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Trade and draft review: Cats churn bottom of list

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Roar Guru
1st January, 2022
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Geelong’s season wasn’t without its ups and downs, but at halftime of the final game of the home-and-away season they must have thought they had secured the minor premiership, only for the Demons to roll over them in the final quarter.

Winning that game would have meant finishing on top and getting a home final against the Lions, but the thrilling loss condemned the Cats to an away final against Port at the Adelaide Oval.

They were given a brief reprieve from the glare of the spotlight by the Toby Greene circus and dispatched GWS, but Melbourne beat them in their third straight encounter for the year and their premiership window narrowed again.

In the spring, the Cats cleaned house, shifting ten players and taking a broom through the assistant coaches, while at the top Brian Cook departed and Steve Hocking came in as CEO after being in an executive posting for the AFL.

Steve Hocking

(Stefan Postles/Getty Images)

Who’s gone?
Geelong’s list managers seemed happy to trade out players who desired chances elsewhere, with Jordan Clark, Darcy Fort and Nathan Kreuger going to new homes, while even delisted Charlie Constable was offered a rookie spot if he went undrafted.

Retirements from Lachie Henderson and Josh Jenkins were expected, with the axe coming down on father-son Oscar Brownless, Irish import Stefan Okunbor, one-gamer Ben Jarvis and unblooded Cameron Taheny.

The Cats were not active in the supplemental selection period or the mid-season rookie draft, preferring to go to the trade period before adding to their list.

Free agency
Geelong took a gamble of Tyson Stengle in delisted free agency. He has twice burned out of clubs in his short career, but winning a flag with Woodville-West Torrens and with Eddie Betts transitioning from player to assistant coach at the Cats has convinced those in the know that he has matured enough to be given a chance.

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Tyson Stengle

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Trade
Collingwood’s pick trade with the Gold Coast allowed Geelong to step in and offer a deal, with Nathan Kreuger and pick 51 going to the Pies for pick 41, which they flipped to Brisbane with Darcy Fort for pick 50 and a future third-rounder.

Next, the Cats got a more proven if older ruckman in Jonathan Ceglar from the Hawks and a future fourth-round pick in exchange for the future third-round pick they had received from the Lions.

The Jordan Clark trade ended up being a fairly break-even deal, with the former pick 15 going for pick 22 plus a future third-rounder. Freo also got a future fourth-rounder, which is not far off the original value and the West Australian club had leverage.

On the afternoon of the draft, Geelong went up and got the Bulldogs’ pick 23 in exchange for picks 32 and 34, while on night they slid back out of 45 with Collingwood for pick 47 and a valuable future third-rounder.

Draft
With their business done in live trading the hour before AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan called out the first name on night one, the Cats watched and waited knowing they would have the fourth and fifth picks in the second round.

As it transpired, Geelong Falcons ruckman Toby Conway was still on the board at pick 24 with his junior teammate Mitch Knevitt taken at pick 25, then seven picks later they went for North Adelaide midfielder James Willis with pick 32, which was actually part of the Jeremy Cameron trade coming back from GWS.

Jeremy Cameron of the Cats (R) celebrates a goal with Tom Hawkins

(Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

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It is worth admiring here how Geelong used live trading in the third round to move back three spots to get back the future third-rounder they gave away for Ceglar that the Pies got in the Max Lynch trade, especially when their pick 45 had originally been pick 50 before coming in for them to still get Eastern Ranges Flynn Kroeger at pick 48.

In other words, the Cats got a third-round pick for next year practically for nothing knowing that the kid they were picking wasn’t on anyone else’s board, so unless Essendon had plans to pick Arlo Draper, the Pies could have waited until pick 47 and kept their future pick.

After shifting out ten players, the Cats were still alive with the second last selection where they took another local in Cooper Whyte at pick 64, which was one of the cheapest selections across the 18 clubs and came in 20 spots from late in the fifth round.

Rookie draft
If the time was ripe for Stephen Wells to find a diamond in the rough, it was in the rookie draft where Geelong chose Oliver Dempsey, a basketball convert who showed enough in school footy to earn a shock call-up.

Earlier in the season, the Cats announced the signing of Gaelic footballer Oisin Mullin as a category B rookie, the young player of the year in 2020 and the latest to come out of County Mayo.

AFL-generic-Sherrin

(Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)

The verdict
Geelong may have shuffled the recruiting deck chairs somewhat at the Cattery, but this draft has Stephen Wells written all over it, with the genius turning what was a dire draft hand into a credible haul via smart trading and astute drafting.

There are an astonishing 17 players on Geelong’s list of 43, which is a real testament to the culture of the club to use every mechanism of recruitment to be able to take fill 40 per cent of list spots with locals, be it through the draft, in free agency, at the trade table, through the rookie draft and even mature-age players they nurture through, not to mention category B rookies they recruited from other sports.

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Tyson Stengle is the kind of recruit Geelong can afford to take on because his talent is a benefit that outweighs the risk of him destroying his career, with delisted free agency costing them nothing to get him.

Jonathan Ceglar may fit the cliche of Geelong’s 30-somethings, but he could turn out to be the recruit of the year after some outstanding games this year when he put the whole Hawks team on his back to win games against four top-eight teams.

The 205-centimetre Toby Conway was the first pure ruckman to be selected in this draft and comes into the deepest ruck division at Geelong in possibly all time, if not the strongest just yet, so he will have time to develop and give the part-timers the chance to play their preferred positions.

Mitch Knevitt is one of the new breed of big-bodied midfielders standing at 193 centimetres. He was tipped to go higher than this pick so the Cats have been fortunate, although he will likely spend time in the VFL before his opportunities come.

James Willis is an accumulating midfielder out of the SANFL colts competition who likes a goal, digs out a lot of clearances, tackles all day and has the versatility to play inside and outside while still impacting the game.

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AFL-generic

(Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

Flynn Kroeger is perhaps the most unheralded player in the entire 2021 recruitment calendar, but the venerable Kevin Sheehan called him a diamond in the rough and he seems to be a player they have kept tabs on.

Cooper Whyte was the third Falcons junior to get picked up by his local club, seeming to fit the mould of compact midfielders with pace and competitiveness, which the club has undoubtedly been observing for years.

Oliver Dempsey and Oisin Mullin are just the kinds of tinny Geelong recruits who end up going on to have great careers, but like the other fresh recruits they’ll have plenty of time to learn the Cats’ culture and system in the VFL before they get tested in the big time.

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Final word
Geelong appeared to go all in with their recruitment over the past few seasons, so this was a timely return to the draft at a time that they can develop these players in the hope that they can begin to replace retiring players as they mount in coming years.

Plenty of punters are predicting that the Cats will slide out of the top eight, but conventional wisdom and the past 15 years of dominance suggest that the end is not indeed nigh, nor is it likely to come soon.

If Nick Riewoldt’s assessment of Chris Scott as the AFL’s Bill Belichick is true (he is the most successful coach of all time) then the Geelong coach entering his 12th season needs to start winning some flags with alacrity before the inevitable decline of the true A-graders begins.

One thing that Geelong have done that is Belichick-esque has been to constantly churn the bottom of their list in order to bring in new talent, which is how the New England Patriots remain in contention for the 20th straight year despite losing the GOAT last year.

Sound familiar?

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