After coming so close, but so far, to a premiership in 2019, Geelong entered 2020 with surprisingly little hype for a reigning minor premier.
Losing Tim Kelly already put a huge dent in their premiership chances for this season and their Round 1 effort was far from inspiring – a 32-point loss to the Giants.
Coach Chris Scott is contracted until the end of 2022, but fans have long grown tired of repeated finals failures and his leash appears to be getting shorter.
Here are four burning questions for Geelong ahead of the AFL’s restart.
The Cats are one of the oldest sides in the AFL this year and with the virtual entirety of their A-grade talent over 30, it’s fair to ask whether they’re over the hump.
Gary Ablett obviously bumps the average up significantly at 36, but Harry Taylor (33), Joel Selwood (32), Tom Hawkins (31) and Patrick Dangerfield (30) are all firmly in father time’s sights.
Even last off-season’s acquisitions Josh Jenkins (31) and Jack Steven (30) are into life’s fourth decade. That’s a clear mandate they have their sights set on a flag this season – but are they a smidge too old to do it?
Then, of course, you have to factor in the loss of Kelly, who finished fifth in last year’s Brownlow count. The former Cat was probably the most reliable and penetrating kick in the midfield in 2019 and he leaves a huge hole that will be difficult to fill.
That said, the margin of their Round 1 loss was inflated by Greater Western Sydney’s freakish accuracy (17.3) and Geelong held their own in terms of contested possessions, clearances and inside 50s.
If Tom Hawkins had played in last year’s preliminary final, Geelong would have won. I will not take questions on this subject.
Scott’s charges had the right game plan to starve Richmond of the ball, play patiently on the outside and then launch strong attacks to their marking forwards. But their only viable marking option up forward was suspended and they ended up getting blown away in the second half after leading by 21 points.
The Cats were equal first last season with 302 marks inside 50, but Hawkins accounted for a whopping 23 per cent of them (70), with the next-best being Gary Rohan’s eight per cent (27). For comparison’s sake, while Richmond (also equal first) had Tom Lynch lead the way with 25 per cent, they still had two other players account for ten per cent or more each in Jason Castagna and Jack Riewoldt.
Jenkins appears to be the obvious attempted solution here, and while he didn’t play in Round 1, he could provide an important decoy and chip in with two-ish goals a game.
Darcy Fort is an option, although the club seems to prefer him in the ruck, while Esava Ratugolea is only 21 and has plenty of time. Blake Schlensog and Nathan Krueger both appear to be some time away from debuting.
In any case, having someone to else to help Hawkins shoulder the load up forward could be a huge difference-maker come… whatever month finals are this year.
I can’t understand why some people find this controversial, but the Cats might get a whole nine games at their home venue this season! I’m no Geelong fan, but it should be 11 every season.
In any case, this could be a huge blessing. Geelong’s record at Kardinia Park is the definition of imperious – 34 wins from their last 38 matches. Three of those losses were to the Swans and the other was to the Giants, making the last non-New South Welsh team to beat them at home Melbourne back in 2015.
Hawthorn will be making their first trip to the venue since 2006 in Round 2, while the possibility of Collingwood and Essendon making their first trips since 1999 and 1993, respectively, has been raised.
I’d favour the Cats over the Bombers regardless, but matches against the Hawks and Magpies at GMHBA Stadium over the MCG could swing the pendulum massively away from the visitors and make a tangible impact on the ladder come season’s end.
With two full years to run on his contract after this season, the chance of him being sacked any time over the next 24 months is remote.
But that won’t stop supporters calling for his head – as they’ve done quite frequently over the past five years.
The older Scott brother has done a good job rejuvenating the list and keeping the club near the top – they’ve missed the finals just once in his tenure.
But repeated failures at finals time will likely end up being his legacy unless things change before the end of 2022.
After winning the flag in his first season in 2011 – a list inherited from Mark Thompson – his club has gone 4-11 in September since. Three of those wins have been semi-finals after losing the qualifying final the week before, with the 0-4 record in preliminary finals particularly poor.