AFL Pre-season – Geelong v Essendon: Comeback Cats Claim First Win
In their last dress rehearsal before the season begins, the Cats and Bombers make their way onto Queen Elizabeth Oval in the sweltering 30-degree heat. It seems everyone from the historical town of Bendigo has made their way to the game. The ground looks immaculate, surrounded by charming period style buildings and an eager crowd of over 8,000.
It’s great to see the banned Essendon players back in the red and black, especially Jobe Watson. And the Cats … in their strange new white tops. Is it just me or do the big bodies of the AFL make the community grounds seem smaller?
The game starts at the odd time of 4.10 pm (a portion of the crowd are still lining up to get into the ground, which is a shame) and it’s evident both teams are hungry for their first win of 2017. The pressure is immense in the opening minutes. Geelong are inefficient going forward, their kicking yet again an issue, and the Dons punish them on the rebound, drawing first blood with a James Stewart goal. Jobe Watson is busy early and the cult hero, McDonald-Tipungwuti, looks electric, flying through packs and slotting goals—keep your eye on his guy, he’s going to do some damage up forward this year.
The Harry Taylor experiment is off to a horrendous start with his first set shot on goal the worst I’ve seen for some time. I’m not sure about Taylor’s transition forward, we may just see his magnet sliding back into defence sometime soon.
An early hamstring injury to ruckman Matthew Leuenberger sours things for Essendon, but that doesn’t stop them gaining the ascendency and peppering the scoreboard with goals—two of them coming from the capable-looking James Stewart.
The Cat’s forward line inefficiency continues with their first goal not coming until to the 22 minute mark. Geelong knew this was a problem in 2016, it seems little has been done to rectify it over the summer break. To make matters worse, Geelong are getting murdered at stoppages despite Essendon being down a ruckman, and their defence is looking leaky, conceding 5 goals from a mere 11 forward-line entries.
The Bombers are moving the ball fluently and taking much better advantage of their opportunities. At quarter time, Essendon have doubled Geelong’s score and lead by 16 points, even with four less inside-50s.
The second quarter starts with a great goal from McKernan and a lot of finger pointing is going on in the Geelong camp. Essendon’s pressure continues to cause costly turnovers for the Cats. The Bombers look like they’re loving their footy; everything they do is with excitement and fervour. Geelong on the other hand look like they have some other place they’d rather be.
Essendon are giving their forwards beautiful service and push their lead out to five goals. Joe Daniher looks formidable with a round-the-corner torpedo that sails through for a goal—he looks set for a big 2017. It looks like a one-sided affair is on the cards.
After another shocking attempt on goal from Harry Taylor, I’m ready to pull the pin in this experiment. If he wants to be a forward, maybe they should have checked whether he can actually kick? The humiliated Taylor does the right thing and drags himself to the bench.
Geelong wrestle back some momentum with Menzel snapping truly, but they’re making kicking goals look as difficult as advanced calculus. At half time the Don’s go in with a commanding 39-point lead. A spray might be imminent from Cat’s coach Chris Scott.
The start of the second half brings a dramatic shift in attitude. Geelong are lively and bursting out the centre like a white wave. Lead by their skipper, Joel Selwood, and Brownlow Medallist, Patrick Dangerfield, the Cats kick three goals in two minutes!
Who saw this coming? Have the teams swapped jumpers?
The Cats needed to respond and boy have they! They’re dominating stoppages and the forward-line entry count is as lopsided as a one-manned see-saw. The Cats have cut the half time lead of 39-points to two goals in just five minutes!
A lot of laboured breathing and hands on hips can be seen from the Bomber’s players. Have they run out of legs already? That year off may have taken its toll.
Hawkins has the ball on a string and kicks four in the quarter, his last two coming in a minute. Menzel slots a goal after being held on the boundary to take the lead at the 25 minute mark of the third quarter.
Selwood adds a late goal to make it a seven point margin at the last break.
The last quarter is an arm wrestle until McKernan snaps an unlikely goal out of the ruck in the goal square, finally breaking the stalemate at the 9 minute mark to bring the margin back to a single point. But Menzel gives a quick reply with his third major, and then a costly turnover in Essendon’s defensive half leads to a Murdoch goal. A spectacular mark from Lincoln McCarthy seals the game and caps off an unlikely comeback for the Cats, running out 22-point winners.
It’s hard to say whether the Bombers ran out of legs or whether they were just experimenting in the second half. The first few rounds of the season will answer that question.
For Geelong, much of last year’s criticism came from their heavy reliance on Dangerfield and Selwood—the famous “Dangerwood”. As it was these two players who sparked that scintillating third quarter comeback, it raises the inevitable question: has anything changed in Geelong over the off season? Judging on today’s performance, it appears not.
GEELONG 0.2.4 0.5.7 1.13.10 1.17.11 (122)
ESSENDON 0.5.2 2.9.5 2.11.6 2.12.10 (100)
Geelong: Hawkins 4, Menzel 3, Selwood 2, Cockatoo 2, Taylor, Murdoch, Horlin-Smith, Lang, Murdoch, McCarthy
Essendon: McDonald-Tipungwuti 4, McKernan 2, Stewart 2, Daniher 2, Langford, Ambrose
Geelong: Selwood, Dangerfield, Mackie, Tuohy, Hawkins
Essendon: McDonald-Tipungwuti, McKernan, Watson, Merrett, Stewart
Umpires: Eleni Glouftsis, Justin Schmitt, Leigh Fisher
Official crowd: 8,391 at Queen Elizabeth Oval.