Cats must take their eye off the prize

North Stradbroke Island, June 19, 2004

It’s easy to get to Straddie. Catch the ferry near the Queensland Country Life offices in Cleveland where I used to ply my trade as a journo.

Mady and I caught the ferry on the morning of June 19, 2004. We soon found ourselves at the Beach Hotel. They could have filmed those XXXX Gold ads there. Walking along the beach, you’d spot this watering hole nestled under the she-oaks – a few tables and chairs out the front; a view of one of Queensland’s best beaches from inside.

(Seems it’s been turned into a monument of modern Queensland – the Beach Hotel is now the Beach Hotel Spa Resort – and is now impossible to miss.)

The Cats were playing Brisbane that afternoon and the match was on one of the TVs inside.

I loved watching the Cats then. Since 2002, Bomber Thompson’s boys would turn over the ball; they would lose more often than they won; but they never shirked a contest and never gave up.

They dropped the first three games that year and some within the club began to lose faith. Thompson didn’t. They began to win more than they lost and on that morning their games tally stood at 7-5. By game’s end it stood at 8-5 as the Cats beat the Lions for the first time since 1996, breaking a 10-game losing streak.

I don’t remember much of the game but I do remember cheering with raw emotion. I remember at least one table of bemused locals watching me. I remember Mady pleading with me to keep quiet.

It was a glorious afternoon, watching a young team realise they what they could do and rewarding their fans for their faith.

The next day I proposed to Mady.


Surat Racecourse, September 18, 2004

I wasn’t aware that bush races in Queensland extend well into the night. After the race card is finished, patrons adjourn to the bar – in this case, an open bar under the big Queensland sky – and talk turns to rugby and league.

The Cats were playing the Lions that night at the G in their first preliminary final since 1995. I stood on a chair to switch the only TV to the footy and watched as the unlikely seemed possible.

I shouted; I pleaded; I urged them on; every call and reaction drawing more locals to the telly as the game progressed. There was a Queensland team involved and the excitement built within them as they realised what was on the line.

With little time remaining, Brisbane kicked the sealer and before the local farmers and townies had time to celebrate, I stood on my chair and turned the telly off. “Nothing to see here now, go and get a drink.”

I was devastated that night but I knew the future was bright.


Ten years later

I didn’t enjoy the 2014 footy season. It felt like finals were all that mattered, which renders the preceding 22 rounds inconsequential. Win enough games; secure your place; here we go.

I found myself taking greater pleasure in watching Footscray. Here was another young team with talent that their fans could be proud of.

I adopted the Dogs that home and away season as the Cats tried to pioneer a new path of regenerating whilst maintaining ambitions to win another flag. The ageing team, including free agents in Jared Rivers and Hamish McIntosh, were bundled out in straight sets.



This season is alive for me. Two hidings from two very good teams and the Cats are bottom of the ladder with a percentage of 53. Where do we go from here? The uncertainty and challenge of the year ahead excites me.

Pre-season I had us finishing rungs 5-6; now I don’t think we can make the 8. Yet I wouldn’t be overly surprised if we did.

Any success this year was always going to hinge on our older champions (Bartel, Johnson, Kelly) playing at their peak and our younger players (Duncan, Caddy, Motlop, Guthrie, Horlin-Smith, even Smedts) developing more quickly than looked likely.

Our older players can’t carry this team anymore. Right now, the new generation looks solid at best.

The obvious exception is Motlop, who could be the best player in the competition if he wouldn’t mind defending when he doesn’t have the ball.

After this, Josh Caddy is a bull at a gate, although a bull would be a more accurate kick; Horlin-Smith can read the play and uses the footy well; Guthrie will play a Ling-like role to the team’s advantage; Duncan has started slowly but looks the best long-term bet.

Cockatoo, Gregson and Lang have played a handful of games each. The Cats have 28 players with less than 50 games under their belt – nobody could confidently say whether any of them will make the grade. Play them each week and we’ll find out. If they step up, the midfield and the team will get stronger. If they don’t, head back to the draft and try again.

