After winning their second premiership in three years, Geelong entered the 2010 decade as the team to beat.

Boasting a side chock-full of stars, including the reigning Brownlow medalist in Gary Ablett, the Cats finished second on the ladder with 17 wins, but a loss to St Kilda in the qualifying final would make their path to a fourth consecutive grand final all the more difficult.

In a preliminary final with minor premiers Collingwood, the Cats were blown away, with Ablett confirming the worst-kept secret in footy by announcing his intention to head north and sign with the AFL’s newest franchise, the Gold Coast Suns.

Long-time coach Mark Thompson also departed the club, citing he was “tired of coaching”, before eventually signing a lucrative deal with Essendon to be a senior assistant.

They signed former Fremantle assistant Chris Scott as their new coach and would have immediate success. A barnstorming 2011 campaign netted 19 wins and another grand final, this time against the Magpies. After a heavyweight battle for three quarters, the Cats pulled away in the final term to claim their third flag in five seasons, making Scott the first coach since Malcolm Blight in 1997 to win a premiership in their first season.

Geelong would fail to finish in the top four for the first time since 2006 the following year, bowing out of the finals after a shock loss to Fremantle at the MCG.

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They would surge back up the ladder in 2013, finishing second, but another finals defeat at the hands of the Dockers would set up a preliminary final against fierce rivals Hawthorn. The Hawks snapped an 11-game losing streak against the Cats, ending Geelong’s season a week before the decider.

It was another top-four finish in 2014, but another early exit, this time in straight sets after losses to Hawthorn and North Melbourne. 2015 would see the club fail to make the finals for the first time in nine seasons, but the off-field acquisition of Adelaide star Patrick Dangerfield would result in a second-place finish in 2016.

In a home preliminary final against the Swans, Geelong would concede the opening eight goals of the match, eventually going down by 37 points in a bitterly disappointing finish to their season.

After yet another top-two finish in 2017, Geelong would be no match for Richmond in the qualifying final, setting up a rematch with Sydney at the MCG a week later. This time, the Cats were too good, but they were blown away by the top-of-the-table Crows a week later, with Scott’s finals record starting to come under question.

The coach was given a four-year contract extension in 2018, but the heat continued, with the eighth-placed Geelong bowing out in an elimination final against Melbourne.

A brilliant first half of the 2019 season saw the Cats finish as minor premiers for the first time since 2008, but a qualifying final to Collingwood had Scott under immense pressure.

In a do-or-die clash with the reigning premiers West Coast, Geelong prevailed, setting up a monster preliminary final with a red-hot Richmond outfit. Holding a 21-point lead at half time, the Cats were overrun, losing their fourth preliminary final in seven seasons.

Best wins

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Round 19, 2011 – Geelong 37.11 (233) defeated Melbourne 7.5 (47) (GMHBA Stadium)
Chris Scott’s men were in ominous form early against Melbourne, kicking eight first-quarter goals to none. It went to another level afterwards, with Geelong slamming on an incredible 12 goals in the second term, giving them a 114-point lead at half time.

Statisticians were fumbling for the record books as another eight goals were added in the third quarter. The home side brought up the double century early in the final term, but they would fall just one goal short of equalling the record of the highest score ever in a VFL/AFL match – also set by Geelong in 1992. The 186-point win was the second-largest victory by any side in the history of the game, falling just four points short of Fitzroy’s record.

Cats fans in the crowd watch their team

Geelong were unstoppable against the Demons in 2011. (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

Grand final, 2011 – Collingwood 12.9 (81) defeated by Geelong 18.11 (119) (MCG)
This was the flag Geelong wasn’t meant to win. After losing Ablett to the Gold Coast as well as two-time premiership coach Thompson, the Cats weren’t expected to be a serious contender in Chris Scott’s first year in charge.

But a remarkable 19-win season set up a grand final clash with Collingwood, a dream match-up for punters. In front of just under 100,000 spectators, the Cats and Pies played out one of the most entertaining premiership deciders. A strong second-half showing from young key forward Tom Hawkins, including a three-goal third term, was the catalyst for the Cats, with a final quarter blowout resulting in a 38-point victory. It was Geelong’s third premiership in five years, and ninth overall.

Round 19, 2012 – Hawthorn 17.14 (116) defeated by Geelong 18.10 (118) (MCG)
Having won their last eight matches against the Hawks following their shock grand final defeat in 2008, it appeared the Cats would cruise to another victory over their arch-rivals following a nine-goal opening quarter. However, a 51-point lead in the second quarter was eroded, with Hawthorn taking the advantage deep into the final quarter. A sixth goal to Hawkins would keep Geelong in the match, before a final foray forward resulted in a mark to the hulking Cat.

