He has a colourful history against the Cats… and former Hawk Isaac Smith understands the irony about finishing his career in blue and white.
If Geelong could take the four points from an ugly, error-ridden and narrow 7.5 (47) to 6.8 (44) win over Melbourne at the MCG on Sunday, and then collectively look in the mirror, the reflection would reveal a face that only a mother could love.
And if Cats coach Chris Scott were to assess that, he wouldn’t be blamed if he saw the game in a similar fashion: that sometimes where there are no beauty prizes for taking the four points, it still beats being handed the Miss Congeniality ribbon.
Geelong, still searching for that scintillating and irresistible form that saw them run right over the top of Hawthorn for one half of footy a fortnight ago, struggled for the second week running, rode a stingy defensive effort that was at its strongest in the opening term, and kicked three goals in a row in the third quarter to underline only ten clear minutes of dominance during the stretch.
In an ugly game, that’s all Geelong needed to emerge victorious. While the hardness around the ball and a commitment to making good on the one-per-centers were consistent qualities throughout, the Cats – often renowned for their attacking prowess to run over the top of their opposition since their modern era of winning premierships began – failed to maintain scoreboard pressure for large stretches of the match.
The form in front of goal by veteran players Tom Hawkins and Patrick Dangerfield was particularly inconsistent, especially at times when their accuracy would have been helpful in extending a lead that was ultimately diminishing by the time that Jack Viney, Christian Petracca and Max Gawn were inspiring the Demons’ fourth-quarter comeback.
Geelong usually display their best footy, and their most attractive footy as well, when they can play the ball from one player to the next quickly downfield, and they have the athletes to pull that off. So instead of playing a faster brand of footy, and whenever they could get the ball out of contested play, their play seemed a bit more deliberate, either by hand or by foot. And it was maybe even a bit more tentative at times.
Perhaps the first-term injury to stalwart defender Tom Stewart – now out with a broken collarbone for the next four or five weeks – forced a tighter defensive effort all over the ground. Sam Menegola, Cam Guthrie and captain Joel Selwood all joined Dangerfield as the Cats’ best in possession, but only Guthrie seemed to get the ball in space to run and advance the ball forward. But Guthrie often rather opted for long kicks downfield, and low-percentage kicks into contests at that.
Brandon Parfitt and Mitch Duncan showed glimpses of being dangerous with crumbing efforts around the packs and in contests, with each kicking a goal during the match, but those glimpses were too few and far between to strike any fear of influence to the Demons’ defenders.
And with Guthrie and Parfitt in particular, these players possess the pace to influence matches, but the team’s overall speed and quickness was hardly ever on display.
If it wasn’t for the third-term goals by Esava Ratugolea, Dangerfield and Parfitt – goals that brought some spark to the Cats’ steps after heading into the main break being a single point down – Geelong would have had to rely on their dominance in contested footy to eke out the result in any latter stages.
The Cats deserve credit for their hardness and tough character around the footy and in the contests. By displaying a rugged style highlighted by Parfitt’s nine tackles and playing contested footy all over the ground, as well as keeping Melbourne to single digits in points until just before halftime, it became obvious that their Plan B was to do whatever it took to win the game.
And if that required grit and determination instead of style and pizzazz, then so be it.
However, the Cats’ 2020 form – now with two wins and two losses – will have to improve. After this lacklustre performance and last week’s loss against Carlton coming from an inability to recover from a slow start, upcoming games against surprise packages Gold Coast and St Kilda plus premiership contenders Collingwood over the next three weeks will give their finals hopes in a short season a stern challenge.
For those matches, the loss of Stewart remains of particular concern. But while Scott refused to say much about the contentious first-term off-the-ball incident, which left Stewart with that broken collarbone, he knows he has the luxury to bring in either multiple premiership-winner Harry Taylor – rested for this match – or veteran Lachie Henderson, or both, to cover for Stewart’s stint on the sidelines.
The ruck partnership of Darcy Fort and Ratugolea would also remain intact for another week or longer should Rhys Stanley not be able to return from a recent strain injury to a medial ligament.
But in the end, as far as this match is concerned, it was not a work of art for either team – and it wouldn’t be unfair to say that Geelong was less ineffectual than Melbourne, albeit not by much.
Or, to paraphrase comedy legend Steve Martin, if the two teams were to make a film of this game, they’d feel compelled to burn it.