The Geelong Cats have come along way this season. After a mediocre start of two wins and two losses, they have gone on a whopping run of thirteen wins and three losses, beating other premiership fancies of Port Adelaide and the Western Bulldogs.
Recently, the Geelong Cats have a unique list management technique, often trading out draft picks that could be spent on younger players, to gain experience and ready-made footballers that will slot straight into their starting 22.
Players such as Isaac Smith, Jeremy Cameron, and Shaun Higgins have made a huge difference to the make-up of the forward line down at the Cattery.
The Cats, with an average playing age of 27.5 years, the highest ever since recording began, and average games played of 88, they are the oldest and most experienced out of any team in the competition, and with ten players over the age of 30 on their list, they do not have many attempts left a premiership glory with this ageing list.
Thee term ‘premiership profile’ gets thrown around a lot around this time of the season as the month of September looms. A ‘premiership profile’ indicates how strong a team is in four certain areas of their game. These four areas are ball movement, defending ball movement, clearances, and post-clearance contested possessions.
Despite there being six teams who would fancy themselves as a real premiership hopeful, there is really only three favourites, the top of the table Melbourne Demons, the Western Bulldogs in second, and the Geelong Cats who currently sit in third.
Of these three teams, only one team is in the top four in all of the ‘premiership profile’ criterion, the Geelong Cats. The Cats sit second for ball movement, fourth for defending ball movement, second for clearances, and second for post-clearance contested possession differential.
The Melbourne Demons however only have two of their criteria in the top four, being ball movement (third), and post-clearance contested possession differential (first), with their ability to defend ball movement being sixth in the competition and clearances 11th.
We know that the Melbourne Demons often play an extra defender in Christian Salem meaning that they have one less player at a stoppage which has clearly worked in the past, but many pundits including Leigh Montagna have said that while this works in the home-and-away season, he doubts it will hold up in finals footy, especially later in September.
The Western Bulldogs sit second on the ladder with a percentage of 138.1per cent but only have three of the four criterion in the top four. Clearances and defending ball movement are the best in the competition, with the post-clearance possession difference in fourth. But the ball movement is 11th out of the 18 teams.
Despite the ball movement being down, the ability for the Bulldogs to get clearances from stoppages almost nullifies the ball movement problems.
This Geelong team clearly has the best ‘premiership profile’ with all four criterion being in the top four, but also with the finals experience they have. Admittedly, the Bulldogs have experience from the magical 2016 run, and Demons from their 2018 preliminary finals berth, but other than that those teams have struggled to win finalist recent years.
Whereas, the Cats have had the ability to stay in the top eight almost every year from 2008, making finals a normality to their season. They also have a wealth of premiership and grand final experience from 2020, and other players they got in free agents and trade periods over the past few years.
The Cats must win the premiership this season however due to their ageing list, and emerging talent who are unable to get consistent matches the the AFL team. This Geelong Cats team have an average playing age of over 27.5 years, the oldest ever, with the second oldest playing age being North Melbourne in 2016.
At the end of the 2016 season, many of the older players, including Brent Harvey, Drew Petrie, Nick Dal Santo, and Micheal Firrito weren’t not offered contracts to play on.
If they do not win this year they have to start delisting, and trading players that may still have some value left. Players like Josh Jenkins, Zach Touhy, and Rhys Stanley should all be told to look for new homes as there may still be some currency for them.
Even Cameron Guthrie could seek a place at a club like Melbourne or Sydney who will still be a challenger in three to four years unlike the Geelong Cats. Guthrie is out of contract at the end of the year and if there is no premiership success it is not unfathomable to see him move to another team in which the 28 year-old can potentially have premiership glory with.
This would surely give the Cats a handy first-round pick to bolster their draft stocks.
If these players were to leave it would open the door for Quinton Narkle to get consistent games instead of being the 24th man most weeks, and Charlie Constable who is averaging almost 33 disposals each week and would be in almost any other teams first twenty-two, cannot seem to get a run at the Cattery.
There have been opportunities this season for Nathan Kreuger, Max Holmes, Jordan Clark, and Sam De Koning, as well as others, but for the Cats to be a good team in the future like they have been in the last 15 or so years, they must be consistently playing this kids otherwise they will seek opportunities at other clubs.
Geelong should the heavy favourites for the flag this year through their ability to have a well rounded game and defend against the most potent of attacks, but with their ageing list and young players who will most likely seek other opportunities if they are not given a chance at Geelong, surely this is their last shot at premiership glory in the near future.
Despite Friday night’s loss to the eighth placed Greater Western Sydney Giants the Cats still sit in the top 4, two games clear of the Brisbane Lions in fifth and Sydney in sixth. They will play St Kilda this round at Kardinia Park with a time and date yet to be confirmed at the time of writing.