Lining up from outside 50 as the final siren rang, Hawkins split the middle with his seventh to deliver a famous win in one of the most memorable meetings between the two clubs.

Worst losses

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Round 11, 2014 – Sydney 22.16 (148) defeated Geelong 5.8 (38) (SCG)
Sitting second on the ladder, the Cats endured one of their toughest nights at the office for not only the decade, but the millennium. With just two goals in the first three quarters, Geelong were thrashed by over 100 points for the first time in over eight years.

While the Cats would lose just two more times in the regular season, they were sent out of the finals in straight sets with losses to Hawthorn and the Kangaroos.

Preliminary final, 2016 – Geelong 8.12 (60) defeated by Sydney 15.7 (97) (MCG)
Two years on, the Cats would suffer another deflating loss against the Swans. After winning through to a home preliminary final, Geelong started as warm favourites to win through to their first grand final in five seasons. However, a stunning eight-goal to none start from Sydney took the wind right out of their sails. While they would fight the match out, a six-goal loss was a bitterly disappointing end to what was a successful home-and-away campaign.

Elimination final, 2018 – Melbourne 10.15 (75) defeated Geelong 6.10 (46) (MCG)
Despite finishing three spots lower on the ladder, only one win separated Geelong from Melbourne going into their do-or-die final in 2018, with the Cats having the superior percentage.

Notorious for being slow starters in finals under Scott, Geelong managed just three goals in the first three quarters against a side boasting just four players with finals experience. The Demons cruised to a 29-point win, breaking a 12-year September drought as the Cats exited yet another finals campaign without any success.

Joel Selwood

Finals disappointment has dogged the Cats throughout the 2010s. (Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Moments that shaped the club

The end of 2010
After three consecutive grand final appearances, it appeared Geelong’s time had come and gone in 2010 after they were well-beaten by eventual premiers Collingwood in a preliminary final. The Cats went through significant change, with Ablett leaving for the Suns and coach Thompson resigning after reportedly falling out of love with coaching.

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However, only a couple of months later, Thompson became a senior assistant at Essendon, the club he played 202 games with.

Immediate success with Chris Scott
Following Thompson’s departure, Geelong signed Scott as the new head coach. Reports of the Cats’ on-field demise proved to be greatly exaggerated, with the club winning their first 13 matches of the season. With only three losses on the year, the Cats easily won through to yet another grand final, setting up a monster premiership decider with Collingwood, the same team that sent them packing a year prior.

In a grand final for the ages, Geelong took a seven-point lead into the final break before a magnificent five-goal-to-nil final term delivered a ninth premiership cup to Kardinia Park.

Patrick Dangerfield heads home
A three-time All Australian and best and fairest winner in eight seasons with the Adelaide Crows, Patrick Dangerfield was the subject of fierce media speculation during the 2015 season, with rumours the star midfielder would seek a move back to his home town of Moggs Creek, not far from Geelong.

Adelaide’s worst fears were confirmed when Dangerfield announced his wish to join the Cats as a restricted free agent. Dangerfield would have one of the best first seasons with a club by any player in the history of the game, winning the Brownlow medal and being named the AFL Coaches Association’s MVP.

While the star Cat is yet to get to the grandest stage in the game, he has undoubtedly become one of the best players of the current generation wearing the blue and white hoops.

Patrick Dangerfield

Patrick Dangerfield. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

Best 22 of the decade

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Back pocket – Andrew Mackie
The steady defender was one of the club’s most consistent performers, playing 174 games between 2010 and his retirement in 2017. Over that time, Mackie finished in the top ten of the best and fairest twice, making his first and only All Australian team in 2013. He won his third premiership with the team in 2011.

Full-back – Tom Lonergan
One of the hard-luck stories during the end of the previous decade, Lonergan finally became a premiership player in 2011.

The courageous Cat was one of the best lock-down defenders across the league during the decade, with his match-ups with Hawthorn-then-Sydney star Lance Franklin worth the price of admission alone. Lonergan managed five consecutive top-ten finishes in the Carji Greeves medal before retiring alongside Mackie in the 2017 preliminary final.

Back pocket – Tom Stewart
While he has only been playing at AFL level for three years, Stewart’s selection in this team is a testament to the way he has become one of the league’s best intercepting defenders. Stewart won the AFL Coaches Association’s best young player award in 2018, while he is a two-time All Australian after just 68 games.

