AFL Round 11: Edge of your Geelong seat?

by John Harms

Geelong 15.9.99 d West Coast 11.11.77

I’m not sure I’m enjoying my footy the way I did a few years ago. Sounds ridiculous really. But it’s a different experience now. In the old days of watching from the couch I wouldn’t be interrupted. Nothing would break my concentration. It was all too in-the-balance.

How things change. I haven’t been on the edge of my Geelong seat for quite a while, and I don’t really want to have to wait until the third quarter of the 2009 preliminary final to feel that hard plastic edge again. I reckon the Cats are very, very good, but I’m worried the 2009 season is following the same script (almost) as last year.

This game from Subiaco was typical.

Cold grey day in Melbourne. Raindrops on the windows. Fire burning.

Adelaide and Essendon are playing an end-to-end cracker on the TV.

Young Theo is in his short-sleeve Geelong jumper. He’s very happy. At 19 months, though, I’m not sure he realizes how lucky he is to have a jumper signed by Joel Selwood and Monica Wojcinski; nor how fortunate to follow a team (he says “Go Cats”) that has lost two games in his lifetime. This worries me a little as there is a chance he and his father will have dispositions at opposite poles. Where will he learn the week-to-week struggle of life? How will he, as an adjusted and optimistic human being, relate to his soul-battered old man?

The Cats, in their white shorts, trot onto sunny Subiaco. We are waiting for GCJD Haigh and Lady Charlotte, Geelong supporters, to arrive. They do, just after Hawkins nails the opening goal and Gary Ablett floats one through form the flank. Hawkins gets another from a holding free kick, and Shannon Byrnes bursts away, has a bounce, fakes, straightens and registers another. “This could get ugly,” I suggest.

Nice-ugly is the consensus.

The Cats go forward again and Ryan Gamble pounces, turns and snaps across his body with the left. Another one. Such natural talent. He could be a factor come finals time, if he can trim a little of his flamboyance. He should have a night at the trots with Johnno and just chat about it all.

There’s a knock on the door: Arnie and Mary, looking cold. They’ve come on the tram. “Cats eight goals up?” Arnie asks jokingly.

“Five”, I say.

“Really.”

We sit around half-watching a game that seems over. Chatting away. If it were 2004 we’d be glued to the screen, living every moment, just hoping the Cats held their lead. Cursing the errors. Wishing.

But throughout the first quarter they look so superior that we’ve turned the sound down. Physically strong. Terrific decision-making. Keeping their feet and working the handballs around until danger passes, or someone can get square like a soccer full-back to mark from the short pass. And then they re-organise. Their kicking and hand-balling skills are excellent. Scarlett is exemplary.

Early in the second quarter it’s clear that the Eagles have tightened up. The Cats can’t find space. Attacks lack flow. Pressure. Turnovers. The game looks different. Yet we keep chatting, watching Theo massacre the cheese and clink “Cheers” with his new friends over and over again. How good is this, he must be thinking. I’m up with the adults.

The Cats struggle.

“It’s all over,” Arnie says. “What are you worried about?”

West Coast keep hassling. They snap a scrubby goal through Quinten Lynch. The Cats get caught with the footy. Scrimmages. Ball-ups. Cox seems to be dominating. Although Blakey has baulked a couple of opponents in general play and has even stepped around one bloke in the centre square. This gets a laugh.

At half-time we’re wondering whether the Cats are being complacent, whether they just think they can lift a cog at any moment. This is the common explanation for their mediocre quarters at the moment, such is the prevailing mindset about the strength of this team. It’s understandable. But is it right? Can they just turn it on when they choose? They are like the talented student who leaves their History assignment until the morning it’s due in, sets the alarm, has a quick flick through the text and churns out 1000 words of at least adequate and occasionally brilliant prose.

As long as the alarm goes off.

For a while in the third quarter I am in doubt. Thank goodness for Chappy. He grabs the ball in traffic, stops in a stride, turns to his left and snaps across his body. He could not have performed the manoeuvre more perfectly. It’s like watching Wally Lewis who understood the movement of his body as well as any sportsman I have seen.

“Chappy: he’s so reliable,” says Gideon quoting The Handicapper’s immortal line of a couple years ago. But she is busy sorting out the apple and (homegrown) rhubarb crumble.

Just seconds later and Chappy marks and kicks truly. “Chappy: he’s so reliable,” says Gideon again, now perusing the pizza menu.

