Geelong simply must win the flag in 2021.
Quite impressively, they’ve taken the necessary steps to validate the title of premiership favourites, recently bestowed upon them after two crushing performances against Fremantle and Richmond.
So far, the season has played out just how coach Chris Scott would’ve liked. They have conceded the fewest points through 19 rounds and have lost on just four occasions, with three of those games coming in their first seven.
Despite having long periods without Patrick Dangerfield, Mitch Duncan and Jeremy Cameron, all elite players in their positions, the Cats have operated on a scale of professional to clinical in their victories.
That’s the thing about Geelong. What we get from the team is rarely breathtaking and seldom disappointing.
It’s the metronomic consistency of the Geelong Football Club that ensures they remain in the conversation of contention at worst and at best, at the top of the tree.
Are we surprised by any of this? Not in the slightest. Since they won the premiership in 2007, they’ve missed the top eight on one occasion.
Geelong has finished in the top four 11 times in the last 14 seasons and are set to make it a 12th time in 2021.
No team sets themselves up better for a sustained attack on the upper echelon of the competition and the numbers back it up. If you’re a supporter of the club, you haven’t had too much to complain about in the grand scheme of things.
2021 has famously seen the complete buy-in to the notion that experience and veteran status will lead the club to glory.
Geelong recruited 32-year-old Isaac Smith and 33-year-old Shaun Higgins to add to their best 22, as well as the aforementioned Cameron who at his best, is one of the league’s best forwards in his prime. This has ensured they’re the most tenured playing group in the competition.
Against Richmond, the Cats had nine players above 30 years of age, while Shaun Higgins was a late withdrawal and Mitch Duncan is still at least a month away, which would make it a grand total of 11.
Tom Stewart, Cam Guthrie and Luke Dahlhaus are 28 and Sam Menegola is 29 from the team on the weekend. Cameron will return and is 28.
When such a large collection of experienced players are put together, the coaching is purely tactical, rather than guiding and teaching the group. Every player knows their body and respective games so well that it’s a matter of fitting pieces into the jigsaw.
With that comes expectation and a pressure that is as self-inflicted as it is universally applied.
It means Geelong has no choice but to win the premiership, surely?
We know the double chance enhances a club’s chance of the ultimate glory and we know the frequency in which the Cats feature in this position.
Therefore the fact their last six top four finishes have only resulted in one, failed grand final appearance is enormously disappointing and concerning. No doubt, it’s the driving factor behind the tactical recruitment of class and outside run in the form of a duo at the end of their careers.
Given how awful the strike rate has been to reach the greatest glory known in the AFL, imagine just how disheartening would another season falling heartbreakingly short be to all of Geelong’s stakeholders.
Does their universal love for the coach remain intact?
Even though this is an old list, only four players have won a premiership: Joel Selwood, Tom Hawkins, Mitch Duncan and Isaac Smith, and in any case, the Cats’ last flag was a decade ago.
Right now, this is a veteran playing group being driven by the desire to experience success. It’s resulting in some extraordinary performances at a stage of players’ careers where a resurgence only happens to a handful of players.
To have such collectively impressive performances from aged players is more akin to catching lightning in a bottle, rather than anything remotely sustainable.
One way or the other, we may well see the first Geelong complete drop-off in the next couple of years as a result.
It places even more weight on the fact that 2021 simply has to be the year.
The defensive unit is performing solidly even though they’re a gun key short, with Jake Koldojashnij and Jack Henry playing above their ideal pay grade but performing to an elite level, the midfield has depth and plenty of run on the outside to never peter out within games, and the forward group, particularly when Cameron is back to join Hawkins, is so hard to lock down that it gives coaches nightmares.
Only the ruck situation is the continued issue at the club, although Rhys Stanley tends to hold his own every couple of games. Cats fans can stop thinking Sean Darcy’s joining anytime soon.
In no third of the ground is there a glaring weakness, although the playing group is hardly infallible, as Richmond showed in the 2020 grand final.