Hawthorn won the last two flags and because they acquired Brian Lake as a free agent, free agency is now apparently the best way to build a list to win a flag (thank you AFL-endorsed media).

Except that the Hawks built almost their entire list through the draft, trading for the likes of Gunston and Burgoyne along the way.

It’s the equivalent of the Cats recruiting Brad Ottens at the end of 2004. He was crucial to our success but the list was compiled through recruiting and developing the core of players, particularly midfielders.

The Hawks have since selected Frawley through free agency (and will probably snare Dangerfield too) but their future success will be built on some very good youngsters coming through and having the resources to develop them.

They will try to rebuild while contending too, and will probably do a better job of it than Geelong, but the next generation will find it harder to reach the pointy end without Hodge and Mitchell alongside them.

The Cats need to concentrate on recruitment and development as throwing buckets of money at Dangerfield won’t help. They need a core of players coming through, not further stop-gap measures.

Recruiting free agents/patching up holes is genius if it wins you a flag. It’s foolish if it doesn’t.

We recruited Rivers after the 2012 season to help in defence. We lost the 2013 preliminary final by six points – epic game, great memories, but it’s not a flag.

We’ve tried to extend our premiership window but an honest appraisal shows a lack of depth means we would need every ounce of luck to win another this year. That’s not going to happen.

Let’s put Jackson Thurlow in defence when he recovers from injury. Let’s give Jake Kolodjashnij time there this year too. Let’s thank Hamish McIntosh for his time and tell the 200cm Rhys Stanley that it’s his spot for the year.

Geelong believes it’s rebuilding while remaining in contention. I’d suggest they’re patching up holes in an ageing list.

We’re better than a lot of teams right now, but if we don’t start following the lead of the Bulldogs and even the Saints, we won’t be ahead of them for long.




About Stephen Cooke

Cumbersome ruckman of the garden variety


  1. Very thoughtful and considered SC. One of Geelong’s great strengths for the past decade has been the genuine camaraderie among the playing list. Helped keep the list together because players did not make ridiculous $ demands that would have blown the salary cap (with one exception – but good luck to him for making the most of his talent).
    I have only seen snippets of the first two games but I did think that the lack of leg speed from some of the older blokes was stark. Lots of hurried kicks off a step because they did not have the leg speed to get clear any more.
    The mind was making promises that the legs couldn’t keep.
    I was looking at them the way a punter looks at an old stayer. Needs a bit of sting out of the ground to bring the field back to him.
    It must be hard for clubs to give faithful servants the shove, but I wonder if some haven’t been indulged a bit. A change of stable can give them a new lease of life as we have seen with Chappie, Goddard, Dal Santo, Lake et al. I just think anyone goes stale given the same surroundings, relationships and expectations year on year.
    With a few veterans you can pinch hit them in roles like Goodes and Gia as subs; but when they are still the core of your list???

  2. Neil Anderson says

    Is it possible you could be wearing a Bulldog’s jumper to the Almanac book- launch this year?
    I’d like to think the young exciting pups that have signed on for the long haul will be the key to success and it reminds me of Geelong and their lead-up to 2007.
    Hopefully Tom Boyd will be as good as Tom Hawkins in a few years as well.

  3. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Interesting Cookie but if you add Dangerfield a top 5 player of the comp and in partnership with Selwood a lot of other players would improve dramatically overnight

  4. Peter B, as you point out, veterans as the core of the list is trouble. Our two best are Selwood and Hawkins – and they are still relatively young – but it drops off pretty quickly. The club was right to pension off Pods and Chappy but the young blokes they gave the opportunities too (Mitch Brown, Stringer, Kersten etc) couldn’t step up.
    Neil, I love the Bulldogs. They have serious talent and are hard at it. Some journos had them 18th this year – they’re so much better than that. They’ll need a bit of luck to make the 8 though. I think Boyd will be good and he’ll rise through the ranks with them. I remember when people said Hawkins was a dud early in his career, even though accepted wisdom is big forwards peak at 25. Hawkins turned 25 just after the 2011 GF.
    Go Doggies!