The Cats are clear. Arnie is bored with the game. His only interest is dream team points. I refuse to engage in any such heretical conversation.

The Eagles are persistent. The Cats struggle with the low sun and make a few errors which help the West’s cause, but just as they are making another thrust McNamara gathers and sprints clear, in the wrong direction, before passing into the Geelong forward line. Shannon Byrnes is on the receiving end of this charity, and slots the present through.

I haven’t seen this happen since Michael Gale belted one 50 metres the wrong way for Richmond v Geelong, preliminary final 1995.

Still, the Eagles get the margin back to 14 points and I really don’t know whether (in Merrie Melodies fashion) Joel Selwood has the palm of his hand on the opponent’s forehead and is happy to watch the punches fall short, or whether the Cats are really under pressure.

Then something really telling happens. Something which has the old-timers sit forward. Needing a goal, the Cats pump the footy forward to a contest. Tom Hawkins crashes the pack like he’s Justin Koschitzke or Dermie. Great intent. He wants that footy. And he flies high to take a strong mark that has old-timers’ raising their eyebrows.

It’s a mark we’ve been waiting for.

And he kicks the goal.

It’s enough.

The Cats have beaten a gallant Eagles’ side who could never make up the handicap of their slow start.

Coming off a splendid half of footy against Essendon, the Geelong side looked a little flat, but did enough. No Harley, no Rooke, no Taylor, no Corey, no Ottens. Scarlo was terrific. Ablett racked up touches, but he looked like a man racking up touches. Johnno was quiet.

Nathan Djerrkura was energetic and did a few nice things (especially a kick on the run to the advantage of Gary Ablett having a rest at full-forward) which suggested the youngster has some footy smarts. He certainly has pace and balance. Travis Varcoe had moments of authority, but still plays like the eleventh-best mid-fielder, probably because he is. If he finds a little more self-belief and feels he has the right to take a leading role he’s going to add even more to this side.

The pizza and the Annie’s Lane shiraz went down well. The Handicapper’s crumble was Chappy-esque.

Theo crashed.

We sat around chatting. Not overly thrilled. Not disappointed.

Another Geelong win.

I need to focus. More attention to the TV. More regard for what’s happening.

It will be all over before we know it, and we’ll wonder why we didn’t appreciate it more.

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au He has written many columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted j.t.h@footyalmanac.com.au He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo9, Anna7, Evie6. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

Comments

  1. Wow, it’s sad you feel that way.
    But I’m sure that if I were a Geelong supporter I would get bored of winning too.
    That’s why I love watching games where my Collingwood boys are ‘JUST’ behind only to come back, take the lead and win the game.
    You gotta love a good shootout.

  2. JTH – magnificent. I thought it was just me feeling this way. My Monday morning conversations with my brother (also Cats man) have been along the lines of “Cats are travelling nicely………don’t you think?” and “Gee the cats were good…..in patches.”

    If this season follows last season then it confirms that there is no God…..or perhaps it confirms there is one. Not sure.

    Perhaps we should enjoy each victory just like you enjoyed the Annies Lane – one bottle at a time.

  3. johnharms says:

    3. Dips

    I suppose the piece was a bit of a dig at myself: don’t take anything for granted. So, yes, must enjoy it. Becuase it is sensational when you think about it.

  4. Terrific write-up John. As a Cats fan I’d been feeling a bit uneasy about this game all week. I suspected we weren’t going to show the Eagles respect, after dishing out a couple of drubbings to them last year. Just another easy win on the road coming up, or so some thought.

    I think Thompson was right when he said the 31-zip start was not at all good for Geelong. They started to lairise, pinging the footy around like a pinball and looked mildly surprised rather than furious when things didn’t come off and the Eagles took the ball down the other end for a few relatively easy goals. Luckily for us they hit the post a couple of times and that kid ran the wrong way, gifting the Cats a goal at a crucial time. Plus we had the ever reliable Chappy.

    In my opinion the bloke Geelong really missed was Rooke. With some honourable exceptions (Scarlett, Selwood, Chapman and one or two others) they lacked hardness at the contest. Rooke gives this to them in spades by setting an example week after week.

    Still, 53 from 56 is not real bad. Neither is the 11th straight win on the road after an off day. Haven’t things changed from a few years ago, our expectations in particular.

    The bye has come at a good time for Geelong. If they reset properly and recapture their ferocity and love for the hard contest, misplaced after three quarter time against Essendon, they might just make it two flags in three years. Here’s hoping.