Half-back – Corey Enright
Arguably the best defender across all teams for the decade, Enright added four All Australian selections to the two he achieved prior to 2010, while he won his second Carji Greeves medal in 2011, a year in which he became a three-time premiership player. Enright finished in the top ten of the best and fairest in each of the seven seasons he played during the decade, calling time on a sensational career at the end of 2016 as Geelong’s games record holder.

Centre half-back – Harry Taylor
A highly dependable defender across the decade, Taylor finished in the top ten of the club best and fairest on seven occasions, while he earned selection in the All Australian team twice (2010 and 2013). The two-time premiership Cat showed he’s capable at the other end of the field too, kicking a career-high 22 goals in the 2017 season.

Half-back – Cameron Guthrie
Guthrie has developed from a skilful, rebounding defender capable of taking intercept marks into a reliable midfielder, finishing in the top ten of the Carji Greeves medal on three occasions throughout the decade.

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Wing – Mitch Duncan
The youngest player from Geelong’s 2011 premiership has blossomed into one of the league’s best wingmen. Duncan has achieved a top ten finish in the best and fairest seven times, including top three placings in 2014 and 2017. He has also been a damaging goalkicker for the Cats, kicking 146 from 203 games since the start of the decade.

Centre – Joel Selwood (Captain)
The inspirational Cat’s 2010 decade will ensure he goes down as one of the greatest leaders the club has ever seen – if not the very best.

After winning his first Carji Greeves medal in 2010 as well as making his second All Australian side, Selwood won his third premiership in 2011 before taking over the captaincy from Cameron Ling, a role he was destined for since his debut. He would be named captain of the All Australian team in 2013, 2014 and 2016, before making his sixth appearance in the team in 2017, adding two more best and fairest gongs along the way.

In 2018, Selwood became the longest-standing captain of the club, breaking Reg Hickey’s 78-year record, while he was named the AFL Players Association’s most courageous player every year between 2012 and 2014. Selwood is set to become just the fifth Cat to play 300 games early in 2020.

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Wing – Steven Motlop
The mercurial Motlop was a highly damaging goalkicker during his time at the Cats, albeit a bit frustrating for supporters to watch. Between his debut in 2010 and his departure to Port Adelaide as a free agent at the end of 2017, Motlop kicked 193 goals from 135 games. He achieved two top-five finishes in the club best and fairest during that time, coming runner-up in 2015.

Half-forward – Gary Ablett
Arguably the greatest player the game has ever seen. After his sixth year with the Suns, Ablett requested a trade back to the Cats, but a trade would not eventuate. After stepping down as captain of the club, Ablett again spoke of his desire to move back to Geelong after the 2017 season, with the Suns obliging this time around. After an injury-interrupted first season back in the hoops, Ablett played a key role in Geelong’s minor premiership in 2019. In total, the ‘Little Master’ played 67 games for 94 goals with the club during the decade.

Centre half-forward – Tom Hawkins
The big hulking Cat was criticised at the start of the decade for his inability to step up and become the main man in the forward line, but that all changed in the 2011 grand final.

Tom Hawkins Geelong Cats AFL 2017

Tom Hawkins. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

A dominant second half in which he kicked three goals and set up others saw him become a two-time premiership player. It resulted in a breakout year for Hawkins in 2012, kicking 62 goals and winning his first Carji Greeves medal and making the All Australian team. It would be the first of eight goalkicking awards Hawkins would win throughout the decade, making his second All Australian side in 2019. With a total of 495 goals since 2010, Hawkins has been one of the best forwards in the league across the decade.

Half-forward – Jimmy Bartel
The popular Cat was a key performer during the first half of the decade, finishing in the top ten of the Carji Greeves medal every year between 2010 and 2014, including a podium finish in 2011. In that grand final, Bartel starred with 26 disposals and three goals, earning the Norm Smith medal. He would go on to become just the second player in VFL/AFL history to achieve 300 games, a Brownlow and a Norm Smith, retiring at the end of 2016.

Forward pocket – Steve Johnson
The mercurial Johnson had an unbelievable start to the decade, earning a spot in the All Australian team and taking out Geelong’s leading goalkicking award with a career-best 63 majors. A year later, he would recover from a knee injury in a preliminary final to play a starring role in his third premiership, kicking four goals. A move into the midfield in 2013 would result in Johnson, despite being suspended, finish just three votes behind winner Gary Ablett in the Brownlow medal.

A year later, Johnson would again be ineligible, and again he would finish in the top ten. Johnson finished his career with the Cats at the end of 2015, having kicked 202 goals from 123 games in the decade.

