The Way-Too-Early 2013 Preview: Geelong

 

GEELONG

2012 was the first time since 2006 that the Cats failed to finish in the top four. Is their era of dominance over? Was 2012 the start of a gradual slide down the ladder? Or was it merely a minor stumble from our footballing overlords?

Geelong started the year with four wins and four losses, looking distinctly mortal and losing to sides on the improve like Fremantle, North Melbourne, and Adelaide. However, following a round eight loss to the Pies the Cats reverted to form, losing only three more times, marching toward the finals looking as impressive as ever, and forcing Hawthorn fans to evaluate all probabilities that led to their side not having to face them until Grand Final day.

Script books were torn up a mere two days into the final series as Fremantle, long believed to be allergic to Melbourne, came to the G and buried the Cats in an unbelievable opening quarter salvo. Left to lick their wounds, they waved farewell to defensive stalwart Matthew Scarlett, then set about in earnest to reclaim the top four position they had owned for half a decade. So prolonged was their stay that you can still see their indent in the couch, and their toothbrush on the bathroom vanity.

2012 Key Statistics

Geelong 2012 Offensive

Average per Game

Competition Rank

Disposals

355.9

10th

Contested Possessions

144

7th

Clearances

35.8

15th

Inside 50s

55.7

tied 3rd

Marks Inside 50

14.4

1st

Hitouts

37.2

12th

Goals

14.5

7th

 

Geelong 2012 Defensive

Average per Game

Competition Rank

Points Against

85.73

7th

Inside 50s Conceded

47.1

5th

Marks Inside 50 Conceded

10

5th

Tackles

71.2

2nd

 

Geelong 2012 Offensive/Defensive Differentials

Total

Competition Rank

Inside 50s Opponent Differential(Total Inside 50s minus Total Inside 50s conceded)

197

3rd

Marks Inside 50 Opponent Differential(Total Marks Inside 50 minus Total Marks Inside 50 conceded)

99

1st

 

What are they great at?

It should come as no surprise that, despite finishing the home and away season outside of the top four, the Geelong juggernaut is still very, very good at several things.

Getting the ball forward and creating opportunities was a real strength in 2012. The Cats ranked third for forward entries, and on the back of Hawkins’s evolution into one of the premier forwards  in the competition, finished first for marks inside fifty.

Hawkins: Dramatic Improvement

Disposals

Marks Marks Inside 50 Marks Inside 50 Rank Goals

Goals Per Game Rank

2011

12.39

4.89 2.28 12th 27

tied 36th

2012

12.64

6.55 3.82 tied 1st 62

5th


No side had a greater marks inside 50 differential than the Cats in 2012, and their forward 50 entries differential was also at an elite level. They create a lot of of scoring opportunities, and don’t give up all that many themselves.

The Cats are also an exceptional tackling side, led by Kelly (2nd in tackles per game), Bartel (9th) and Selwood (15th). No other side had three players ranked inside the top twenty in tackles per game.

What are they good at?

Geelong was a good side defensively in 2012; finishing 5th in both inside 50s conceded and marks inside 50 conceded.

What do they need to improve?

Despite their extremely high forward entry and marks inside fifty rates, Geelong was only slightly above average when it came to goals per game. Chris Scott will want his side to be more efficient with their opportunities in 2013.

What are they bad at?

Clearances were a real issue for Geelong in 2012. Only the Giants, Suns and the Demons were worse at stoppages. This isn’t a new problem for the Cats either, as they ranked 14th in 2011.

It’s a bit baffling; particularly when you consider the fact in Joel Selwood they have one of the premier clearance players in the game (tied for 4th best per game clearance rate). James Kelly and Joel Corey are two very capable clearance winners as well.

2010 was the last time the Cats weren’t terrible at stoppages, finishing 7th that season. It’s no real surprise the drop-off coincides with the departure of one Gary Ablett Jnr. Still, the loss of Ablett, great as he is, shouldn’t herald such a massive collapse in this area, particularly when you consider the bevy of good midfielders still around. It’s likely the ruck situation is just as big a reason as the Ablett departure, if not bigger. Geelong have chopped and changed their ruck setup numerous times over the past few years. In 2010, when Geelong was an average clearance side, Brad Ottens and Mark Blake split the ruck load approximately equally. In 2011 Blake tumbled down the depth chart, and coach Chris Scott rotated Trent West, Nathan Vardy and Tom Hawkins as support for Ottens, who retired at the end of that season.

