It’s a very odd thing

Score a footy and Cats gear

Score a footy and Cats gear

 

 

The Cats entered the 2010 finals looking somewhat shaky. Still, they were the reigning Premier and had won two of the previous three Premierships so were still a threat.

After a loss to the Saints in a game that could have gone either way, followed by a thumping of the Dockers, the Cats had their pants pulled down by a rampant Collingwood. That embarrassment stoked the fires of a group as competitive as any to wear the hoops, and they went to work over the pre-season.

In that intervening period, two things happened that I believe helped Geelong immeasurably in their assault on the 2011 season.

Firstly, their premier player defected to warmer climes.  Whilst most onlookers saw it as an end to the Cats’ flag hopes, there was a belief amongst the faithful that the loss of Ablett would galvanise the team and actually make it stronger. The logic behind that thinking was that the Cats had great midfield depth punctuated by a number of elite players more than capable of sharing the load to compensate for Ablett’s absence. In short, the Cats would be more team oriented.

The second ‘bonus’ was delivered by the Rules Committee. The introduction of three interchange and a substitute played into Geelong’s hands perfectly. As an aging team, their perceived weakness was a lack of foot speed which would be exploited given players would tire quicker.

This tended to be the case in the first half of quarters, or the first half of games, but Geelong’s superior strength wore teams down, and their ability to maintain their discipline and particularly their skill level under pressure and when tired proved to be irresistible.

This was aided by Chris Scott who interchanged players as prolifically as any other coach in the league; a major shift from 2010 where the Cats, then coached by Bomber Thompson , had on average the least number of interchanges per game in the League.

In early September last year, the Cats were thoroughly embarrassed by a sub-standard performance against the Dockers. Indeed, their lead up to that game smacked of arrogance and complacency at all levels of the Club, and Scott was completely out-coached.

As per post-2010, the loss has driven the players (and Scott) to work fanatically over the summer.

The loss of a couple key backmen does not bode well, but even with Geelong’s back-half seemingly weakened by those retirements, their backline still appears on paper to be amongst the best in the League. There is more than enough talent in the backline group to share the load, and a common understanding that working together is critical.

The main area for concern is the Cats do not have an A-grade ruckman. A-grade ruckmen are 200cm+, have huge bodies, possess great strength and aggression, and in this day and age, are agile and athletic.

Of those on the list over 200cm, Dawson Simpson’s days are numbered and Hamish McIntosh’s potential contribution is looking more and more like ‘part-time’ at best.

Trent West and Nathan Vardy are 198cm. Too big to be key forwards, but not big enough to be ruckmen, they are meant to be pinch-hitting followers who can provide a competent target near goal.

Mark Blicavs is also 198cm, but has less experience than your average under 16s player. And I’m certain he was not recruited to be a number one ruckman.

Poor Josh Walker, at 196cm, would make a perfect centre half back. He reminds me of Matthew Egan in so many ways, and I see him as Tom Lonergan’s successor.

All that said, Geelong’s undersized “ruckmen” may give the Cats an advantage at stoppages and in transit during clearances much like Naitanui does at West Coast. Thanks to the Rules Committee and their new rules limiting grappling between ruckmen, this possible advantage has become much more feasible.

If I could write the script for this season, the Cats would win the premiership running away without a 200+cm gorilla on the ground and with their undersized rucks wreaking havoc as running link men around the ground.

With a backline as good as any, a goal-to-goal line second to none, and strength, experience and class on the ball, the Cats are still in the hunt.

That said, a Geelong premiership in 2013, given circumstance and history, would be a very odd thing.

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