Geelong are no underdogs

One of the more curious aspects of our time is that while no one wants to be an actual underdog, it’s helpful in many ways to be perceived as one. This produces some odd disconnects between spin and reality. Billionaires accuse artists and academics of being elites. CEO’s bemoan the dominance of workers as they sack said workers in the very next breath. And football teams with 20-2 records imagine themselves beset by hostiles at every turn. Real life situation bears no relationship to rhetoric.

Geelong have this season provided an interesting variation to the theme. Without seeking underdog status they had it thrust upon them. It says something about the differing mindsets of football clubs that many of their supporters have felt aggrieved at this. Some clubs crave the recognition, others treat recognition as their due, but feel the need to invent injustice.

But if you bought into the prevailing media narrative of this season this was only logical. If Collingwood were the moral certainties many have declared, then it stood to reason Geelong’s (and everyone else’s) hopes were diminished.

Narrative aside, there were some more valid reasons for the impartial to doubt their chances. The 2010 preliminary final belting they received from the Pies had an end of an era feel about it. Gazza left. Then the Premiership coach departed in untidy fashion. Ling, Chappy, Corey and co weren’t getting any faster. And little was known of the youngsters.

Whilst no one was exactly touting them for the Spoon, it wasn’t a wild fantasy to suspect their days of dominance were over.

We’re all wiser in hindsight. And the Geelong faithful are entitled to an ‘I told you so’ if that’s their inclination.

As it turns out, the old coach may have been more hindrance than help last year. The new coach needed no time at all to settle in. The youngsters are just fine. And though the old guard certainly aren’t any faster, the team’s ability to move the ball hasn’t noticeably suffered.

Yet even a comprehensive flogging of the reigning premiers in the final round hadn’t silenced all doubters.

Hawthorn did plenty of huffing and puffing in the lead up to this game. They threatened to back it up in the first quarter on Friday night. They made it difficult for the Cats to move the ball through the middle, Buddy was a handful for Lonergan, and they made it obvious Joel Selwood would have a target painted on him all night. The problem was that 8 scoring shots (and a couple more wasted) to 2 had only produced an 11 point lead.

The only joy for Geelong was that young Menzel had snared 2 goals with their only scoring shots. That, and the efforts of the Tomahawk.

Since a debut that produced rhapsodies back in 2007, Tom Hawkins has generally been the classic ‘looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane’ tease. Tonight he’d obviously decided to be Tarzan. From the start he attacked the ball with a purpose and vigour that Cat fans will pray becomes his hallmark. He was also helped by the change of tactics Geelong adopted.

The 2nd term began with an Ottens tap to Chappy, whose clearance found Hawkins. He goaled. A pattern had been set. Minutes later Hale gave away 50 m on the wing and Hunt took advantage. In a flash Hawthorn’s first quarter efforts had been erased.

Thereafter the quarter became the Brad Ottens Show, and the Cats clearly displayed why they’d gone in with plenty of tall timber despite the wet conditions. With Ottens dominating centre bounces the Cats just went long to their forward line from each clearance.

Hawthorn were being exposed in the two obvious areas – ruck and tall defenders. Bailey and Hale have cobbled together a reasonable ruck combination over the last few weeks. It didn’t stand up tonight. And those injuries to key defenders started to hurt as Josh Gibson couldn’t continue to fight out of his weight division. Ryan Schoenmakers’ night got very ugly very quickly.

The 2nd term threatened to take on the blow-out proportions of the previous week until the unfortunate Menzel had his knee buckle beneath him on the wing. In an instant a potential dream season had turned to personal nightmare for him.

Soon after Jordan Lewis decked Selwood after he’d offloaded the ball. Stevie J flubbed the downfield free horribly, but Lewis’ action still seemed to reveal more desperation than any Hawk revival. Cyril had been blanketed by Enright. He went into a centre bounce and tried to break clear. He got nabbed. More frustration.

The rain came to Hawthorn’s aid by diminishing Geelong’s contested marking advantage for a period. Lewis drew a free in front of goal. His goal helped the Hawks steady until half time. The margin was still only 12 points. But it felt ominous.

