General footy writing: Cats need Moons to cut funny business

By Damian O’Donnell

Has the first crack appeared in the Geelong armour?
For the last three seasons the Cats have been an organised, well-drilled organism. They have honoured “the process” and broken the game down to a few basic key-performance indicators. The group has overwhelmed the individual, and, to quote Pink Floyd, all the players have become “just another brick in the wall”.
They have success stories to prove their philosophy: the resurrection of Steve Johnson, the emergence of Gary Ablett junior from under the heavy shadow of his (in)famous father, and the uplifting story of Mathew Stokes, a short, unassuming player who looked destined to be a could-have-been in South Australia. Ultimately, they also had the 2007 Premiership.
But perhaps the greatest example of Geelong’s cultural shift was the taming of Cameron Mooney.
Apparently the players sat him down before the 2007 season and made it clear they were sick to death of his undisciplined acts that generally resulted in his being reported.
“What good are you to us on the sidelines?” they asked, and: “If you are going to continue letting us down, is there a place for you in this team?”
Mooney was asked to walk the tightrope. His teammates wanted and needed his aggression, but it had to be targeted and controlled. It had to be at the ball or in the act of protecting a fellow Cat. His teammates wanted to turn Mooney into a figure like Callan, that controlled but flawed secret service assassin played by Edward Woodward on the BBC in the 1970s – in a football sense, of course.
The Big Hairy Cat cut his hair and, like Hercules, lost something in the process. He began to play football like an accountant balances the books:  with system and temperament and thought. He spoke after games about “the boys” and “the club” and he began to look after himself. He began to realise his potential.
And for a while it worked. He became a success. His goalkicking tallies improved, his leadership was recognised, and his place in the team became crucial to victories. Rather than belting blokes, he channeled his aggression into celebrating goals with wide-mouthed, guttural roars. He roamed centre half-forward like a silver-back gorilla protects his patch, with chest-beating and fearsome looks and manic charges that pull up short. But importantly he didn’t hit anyone.
Some blokes, though, seem to have a fire within that never goes out.
I watched Mooney closely on Saturday against the Kangaroos, and even early in the game the signs worried me. He was reckless, he provoked the umpires, he put on the crazy stare and his little niggles turned into blows. I watched as he punched Kangaroos defender Scott Thompson behind the ear (there’s a week there, we all said) while pretending to spoil, and later punched Thompson again in the stomach after a rushed behind.
He seized the opportunity to shirtfront another defender when he could simply have laid a tackle. He was playing like a naughty school boy who wanted to get caught.
Perhaps the signs had been there. Against the Swans his aggression seemed to have gone up a notch. He brutally put down Paul Bevan with a vicious, front-on hit, and I’ve noticed he hasn’t cut his hair for a while.
I hope I am wrong, but I fear that the leadership group and coaches at Geelong have some challenges ahead. If Mooney turns up his nose at “the process” and ignores the key-performance indicators, if the fire within begins to rage without, the effect on the rest of the playing group could be cancerous.
I would love to see him play in the hoops for many seasons to come. The crowd’s “Mooooonnneyyyyy” chant as he charges out of full-forward and marks on his chest is magnificent. He is part of the team. He is part of my team. He is vital to the Cats if we are to have a crack at winning another flag.

About Damian O'Donnell

OK - which is the odd one out: Love the Cats and flannelette shirts, especially in winter. I get on extremely well with red wine. We just seem to hit it off. Love horse racing in Spring. Used to love cricket. Go to Stawell every Easter and contemplate life around the fire. Love water skiing, especially in summer. Love a great oil painting. Will read most things put in front of me. Thought 'The Sorpranos' was the best TV show ever made - by miles. Run an accounting practice in Melbourne's suburbs.

Comments

  1. Pamela Sherpa says:

    Dips,I think Mooney’s true place is on the backline. Although he has served the Cats well on the forward line there was always going to come a day when his kicking would let you down -as it did on GF day. Put him back where he belongs and he can kick like a backmen and be aggressive – within reason that is. At least he would get to punch and spoil.

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