  5. Malcolm, do you think other players would improve dramatically overnight because the opposition would have to tag two guns? He’d be a handy addition (if he doesn’t go to Hawthorn) but you need depth in the midfield so they need to draft and develop to bolster this area.

  6. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Cookie they have to draft to boost the midfield but Danger , Motlop and Cocky together fix up your pace prob . Dangerfield is a genuine superstar who boosts any sides chances dramatically , if the Crows keep winning he may stay any way
    A key defender for the future is needed also

  7. Big wraps on Kolodjashnij and Thurlow in defence but again, time will tell. Steve Hocking had big wraps on Kersten – and he was killing it in the VFL – but he found it very hard as big Tommy’s sidekick. Won’t say no to Dangerfield in the side. Love how everyone assumes he’d choose Geelong because he is from Moggs Creek. Melbourne is closer to Moggs Creek than Adelaide, as many Melbourne-based sides will be telling him too.

  8. Cookie, I think you’re spot on with your analysis. A good thing about successive hidings from very good teams is that significant cracks are exposed. Ruthlessly.

    Soft or lucky wins against mediocre sides teach you nothing. The Cats had about six such results in 2014, only to be bundled out in straight sets in the finals. It’s now clear that things have to change.

    The Cats selectors have already demonstrated that the switch to youth is on at Kardinia Park. Good on them. It will be tough for us supporters to watch at times and difficult for the Club to manage, but more kids have to come in and some ageing champions will need to miss games here and there.

    The impressive wins by the Doggies and the Saints on the weekend show the way to the future. I just hope the powers that be at Geelong were watching. The sooner we can recapture that 2004 vibe, the better.

    Go Cats!

    Cheers, Burkie

  9. aussie80s says

    I expect Geelong to make the finals and finish about 6-8. They are too good not to. Should beat GC by about 100 this week and everything will seem rosy again as I can see Hawkins and Clark kicking a bag against a non existent GC tall defence at Kardinia Park.

    Doggies will be fun to watch this year. They have exciting midfielders again like they did when West, Smith and Johnson roamed around.

    If Adelaide continue as they are Dangerfield will stay where he is. It will be a huge gain to anyone who gets him should he choose to come home.

    Hawthorn didn’t get Lake as a free agent but traded pick 21 and 43 for Lake and Pick 27. Bulldogs chose Nathan Hrovat with Pick 21 and traded pick 43 for Koby Stevens. Hawthorn chose Tim O’Brien with their selection which had slipped to 28 by draft day.

    Hawthorn has only gotten Frawley as a free agent and lost Franklin through the same process so on the free agency scale would be losing if that was considered a straight out trade. There were also a few minor delisted free agents such as Simpkin in and Ellis, Murphy, Gilham out. Hale (was playing for North Ballarat at the time), Gibson (underrated), Burgoyne (knee problems), Gunston (unproven), McEvoy and O’Rourke were all traded for with early picks so it is a gamble.

    The key is targeting the right players. Clark and Caddy should be good over the journey as they addressed problems but I am not sure Rivers, McIntosh, Stanley etc add or clog a list.

  10. G’day aussie80s, why didn’t Lake walk as a free agent? Did he want the Dogs to get something in return?
    I can see why the Cats picked up McIntosh as we’ve had serious problems in the ruck and he came for nix. Rivers was chosen to help push for a flag. Great to have Clark as he’s a similar age to Hawkins, and Stanley is 23 and the big blokes take a bit longer. St.Kilda took young Goddard with the pick we handed over for Stanley so it will be interesting to compare their careers over the next 8 years.
    Gunston is a gem. I know he was unproven but the Hawks worked very hard to convince him he was homesick so it’s a fair bet they knew what they were getting. I remember Clarkson was desperate to get Burgoyne because of their relationship at Port and had to overrule his list management/recruiting people to get him.

