Did the Cats overachieve in 2016?


There is a case to be made that the Cats overachieved in 2016. Our recent two first quarters against Sydney suggest as much, and most pundits pre-season had the Cats in the bottom half of the Eight. A year ago there were many gaps in the list, and the list management committee were playing catch-up to fill them. Some have started to be filled, while others are still an open question.

Those gaps have been there since 2011, such as the struggle to find:

  • a centre half-forward after JPod
  • a ruckman after Ottens
  • a forward pocket after Chappy
  • a back pocket after Josh Hunt
  • a big on-baller after Joel Corey
  • a tagger after Ling.

In the ruck we saw Dawson Simpson finally hit good form in mid-2013 and then break his leg, and McIntosh went from injury to injury. In the forward pocket we saw Burbury finally get in form but then have his jaw broken, and McCarthy go through years of injury. At centre half-forward we saw the struggles of Vardy and Mitch Clark, and in the back pocket we saw Bartel in 2013 and Kelly in 2014, neither of whom were ideal there, while we waited for Bews to develop. Some of these roles are now starting to be filled.

Position Held in 2011 by in 2016, starting to be filled by…. After trying 2012-2015
Ruckman Ottens Z Smith Simpson, McIntosh (injuries)
CHF JPod ? Vardy, Clarke (injured)
Big on-baller J Corey Dangerfield
Tagger Ling S Selwood
Forward pocket Chapman McCarthy Burbury, McCarthy (injured)
Back pocket J Hunt Ruggles Bartel (2013), Kelly (2014)

For a lot of 2016 the Cats were not a top 4 team and then suddenly, with the August arrival of much-needed inside reinforcements in Menegola, Cowan and S Selwood, we were top 4. However they weren’t finals ready, and not in the same ballpark as Sydney.

Then late injuries (the worst sort) to Henderson, Menzel, Cockatoo and Caddy, who missed Rds 14-19, skittled their seasons. Caddy had been in the best players five times in the first half of the season, but had only one good game (against Melbourne) after he came back. Henderson had been in AA contention and Menzel had been kicking multiple goals.

The Cats got no lift from VFL players coming through. Horlin-Smith, Smedts, Vardy and Mitch Clark were not able to contribute, and we saw the lack of development from Murdoch (still one-sided) and many other players, so in the end too much was asked of too few.

Some gaps are starting to be filled, but soon some more gaps will open up. The years of injuries to Menzel, McCarthy, Cowan, Vardy and Smedts have slowed their development, though it is wonderful to see some of them now playing good footy.

There needs to be more thinking around centre half-forward. Resting Rhys Stanley there was never going to work in the finals, and finally trying Henderson and Taylor forward in Rds 21 and 22 was too little too late. There were understandable frustrations with Vardy, Mitch Clark, and Kersten (‘the best kick in the club at training’) but Stanley is not a second tall forward, he’s a third tall forward/resting ruckman, like David Hale.

For 2017:

  • Smith and Stanley had a poor last six weeks and need a good pre-season, as do injured players like Menzel and Smedts and Vardy if he stays.
  • CHF needs sorting out from the start of the year, as does the back pocket. If Bews is too loose in a back pocket, then could he go to a wing? He has talent, and he needs a set role and a full season.
  • Against Sydney, the midfielders need to get the ball on quickly and not cough up loopy handpasses. Don’t play a possession game v Sydney, but move it quickly.
  • When in space, the mids (P Dangerfield) need to lower their eyes and link with the forwards better, rather than bombing it. Better to scrub it on along the ground, when under pressure, rather than handpassing to someone who then bombs it.
  • The midfield needs more support. Can Caddy fulfil his potential?
  • Some VFL players need to come through. Luxford played every game this year, so might be a chance.

Points to ponder

Both Geelong’s games v Sydney came after a bye, and Sydney were not coming off a bye. In Rd 16, it was 3 goals to zip in the first 7 minutes. In the prelim it was 5-zip in the first 13 minutes. Not that the result might have been different, but there’s a pattern. The Cats are 1-6 after a bye over the last five years and that one win was over Hawthorn in the Qualifying Final (by two points) when the Hawks also had a bye.