The flow-on effect from the commitment to experience is the inevitable impact it has on any youthful talent at the club.
It’s not as if Scott doesn’t pick any young players. Brandan Parfitt (23 years old), Gryan Miers (22) and Jack Henry (22) are regulars in the team, Quinton Narkle (23) is seemingly always the 23rd man, while Francis Evans (19) and Max Holmes (18) have played a couple of games.
Perhaps though, we can afford to hold some concerns for the development of the younger brigade that are trying to break into a team that simply isn’t looking to reward prolific form when the CVs available to the coaching staff are better filled.
Geelong tend to enjoy the recruitment of mature-age players, much like Close, Tom Stewart, Tom Atkins and Sam Menegola to fill positions. It’s a constant rotation of established players in state competitions or from other clubs coming in to fill the gaps the hierarchy don’t feel are able to be managed within.
On paper, when a player like Quninton Narkle can come in and in his few opportunities, produce extremely strong numbers, it appears as though the development is fine.
Young players are being mentored by the plethora of leaders available to them and can adequately cover any short-term absences.
We can’t discount the mental toll this can take though.
A lot of supporters will feel that players should be patient and bide their time, yet you couldn’t possibly hold a grudge against any desire to leave when a player gets dropped after collecting 26 disposals, or when they average 33 disposals a game in the reserves but aren’t even on the emergency list for the senior side.
COVID has affected recruitment and clearly, the Cats have been of the opinion that less exposure for young players in the VFL has resulted in the necessity to top up the senior side of things, as they don’t feel comfortable trusting the form of around ten games in two seasons.
The inevitable risk involved there is a disenfranchised young core that will look for opportunities elsewhere; Charlie Constable has already made it clear he’d comfortably look for a new home, while Narkle will be a man in demand.
Jordan Clark was rumoured to be leaving in 2020 and those murmurings will long continue.
As a result, it seems as though the Cats have played themselves into a corner, where winning the flag isn’t just a necessity because of all the veterans on the list, but also in order to be able to keep their young stars.
Put simply, if Geelong were to win this season’s flag, we can expect a couple of retirements. One would suggest Shaun Higgins may do so either way, Lachie Henderson may want to finish on a high and even a couple of others who have signed on into next year could break their deals early.
Higgins in particular seems the logical avenue for Geelong to keep Narkle, who may now have a spot in the team due to the injury of Gryan Miers.
Should the Cats be unsuccessful, not only may the drive and desire of their veterans begin to wane, which would result in the football ageing process catching up very quickly, but certain players may want to hold on longer for another chance.
Subsequently, decisions will need to be made as to whether they drop some stalwarts to cater for the youth, or the bond between coach and player creates a built-in bias.
Scott has almost always backed his guys in.
There are countless examples of players holding on too long and spoiler alert – it never ends well.
A premiership not only appeases fans, sponsors and the board, but it justifies coaching decisions and directions and fulfils the careers of the players.
A failed attempt won’t only be another loss in the column for 2021, but could bring forward a catastrophic demise that might seem unlikely right now, yet history suggests is entirely possible.
If that were to be the trajectory, at least that tenth premiership would justify it.
It makes the final couple months of the season absolutely fascinating from Geelong’s perspective.
Clearly, they are the most polished and experienced team that maintains a consistent bass line. For a team to beat them in the finals, they will have had to put together a very good performance.
It makes them the safest team to pick as a premiership favourite for this year.
Reliable, experienced, well-rounded. These are all terms we can and should be associating with the Cats this season.
Winning the flag is well and truly on the agenda, but it isn’t enough to hope for it.
There can’t be any peaking too early, nor can there be any excuses when push comes to shove.
Without a premiership in 2021, Geelong have failed themselves and their fanbase. The investment in the now may have compromised the future too much and it would be a devastating blow to all involved, particularly those who were promised the world and could come away with nothing.
Only positives vibes for now at the Cats though.
They are sitting pretty with a month left in the season and are looking a great chance to carry silverware come September. Things simply need to run smoothly from this point on.
No pressure, coach.