Free agency is one of the most contentious concepts in the AFL in recent times, with such inequities as Tom Lynch walking to the powerful Richmond club from an expansion franchise seemingly powerless to prevent it. Or were they?
Geelong’s next 50-goal forward is right underneath their nose.
The Cats have understandably joined the race for GWS key forward Jeremy Cameron, who is out of contract at the conclusion of the 2020 season.
However, if the Cats are unsuccessful in landing Cameron, their seven-time All Australian and Brownlow medallist midfielder Patrick Dangerfield should be the player to be streaming out of the goal square as Geelong’s key forward.
It isn’t uncommon for midfielders to move inside the forward 50 in the twilight of their careers, seen frequently with some of Geelong’s finest players.
Gary Ablett Junior and Jimmy Bartel finished their careers inside the forward arc and have had overwhelming success.
While Dangerfield isn’t nearing the conclusion of his career, he has the height, power and explosive speed off the mark that will cause extreme headaches for opposition coaches, while also having a strong enough group around him to win the ball going forward.
In recent years, Dangerfield has floated forward and has hit the scoreboard with resounding success.
Two games spring to mind. One is his game against Hawthorn where injury and inaccurate goal-kicking prevented him from kicking a monster bag.
The other is the semi-final against Sydney, where his first half ultimately knocked the Swans out of September before the main break.
At 189 centimetres, Dangerfield isn’t anywhere near as tall as the modern-day key forward, but his skill overhead and his pure ferocity when the ball hits the ground will be unstoppable.
In 2017, Dangerfield amassed 45 majors, an astonishing number of goals for player who spends majority of his time in the midfield.
Key forwards don’t grow on trees – they never have. A good one is hard to come by.
Tom Hawkins, who is dawning on 32 this season, has been a reliable source for the Cats since his breakout performance in the 2011 grand final.
Since 2012, Hawkins has booted 449 goals as Chris Scott’s main target.
Geelong have a string of capable midfielders waiting in the wings. Charlie Constable has already proven himself at the top level, while Scott Simpson is yet to debut and was one of the VFL’s more potent on-ballers last season, taking out the Cats’ best and fairest.
With midfielders that are talented enough to win the ball in the middle, the Cats will be a difficult team to stop with one of the competition’s most freakish one-on-one players as the final target before hitting the scoreboard in years to come.
Dangerfield is truly capable of following in the footsteps of Leigh Matthews by shifting to a stay-at-home forward in the latter stages of his career once Hawkins decides to hang up the boots.