Toward the end of the first quarter in the Prelim, according to the AFL twitter feed of the game, Sydney had had 18 short kicks to Geelong’s three. But their season rankings in short kicks were the exact opposite. The Cats had been ranked third for short kicks while the Swans had been 16th. So what happened? Pressure.


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  1. Why can Geelong Cats play well again Hawthorn yet play so poorly against Sydney?
    It seems little was learnt from the July game against Sydney.
    When the going gets tough Joel Selwood & Patrick Dangerfield are left to do the heavy lifting.
    Agree that we have missing a quality Ruckman & CHF.
    Yet Geelong rejects not only appear in other teams but star for them.

    How quick does the coach & staffing coach think & react?
    Are they familiar with lateral thinking & body language?

    Does the Club avail themselves of the weekly think tank in Canberra: the CC newsletter.
    It provides honest & astute information & all done by volunteers.

  2. The Canberra Cats newsletter is one of the best footy publications in the country. No joke.

  3. David Fordyce says

    Tati, I don’t think the veterans going elsewhere have hurt us.
    – Stevie J played one final and got reported, which was almost predictable.
    – Hamling’s career is just beginning but he had a lot of input from Harry Taylor at the Cattery, while he rarely starred in the VFL in 2014. He was only listed in the VFL best players 4 times, in his third season there.

    There were a lot of holes to fill, and the Cats got half way there. Some things could be quicker, such as CHF, and Bews’ season was perplexing, with 7 H&A games and no injuries.

    Thanks for your comments. It is a good newsletter, with a lot of passionate contributors.
    It has a mailing list of 600 during the season, and if anyone wants to go on it, then send an email to me at [email protected]

  4. David – very good summary of the situation. Personally I don’t think the Cats will make the 8 next season. There does not appear to have been any rectification to the problems that were obvious early on in the season – ie flaky ruckmen, no CHF, no input in tough games from 4 of the 7 main midfielders, slow defence (Mackie is gone), an incomprehensibly inconsistent performances. So having said all of that, to finish 3rd was probably a very good result. But next season the draw will be much harder.

  5. David Fordyce says

    Yes,. The ruckmen will improve, but CHF needs to be sorted. People criticise Motlop but the delivery and the structures were awful. He kicked 5 at the Gabba in Rd 22 when Henderson played a good game at CHF.

    The mids certainly need input. Scott Selwood will make a big difference, he had a very good comeback after very few games, and Menegola has potential while for Cowan, the modern game has come to him, as he’s a contested-ball scrubber.

    Agree about Mackie, he’s lost metres off his kicking, but his year was better than 2014, which was a low point. How will it go next year with Thurlow? Not sure. The VFL ranks are quite thin.

    They are going to the draft big-time with Vardy, Kersten and perhaps Smedts going. Maybe Caddy. It is said to be a deep draft to about pick 40.

  6. I would also look to trade Duncan. He would have currency, but will never be elite. He just doesn’t work hard enough. One of the worst chasers in the team.

  7. I don’t believe in, nor subscribe to, the concept that a team can “over achieve.” You do your best and based on the performances across all games contested you end up with the best result you can.

    At some stages through the year, Geelong were flag favourites. So how does a team over achieve when midway through the season they looked likely to play in the grand final but failed to get there?

    Surely the Cats were aiming to win the premiership, or at worse make the GF? That didn’t happen so they achieved nothing.

    At no stage were the Bulldogs favourites for the flag. But clearly they believed in themselves to achieve the ultimate.

    Compared to the Bulldogs, the Cats were a barely a blip on the scale of “achievement.”

  8. Over achieved? I can’t say with conviction but the dominance of the “Dangerwood” midfield kept them in the season, there were too many players coming in and out, no consistency in their output.

