Geelong have dropped from second to fourth over the last year. This is probably not the worst result. But it was the finals that hurt.
Some things in sport can be taken at face value, while some other things certainly shouldn’t be.
Some players, clubs or situations seem to be immune to criticism or even worse: sacrosanct. Looks can be deceiving, and statistics aren’t always what they seem.
But enough of the generic throwaway lines. Let’s get to the crux of this article, which many will consider something akin to shooting Bambi: Patrick Dangerfield, as decorated and celebrated as he is, isn’t a clutch finals performer, nor has he proven himself over his career to be a big-game player.
This isn’t an overreaction to yet another underwhelming finals performance as his team failed – again – to achieve the ultimate glory despite shaping a list that seemed primed for success. It’s six years worth of trends and evidence that, while Dangerfield is an excellent footballer, he is not made for the brightest lights of finals footy.
In the interest of being objective, let’s look at the resume of this star player. He’s a Brownlow medallist, he’s won the Leigh Matthews Trophy – in effect the players choice as the most valuable player in the league – he’s an eight-time All Australian and he’s won best and fairest awards at both Adelaide and Geelong.
It’s a glittering list of accolades that reflects his ability to be consistently excellent in home-and-away football. To argue against his excellence as a footballer is a fool’s errand and not the purpose here, but those awards don’t align with the idea that he can handle the pressure – the real pressure of finals footy – and he has never proven an ability to truly carry his side like champions do.
Since he joined Geelong in 2016 Dangerfield and the Cats have made the finals every year but the grand final just once. Their finals record in this time is 6-10, and while it would be folly to suggest that the fault lies with Danger, a champion footballer would be the difference maker more often than not in finals.
He would not allow this run of finals mediocrity to happen, especially when he plays among the most talented list in the entire league in a side that have structured their culture and team around winning. In a large majority of those games the opposition have been more than happy to go head to head with Dangerfield.
The reasons for them doing that are anyone’s guess, but there is an argument towards two points: while Dangerfield is an elite contested player, he doesn’t possess the skill set, capacity or desire to run hard defensively; and despite having all the tools to be a dominant forward, he is at best an average set shot for goal and field kick.
His ability to get the ball is unquestionable, but he does not do enough damage with the ball in his hands, especially considering his status and reputation as a player. Getting a bunch of contested possessions and clearances tells me that you spend plenty of time around the ball and in the midfield, which means that you are lined up across from an equally talented player, and to not pay him attention or respect is a dangerous practice, particularly when he likely kicks the ball better than you.
Those arguing against my case or those who digest everything the AFL media would have you believe about ‘Danger’ will say to simply look at the statistics. Based on those statistics, how can a player who has tallied more than 30 possessions four times in an AFL final and consistently gets the ball 20 or more times a game for a successful team be considered anything but an impact player?
He simply doesn’t do enough to help his team win – of those ten finals losses, only two have been by less than 20 points and four have been by more than 40 points, including the weekend’s atrocious performance against the Demons, which lacked effort, imagination and skill. It would be reasonable to expect a true impact player to have done more to lift his team, as Dangerfield has failed to do time and time again in finals since arriving at Geelong.
As we turn the page on 2021 and plenty of fans and media pundits alike compile their lists, anoint the best players in the game and label ‘champions’, it’s about time we all took a breath and appreciated Patrick Dangerfield for what he is and what he has been: an outstanding footballer best suited to home-and-away football rather than a champion who can be relied upon to truly lift his team to great heights.