Realising his side needed to take advantage of the wind, Luke Hodge made his move at the beginning of the second half. He broke away from Mackie to kick 2 goals to nose his team ahead. A Bartel centre clearance saw Pods reply almost immediately. The sides then exchanged misses.

Then the Cats made their decisive move. With Ottens still dominant they won a quick succession of centre breaks that swamped the Hawk defence. Pods and Stevie J scored off the deck. Tomahawk won a test of strength with Gibson at the top of the goal square, and Ottens even worked forward to add another himself.

Buddy got his 2nd goal from a tiggy 50 m penalty and Chappy blew an advantage chance, but the Hawks were in deep trouble at ¾ time.

The main thing Hawthorn had going for them in the final term was a bizarre display from Stevie J. With the ball largely camped in the Geelong forward line, he gave a spectacular exhibition of turning the straightforward into the impossible, squandering some gilt edged chances in the process.

While Johnson danced the wrong side of the magical/madness divide, another 50 m penalty saw the Hawks go deep forward, where Buddy crashed and bashed his way to another goal. The margin was still gettable even if the play looked lopsided. Chris Scott’s thoughts on Johnson may have been unprintable at this point.

Sticking to the mantra of the night, Ottens went long into the forward line again. Trent West took his moment to shine. An absolute screamer, followed more importantly by a goal, effectively sealed the deal.

If some weren’t convinced it was over, shortly afterwards Buddy flew for a mark and hyper-extended his knee upon landing. The collective groan from the Hawk faithful was like a simultaneous gut punch. No doubt this season and the next were flashing before their eyes.

For the record, the final margin was 31 points. It could easily have been more.

Hawthorn have coped admirably with some crucial injuries this season. Coach Clarkson has changed their style and devised a system to compensate defensively for a lack of key personnel. But Geelong ignored the weather and went straight for the exposed jugular of an undersized defence with telling effect.

It transpires that Buddy has escaped a knee reco, but his further participation in the finals must be in some doubt. Hawthorn will likely regroup for Sydney, but they look no closer to bridging the gap to the top two.

Geelong have lost the unfortunate Menzel, but this doesn’t appear fatal. Their defensive and midfield talent remains formidable. Ottens again showed what a big time performer he is. And if the Tomahawk can maintain the attitude he displayed tonight they have no obvious weakness. Tonight, they also revealed themselves tactically versatile.

They can consider their underdog status officially revoked.

In this age of salary cap and draft, the expansion of the competition will stretch playing resources just that crucial bit extra. This makes it likely the clubs who have their off-field affairs best in order will continue to prosper relative to the rest. Geelong and Collingwood remain the current benchmarks in recruiting and player development. This continues to be demonstrated on the field.

Both will be aware they’re a long way from over the line yet in regards to this season. But they’re closing in on a fateful denouement.

About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has been a Carlton member for more than 30 years.

Comments

  1. Andrew Fithall says:

    A lot has been written about the round 24 Coll Gee game. Something that may well come to haunt Collingwood: they, through their (a)pathetic performance, created an environment in which Tom Hawkins started to believe he could play top level football. The fruits of that belief were on display on Friday night.

  2. John Butler says:

    AF

    Just like the Cats, I suspect reports of Collingwood’s demise are similarly overstated.

    As long as they don’t unravel internally.

  3. JB,

    good to see you are giving so much time to contemplating the Cats.

    As you would be aware we are a modest club with modest membership. Subsequently we could do with your support and the social and financial benefits it would bring.

    We would be quite happy to recruit you during the trade period. You could slip in now for a bit of tuning just to see if there was any compatibility.

    You would be able to keep your old blue and white stuff: a simple change of logo would suffice in the interim.

    Welcome aboard.

  4. AF,

    wasn’t there reference of Les Chats unravelling internally from you last week?

    Could this be the secret to their resurgence this year? A very radical and lateral approach to club management, but the game evolves minute by minute. Scotty could well be on to something here.

    Do you reckon it might catch on at Collingwood?

  5. John Butler says:

    Phantom, I’m not contemplating a change of allegiance.

    Although, vis a vis the Pies, it could be a case of my enemies enemy… :)

    Just calling it as I see it.

  6. I don’t believe it JB.

    I think you are standing on the line. Come over. It won’t hurt a bit.