    Interesting to see how they draft and what the lineup looks next year with the following gone from 2016;
    Enright – retired
    Bartel – retired
    Caddy – traded Richmond
    Kersten – traded Freo
    Vardy – traded West Coast
    Smedts – traded Carlton
    Clarke – unknown

    Black – Nth Melbourne fwd
    Tuohy – Carlton defender

    Motlop – no one else wanted him
    Mackie – still in neutral

    Time for the next generation.

  9. Dave Brown says

    As an outsider, yep, I reckon overachieved is a fair statement. The Cats have some serious list deficiencies that were concealed by the sheer luck of landing Dangerfield and a draw that saw it play Brisbane and Essendon twice (noting that it beat Adelaide and Hawthorn twice). Would be very surprised if Geelong hosts a prelim next season, but the world’s a funny place.

  10. David Fordyce says

    Yes, ‘overachieved’ is a bit of a poetic licence, because teams finish where they deserve to. Likewise, some statisticians do not agree with a team being said to have an ‘easy draw’, because, they say it makes no difference on who wins finals and premierships.

    Another way of putting it is ‘Were the Cats worthy top 4 finalists?’ and from the result in the prelim, where the goal score was 8-0 at one stage, then the answer is no. It was a Bartel classic just on half time that gave the Cats their second goal for the game. Yes, twice they were ‘premiership favourites’, which I started mocking at the time, because they had numerous problems to fix (such as the obviously poor quality of the entries) plus both times they were ‘premiership favourites’ they lost the following week – to a team outside the Eight.

    I saw the Bulldogs lose to Geelong in Rd 19 and how the Bulldogs won the flag from there was amazing. Libba did go off injured in that game though and they were breaking even in the game till then.

    The Cats have a stack of players who need to establish themselves, and they are all around the same level: Zac Smith, Stanley, Menzel, Cowan, Scott Selwood, Motlop, Bews, Ruggles, Cockatoo, McCarthy, Kolodjashnij, Lang, Menegola, Gregson, Thurlow, Henderson, Duncan, Horlin-Smith, Murdoch. That’s 19 of them who have all played good footy at various times. Whether the Cats improve or not will be determined by how many of these players become 200-gamers and how many will get to 50 or 60 games and get delisted.

    Tuohy will be a great half-back flanker; he was in the AFL coaches team of the year in 2015. And we’ve got rid of four players who would have otherwise been in the above list – Vardy had 25 games in 7 years, Smedts 38 games in 6 years, and Kersten 37 games in 5 years. Caddy is a long-term player, nearing 100 games, but he had 12 possessions in the prelim and has under-achieved. Pick 24 for him is about right. Steven Hocking is in a hurry and he knows teams like GWS and the Bulldogs and half a dozen other young teams are on the march, so he’s not going lightly.

  11. D. Fordyce does his homework.

  12. Thanks for your article & comments David .
    RE: Geelong rejects appearing & starring for other clubs I had in mind Shane Mumford, from
    Bunyip,not the veterans like Steve Johnson, Paul Kelly & Chappy.
    Garry Ablett left for the money but he was never a reject.
    The AFL have always been a thorn in the side, a party pooper.

    Surely the Cats were more than a blip on scale of achievements.
    Not sure Paul if you saw the Geelong v Hawthorn Final?
    It was a classic. Neither team deserved to lose.
    Thanks to David Fordyce’s Canberra Cats newsletter, John Harm’s Footy Almanac & you dedicated
    readers & correspondents I’m learning more & more about football.

  13. David Fordyce says

    Cheers Tati. Re the boy from Bunyip, Brian Cook told us up here post-2011 that losing Mumford was their biggest ever trading mistake. Mumford rucked all 2009 with Blake and was better than Blake but when Ottens came back they dropped Mumford. Then Sydney swooped. When Cook told us about it, he was slapping himself on the wrist. The after-effects of the Mumford decision are still continuing.

    Mumford simply says about it when asked “Yeah, Blakey!” and has a chuckle. He knows Cats fans still talk about him. He said he was boarding in Sydney with a family who had moved there from Geelong, so he hears all the comments.

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