With Ottens gone, Geelong’s ruck setup was once again forced into alteration. West became the number one ruckman, and 29 year old Orren Stephenson was drafted as a specialist ruckman. Stephenson was disappointing for the most part, making only 8 appearances before the Cats decided to shift focus and place practically all ruck responsibilities on West.

Chances are constantly having to readjust to different personnel in the ruck has influenced Geelong’s poor stoppage work. The players involved in stoppages are unable to develop a sense of familiarity that comes with continuity. Given that Geelong will have yet another new ruck setup in 2013 thanks to the acquisition of Hamish McIntosh, they may yet again have similar issues at stoppages, at least in the early going.

POINTS OF INTEREST IN 2013

Hamish McIntosh

As mentioned, the ruck has been a tumultuous area for Geelong of late. One thing you can say about the Cats is they actively seek to address problems. They brought in Stephenson last year to help in the ruck department, and while the venture proved unsuccessful, it at least showed an acknowledgement of a problem.

Geelong acquired McIntosh for the bargain basement price of pick 36. It’s not hard to imagine North driving a harder bargain and getting more if they wanted to, even when you consider McIntosh’s injury history.

Speaking of that history…

McIntosh Since 2009

Games

Disposals

Hit-Outs

2009

22

16.5

23.4

2010

20

14.7

20

2011

1

15

10

2012

7

15.7

22.4

Acquiring McIntosh was a risk the Cats were happy to take, and I’m sure their fans were happy to take it too. At that price, and with their stoppage issues, they would be mad not to. Geelong would justly consider their window to still be wide open, even with the retirements of recent years, and McIntosh is almost certainly able to help right now much more than anybody the Cats acquired with that draft selection.The key thing that stands out there is obviously the games played. McIntosh has only managed eight games over the past two seasons. His 2010 season was also a disappointment, more so than the table above would indicate, as he failed to improve after his breakout 2009 season. His around the ground work was second only to Dean Cox in 2009, breaking the 20 disposal barrier ten times throughout the year. In 2010 he could only manage the feat twice.

No more Matthew Scarlett

Scarlett was the latest key member of this dominant Geelong era to call it a day at the end of the year. Widely regarded as the best full-back since Silvagni, and some will argue he was better, Scarlett was about as dependable as you can find in the back half.

His departure, and the subsequent impact on the side, will be interesting. In a strictly defensive sense, his loss isn’t likely to be as impactful as his name would lend you to think. While in the early 2000s Scarlett routinely took the opposition’s best forward, such matchups were much less frequent over the past few years. The Cats would rarely match him against the opposition’s leading forward, instead leaving those tasks to Taylor and Lonergan. This would be done deliberately to free up Scarlett to play a more attacking role in the back-half. Beyond being a good defender, Scarlett was a smart footballer. As a result, the Cats would look to use him as a springboard moving forward, and he was often the one bringing the ball out of the back half. Geelong will miss this as well as his leadership, both of the backline and around the club in general.  Former Demon Jared Rivers was no doubt brought in to help fill the void left by Scarlett, and while he is no Scarlett, he will help minimise the loss defensively.

Travis Varcoe and Daniel Menzel

Two players who missed nearly all of 2012 through injury (Varcoe managed the solitary appearance between them), who, when healthy, would probably fit straight back into the side.

Varcoe’s value to the side stems from his athleticism and versatility. With Wojcinski retiring, the Cats seem to lack players with line-breaking speed. Varcoe is one of the few who possesses such ability, and as a result may find himself on the half-back line more often in 2013 in order to maximize the number of opportunities he has to cover ground with his legs. Varcoe has also played on the half-forward flank and through the middle in the past, so it isn’t as if Geelong will be forced to use him in any particular spot.

Menzel is a classy young forward who is capable of playing in the midfield. Over the Christmas break Menzel underwent his third knee reconstruction, opting for the LARS version which aims to have athletes back in three months rather than the usual twelve. Everyone hopes his recovery goes well, that we see him back on the field sooner rather than later, and that he has a long career at AFL level. The lesson, as always, is ACL injuries suck.

Josh Caddy

Despite being a dominant team the Cats have made a concerted effort to continually bring youngsters into the squad without impairing their performances. Taylor Hunt, Steven Motlop, Allen Christensen, Mitchell Duncan, Nathan Vardy, Billie Smedts and Cameron Guthrie have all made re-occurring appearances within the side over the past few years, and several of them are weekly locks for the side when fit. With Selwood and Hawkins both under the age of 25, Geelong are in a position to compete long after the figureheads of this era have departed (as they are already showing). Integrating these younger players should help smooth this eventual transition without a significant drop in their on-field fortunes.