  7. John Butler says:

    That’s what I like about you Phantom. You’ll never die wondering. :)

  8. Underdog status is meaningless and a nonsense. Geelong and Collingwood are the two best teams of 2011 with more better players and depth. Both clubs are a great model for the other AFL clubs in all aspects of their business. I am pleased that they do not meet in another prelim. and hope that they both play off in the grand final with a full list of fit players and we get a clasic game of footy and the Cats win another premiership

  9. Great piece JB!! Loved it :D

    Mark – that’s the common sense that alludes most of the public. All year, the story has been about Collingwood, whose main contenders for the flag were Hawthorn, Carlton and eventually West Coast.

    Geelong was generally believed to be second on the ladder on due to an extraordinary sequence of luck that handed us several wins, which apparently meant little to nothing. We were meant to learn our place when we met September specialists Hawthorn on Friday.

    The whole ‘Geelong are underdogs, they’re an outside chance for the flag’ thing has bugged me all year. We beat both Collingwood and Hawthorn twice, and dominated on the field, if it didn’t show on the scoreboard. We beat Carlton. Yes, it was a lucky escape, but the point is, we made sure we were in a position to win it.

    And we beat Gold Coast and Melbourne by record margins. Sure, they were easy beats, but I didn’t see anyone else beating them by 150 and 186 points respectively.

    Don’t worry, I’m not getting ahead of myself yet. We still need to keep improving to win the flag, but for goodness sake, why has it taken so long for people to realise we’re a genuine threat???

  10. John Butler says:

    Hi Susie. Long time no hear.

    I’m sure your not getting ahead of yourself. :)

  11. Hi JB, glad to be back :-)
    With my last year of uni winding down, and my weekend local footy reporting job finished up for the year, hopefully get the chance to be come back here a bit more!

    To be honest of the five other teams remaining, Carlton is the only one that gives me the heebie jeebies. I’m just glad that West Coast has to deal with them first, because I’m not confident we’d have their measure in a final. Always match up well on us. Everyone else, I rate us against. I rarely barrack for WCE, but this Saturdaywill be the exception.

  12. David Downer says:

    Geelong have won something like 103 of their last 123 games?

    While it’s manna from heaven for Cats fans, it’s probably a bit old hat and boring for the rest of us.

    The journo’s are sick of writing about Geelong dominance, so they write about “other stuff”, and we subconciously inflate reasons as to why they’ll fall over. It’s the natural inclination to see something different.

    In the cold hard light of day, it doesn’t mean “we” don’t rate you – we’re just a bit bloody sick/jealous of it!

  13. John Butler says:

    Susie, good to hear you’re keeping busy. Uni’s sound very serious nowadays.

    Also good to hear that you’re worried about the Blues (makes a nice change to hear anyone’s worried about us).

    DD, glad to have your dispassionate views on matters Cat. :)

  14. Dave – very good points you make. Unfortunately, little has been written about Geelong’s dominance since we lost in ’08!

    Maybe we’re getting a bit sick of reading about our impending demise – three years and counting :P

  15. I can see it now. It’s 2017 and Geelong have missed the finals for the first time in 11 years.

    Monday evening on “On The Couch.”

    Mike Sheahan gloats that he was the first person to predict Geelong’s demise way back in 2009.

    “I told you they were has-beens.”

  16. John Butler says:

    Edward, if you keep saying it, you have to be right one day. Don’t you?

  17. David Downer says:

    Susie – even if the Cats win the flag, which I certainly won’t begrudge given their likely opponent (apologies A.Fithall), I wouldn’t actually expect anything to change on the “impending demise” front. In fact, it may actually get worse! Enjoy it for what it is. I wouldn’t bother with papers, the various footy shows all searching for angles, and especially nuff-nuff talkback – it just leads to blood curdling frustration ..maybe best just stick with the Addy!

    No matter what eventually transpires on October 1st, Collingwood will still go in short-priced favourites for 2012, and Geelong will probably be over the odds again.

  18. JB, I predict Mark “I think I think” Robinson will talk over as head scribe at the Hun before Geelong miss the finals.

  19. John Butler says:

    Ed, you may be right. And newspapers wonder why they’re struggling.

  20. Dave – I’m still young enough, optimistic enough and naive enough to think things will change re: the media :P

    Edward – hilarious!!! And too right :P

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