    First of all let’s try to knock off Freo in two weeks time and savour the victory if we clinch it. Let’s show the Dockers some respect. As I recall they had Geelong on toast over there last year and were VERY unlucky to lose a close one.

  5. Peter Walker says:

    His name is Travis Varcoe ;) I thought it was Travis Barcode :) Actually thats what Arsenal supporters call Newcastle United, The Barcodes. Sounds appropriate for Collingwood too I reckon

  6. Don’t take anything for granted you Cats supporters. I was bordering on arrogant in September of 1991 unaware of the drought that lay before us (and that rather surreal merger debate). As a more appreciative Hawks supporter who has learned his lesson ‘the hard way’ (sorry), I am still re-playing last year’s GF every couple of weeks (particularly the third quarter), still with a sense of disbelief and a great deal of gratitude knowing it might not come around again for a time. Cherish every win.

  7. Peter Flynn says:

    John,
    Enjoyed the read.
    Historically, really good Geelong teams have been renowned for their skill and for their ability to put together long winning streaks (e.g. 51/52/53 teams).
    This current winning streak (53 from 56) beggars belief and is definitely an experience to savour.
    However, I must confess I am finding the journey increasingly stressful with the finals in the distant horizon.
    If my wife and I get a dog, I am putting forward Chappy as a name.
    What a pivotal player!

  8. johnharms says:

    Peter

    I reckon clubs have cultures.

    I reckon the Cats are at their best when skilful squads are free to PLAY the game. I reckon there are lots of reasons for this, which can be traced back to the 1870s and 1880s. The best Geelong coaches have tapped into this understanding, or highly skilled squads have given them little choice.

    JTH

  9. Pamela Sherpa says:

    Don’t worry Cats. There’s only half a season of stress to go before the unthinkable might happen again!

    Must admit -I was relieved when the final siren sounded for a Bombers victory in 2000.

    It’s easier to be the underdog isn’t it? Alas,there’s little choice than to enjoy what the footy gods are dishing out to you now

  10. Pamela – Bombers under achieved at that time. I don’t want the Cats to do the same.

    They say you should be careful for what you wish for as it might come true. I always wished the Cats were a powerhouse team. It has come true, and I’m lovin’ it.

  11. Pamela Sherpa says:

    Dips, you are dead right. The Bombers did under achieve.
    It was a shame that we didn’t have an Essendon v North Grand Final in the nineties.

  12. John,

    Very good article. Yes I agree, it’s been a rather odd time this season so far. The general perception is that Geelong are in brilliant form due to being unbeaten, but I’m not so sure. I think we’ve been patchy for most of the year, with perhaps the Brisbane and Essendon wins the only real 4 quarter performances.

    I think Thompson has taken the experimentation a little far at times too. No doubt every club needs to constantly adapt their gameplan and try new things, but I think there has been overkill. Although moving Kelly to the backline has worked quite well, Bartel in a similar position hasn’t. It wasn’t a coincidence that we looked better in the second half against West Coast once he was back in the centre square. At least he’s had the sense to keep Ablett mostly on the ball – when you’ve got the competition’s best player you play him where he does the most damage.

    That said, I’m certainly not complaining. I’ve waited nearly 25 years for a Geelong team this good to come along, and the fact that they can grind out victories when not playing well – and more crucially – do it week after week, demonstrates how far ahead they are of every other Geelong team I’ve ever seen. Mentally as well as physically.

    A small statistic underlines this gulf – the longest winning streak I’d seen before 2007 was 9 in a row – once in 1989 and again in 1992. Which I thought in my naivete was pretty good. There was also a stretch of 8 in a row in 1991.

    This current team has obliterated those numbers. Their LAST FOUR WINNING RUNS have been – 15, 12, 15, and now 11. With one loss separating each run of wins. It’s mindboggling. It’s magnificent. And most importantly – it’s exactly what we should aim for. Now we turn our attention to Fremantle – and what is a huge danger game. Given how close it was last year at Subi, there should not be one glimmer of overconfidence. Hopefully we can put together four good quarters and grind out the result.

    One week at a time, I can’t approach it in any other way. I do enjoy watching the replays though.

  13. mmm, i smell a bombers of 2001 season coming up. or was that last year?

    for cats fans, i hope it doesnt happen for you. will destroy careers if you lose 2 on the trot.

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