  11. Burkie, I’m glad we’ve started like we have and didn’t draw the Suns and the Demons early. As you said, we had too many results fall our way last year, which made our home and away year look very good, despite some ordinary performances.
    Good year that 2004 – lots of fun. The footy was good too!

  12. aussie80s says

    Hi Cookie
    Lake was still contracted for another year and the Doggies had decided to go down the rebuild path and traded him rather than lose him for nothing at the end of 2013. He was also a gamble as he had knee problems which had wiped out 2011 but managed to return OK in 2012. It was probably a win-win for both clubs – Hawthorn won a premiership and the Bulldogs have a 10 year player.

    Sometimes the short term gambles pay off like Hawthorn in 2007 choosing to draft a 125kg Stewie Dew with their final pick instead of David Zaharakis who they had considered with the same selection. Dew won them a premiership in one of his 20 odd games he managed whilst Zaharakis would have spent the year at Box Hill (Zaharakis ended up being overlooked by everyone as a bottom age player but went fairly high at pick 23 the next year). Zaharakis will have a better career post 2007 than Stewie Dew but Hawthorn would not have beaten Geelong for the flag that year. Hawthorn won a premiership and Essendon have a 10 year player.

    Geelong do have ruck problems as Simpson and Vardy were constantly injured but so was McIntosh and Stanley’s best and worst was miles apart. If McIntosh can stand up he will be useful but he also lacks a tank to run around all day and doesn’t do much as a resting ruck up forward. Stanley will kick 5 one week and then not be spotted for the next month – he is a handy player but needs to find consistency, maybe maturity will help. I know a few Saints supporters who were very happy to effectively get Goddard for Stanley but like you say, the next 8 years will reveal the accuracy of crystal ball gazing; it may well be a win-win.

  13. John Butler says

    Cookie, the tail-end of a sustained period of success always brings big challenges. It’s usually the time where you find out which of those oft-touted club core principles are going to stick.

    Your club leadership’s attitudes will be interesting to observe.

  14. Paul Spinks says

    Cookie – enjoyed your reflection of the ups and downs of following the moggies during the recent era. Think the trend is definitely accelerating downward for now.

    Many of the younger players that showed promise aren’t developing as hoped (as you suggest). More worrying is the lack of game plan (or that it’s rooted in the past – first instinct is still to handball), but that can break down along with confidence. Some spark definitely needed. Is Scott a good coach or did he just inherit well? We”re about to find out.

    Maybe two choices from here: fork out dollars or bottom out. Re the former, Gazza is seemingly vacillating about contract renewals. Convince him and Danger to join forces and suddenly the midfield has depth again. Easy to say, I know, but it’s a nice fantasy.

  15. Dennis Gedling says

    Completely agree that there seemed to lack a bit of fun in 2014 during the season. It was all about confirm 8, then confirm 4 then it all matters on the first final. Decaying expectation may have something to do with this. I’m embracing out mortality for now. There is a bit of misty eyed nostalgia about Thompson’s early years for me too but that may be because of it all coming together, will it happen with this group? Chris Scott may learn some very harsh lessons this season.

  16. Chris Scott will really be feeling the pinch now. Cats hierarchy and members will be watching the next few weeks extremely closely. Doesn’t seem to be a plan b or c at present.

  17. Mark, hasn’t been a Plan B or Plan C during games since Scott was appointed. Awful watching his blank face when he’s being shown up by a Lyon or a Clarkson.

    I’ve never thought he’s a good game day coach, let’s hope he’s an outstanding development coach.

    Paul, a lot of that overuse of the ball with the hands on the weekend. I reckon that was panic more than the game plan. At least, I hope that was more panic than the game plan.

    We don’t need Gazza now, we needed him in 2013!

  18. neilbelford says

    I think you have it nicely boxed up Stephen. You are correct about Scott – a rabbit in the headlights springs to mind.

Leave a Comment