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Full forward – James Podsiadly
One of the best stories of perseverance in the game, Podsiadly bounced back from failed stints with Essendon and Collingwood in the early 2000s to be picked up by the Cats at the ripe old age of 28 as a mature-age rookie at the end of 2009. A sensational debut season saw Podsiadly kick 49 goals and poll 13 Brownlow medal votes, before taking out Geelong’s goalkicking award in 2011 with 52 majors.

Podsiadly was awarded a premiership medal that year, however he unfortunately suffered a dislocated shoulder in the second quarter of the grand final. Two more productive years up forward gave the ‘J-Pod’ 169 goals from just 83 games before he was traded to Adelaide.

Forward pocket – Dan Menzel
The highly-talented forward had a brilliant start to his AFL career, kicking 28 goals in his second home-and-away season and looked set to be a part of Geelong’s 2011 flag campaign. However, a torn ACL suffered in the first final saw Menzel miss a year of football. In his return game in the VFL a year later, Menzel would rupture his opposite knee, forcing him back on the sidelines.

The unlucky Menzel suffered not one, but two more knee injuries in his comeback bid, before finally returning to the AFL level in 2015 after four years out. With 100 goals over 50 games between 2016 and 2018, Menzel was one of Geelong’s most reliable goalkickers, but he was surprisingly delisted before joining the Sydney Swans.

Daniel Menzel of the Geelong Cats celebrates scoring a goal.

Daniel Menzel celebrates a goal. (Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Ruckman – Mark Blicavs
The former steeplechaser was given a chance as a rookie at the end of 2011, breaking through to make his debut in 2013. He has been a mainstay in the side ever since, playing 158 games. Capable of playing through the ruck and on the wing, Blicavs won the Carji Greeves medal in 2015, before a shift to defence saw him become one of the league’s best full-backs, resulting in another best and fairest win in 2018.

Ruck-rover – Patrick Dangerfield
The superstar from the Crows joined Geelong at the end of 2015. He would have immediate personal success, winning the Brownlow medal by a margin of nine with a then-record of 35 votes. He has achieved top-ten finishes in each of the following three Brownlow counts, including runner-up placings in 2017 (despite being ineligible) and 2019.

Dangerfield has achieved four All Australian selections in his four years at the Cats, named vice-captain of the team in 2018, while he has won three Carji Greeves medals, coming half a vote from winning with Mark Blicavs in 2018. In his 94 games with Geelong, Dangerfield has kicked 120 goals, with Scott regularly sending him to the goalsquare to compete as a full forward.

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Rover – James Kelly
The hard-working midfielder earned his first selection in the All Australian team in 2011, with Kelly becoming a three-time premiership player. He would finish equal-fourth in the Carji Greeves medal that year, one of four top-ten finishes in the best and fairest for the decade. At the end of 2015, Kelly would be delisted after 126 games in the decade.

Interchange – Mathew Stokes
The small forward was a handy goalkicker at the start of the decade, kicking just under 30 majors in both the 2010 and 2011 seasons. The latter year would see Stokes win his second premiership, before playing predominantly as a midfielder in 2013, resulting in a fourth-place finish in the best and fairest. After just 14 matches in 2015, Stokes was delisted following 118 games and 95 goals since the turn of the decade.

Interchange – Travis Varcoe
A highly-damaging goalkicking midfielder at the start of the decade, Varcoe kicked 62 goals across the 2010 and 2011 seasons, starring in the premiership win over Collingwood with three majors. A stress fracture injury in his foot meant he played just one game in 2012, eventually departing the club at the end of 2014 following 82 games and 79 goals in the decade.

Travis Varcoe

Travis Varcoe plays for Collingwood now. (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

Interchange – Paul Chapman
Fresh from winning a Norm Smith medal in 2009, Chapman was named in the 2010 All Australian side following a superb year in which he finished fifth in the Carji Greeves medal. A year later, he became a three-time premiership player, before he was surprisingly delisted at the end of an injury-interrupted 2013 campaign. He would go on to finish his career at Essendon.

Interchange – Joel Corey
The ball-magnet had a superb campaign in 2011, falling just short of winning his third best and fairest award. Following his third premiership, Corey was a consistent player through the midfield before retiring at the end of 2013.

Are the Cats placed better or worse going into the new decade compared to ten years ago?
Worse, but it’s a testament to the club that they’ve fallen out of the top eight just once this decade. Many Cats’ fans believe Scott has done everything he can do with this list, but the board thinks differently, with the one-time premiership coach locked in until the end of 2022.

It will be fascinating to see what happens if the Cats again can’t capitalise during September next season, something they have become renowned for under Scott.

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