The off-season brought with it further evidence toward this mindset. Josh Caddy, the number 7 selection in the 2010 draft and one of the Gold Coast’s touted youngsters, had been surrounded with speculation he wished to return to Victoria since the 2011 off-season. This proved true, and during the 2012 trade period a bidding war occurred for his services. A war Geelong won.

Caddy’s first two seasons at AFL level showed promise, but hardly set the world alight. Caddy is a strong bodied inside midfielder, but was played predominately off half-back for the Suns rather than in the heart of midfield. This, I believe, played a big part in his struggles. Given the price they paid, Geelong will surely thrust him into the heart of the midfield, where he should flourish.

2013 OUTLOOK

Geelong’s 2012 season was more like two seasons in one. The Cats were 4 and 4 after round eight, and looked a shadow of the side that had won the flag the year before. They would lose only three more regular season games following that, generating some serious “can they win the flag from outside the top four” buzz before stunningly being toppled by another red hot team, the Dockers, in their first final. I happen to think the side we saw in the second half of the year is closer to what we will see in 2013.

Geelong aren’t the same overwhelmingly dominant side we saw in the late in the last decade, primarily because several other teams have improved significantly during that time, but also because Geelong have slid a fraction due to departures and retirements. Nonetheless the Cats are definitely in the premiership conversation. They still have exceptional players in all areas of the field. They have one weakness, stoppages, but that didn’t stop them winning the flag in 2011. They managed to somehow turn that into a minor blemish. If they get any improvement in this area with the addition of McIntosh, and can be a little more efficient with their chances, then they are one of the favourites to finish the season on top.

About Adam Ritchie

My name is Adam. I started watching football with two fellow parapsychologists in an abandoned firehouse. When we’re not watching footy, we’re running our own pest control business. What do you mean I stole that from Ghostbusters?

Comments

  1. Superb analysis, as all the chapters of this series have contained.

  2. Great effort Adam. A lot of research and analysis obviously gos into this.

    Get your money on George Horlin-Smith for the Rising Star award this year.

  3. Dips, tell me more. Horlin-Smith?

  4. As Cookie said, another great piece in this series. In-depth research combined with insight.

    Wouldn’t be surprised if Rivers is used to take the second tall and Harry Taylor plays the Scarlett role. I imagine Lonergan, Rivers and Hunt will be the lockdown players, Mackie and Varcoe will be the release players and Harry will float.

  5. Cookie – he’s got a bit of the Diesel Williams about him. Got leather poisoning the other day in the NAB Cup circus. Also he’s got blond hair and a double barrel surname. What else do you want?

  6. Dips, Sounds good, but I’ve got no change left. I raided the back of the couch during the Test series when you said plonk all loose change on Ponting scoring a 100 in his final test.

  7. d’ohhhh

  8. Dips, agree about Horlin-Smith. There’s been 2 players who after their first touch, I thought would be stars – James Kelly and Corey Enright both in Wizard Cup games. They just looked classy.

    I got the same feeling with Horlin-Smith with his first touch in a NAB Cup game a couple of years ago.

  9. Adam Ritchie says:

    Cheers one and all for the kind words.

    I haven’t seen as much of Horlin-Smith as some Cats fans would’ve, but they all rave about him. Seems to be a clever and classy footballer. Captained the Under-16 Australian Cricket team as well, so you imagine he has a good head on his shoulders.

  10. George Horlin-Smith won the Norm Goss medal for best on the ground in the 2012 VFL grand final. He just played better and better as the game went on, winning the ball regularly and creating opportunities with skill and composure. Looks an excellent midfield prospect for the Cats.

    Barring injury he should be a certainty for Round 1 against the Hawks, along with Caddy. Go the Hyphen.

  11. I hope George is half as tough as my all time favourite Hyphen.

    My brother played against Rhys-Jones in the TFL in the mid-90s. My brother is 6’3″ and was around 100kg of muscle but remembers one day being flat on his back with Rhys-Jones’ elbow jammed into his throat and my brother had no idea how it happened.

    He also recalls a favourite sledge. A young teammate ran past Rhys-Jones and yelled You f%^#$ has-been. Rhys-Jones replied, You f%^#$ never-will-be.

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