No Mea Culpa for Chris (as pointyenditis continues)

I hesitated, paused, had pen poised above page; fingers hovered over keyboard; resisting urges to make early, post-bye pessimistic calls, hoping that, at season’s end, I could admit to being wrong about doubting Chris Scott.

 

 

Not that I haven’t had complimentary things to say via an ambivalence hailing back several years. For instance, I have lauded Scotty as a clear thinker and an accomplished people manager, but counter-wondered …was he a great coach? Was he a cagey tactician, or merely a peerless diplomat or politician unable to deliver much more than promises?

 

 

Surely, at 11/1 at the half-way mark another season wouldn’t whimper away? But after ‘getting up’ for that tough early draw, hunger cues were slotted back in the rack.

 

 

Yes, the 2011 premiership was deliverance, and it would be simplistic to label it a Drover’s Dog flag (maybe it was a curse in disguise by raising the bar too high?), but those credits must be running out by now. A win-loss ratio has also aided coaching longevity, and convinced many in the media of credentials. Most Geelong fans notice the routine season fade-outs dating back to 2012 and are becoming weary of the repetition.

 

 

I even gave these demises a medical term: pointyenditis.

 

 

Early season energy and intensity reveals hope before morphing into complacency, inconsistency and tempo footy; ‘down the guts’ becomes sideways and backwards to the flanks, and about as enjoyable as a kick in the kidneys. A mad malady that can only be cured by watching a replay of footy prior to the invention of flooding.

 

 

It’s a different group of players now, the defence argues, the current team isn’t responsible for past finals failures, nor should they be defined by them. Unfortunately, that just emphasises that the one constant is the coach.

 

 

But he gives such a good impression of knowing what he’s doing!

 

 

The outcomes of pointyenditis should be obvious to all with an interest in the Cats, apart from those suffering acute denial, but what are the causes?

 

 

Does pointyenditis reside in Scott’s lack of commitment to the motivational aspects of footy? Chris calls that ‘trickery’ and says you only investigate mental attitude when you don’t know what the problem is. Though, at other times he’s admitted to not knowing what the problem was.

 

 

However, Paddy Dangerfield would seem to have recently quashed those motivation-doubts by publicly commending Scott’s pre-match addresses, using glowing terms like ‘spine tingling’.

 

 

Paddy also announced we needed to bury the disappointment of last season. “Bury” implies ‘out of sight out of mind’. The undercurrents of pointyenditis could thrive on that thinking? Different group or not, the players have their role. Mostly they just follow the party line.

 

 

Inklings of pointyenditis might reveal themselves in press conferences. Often when the moggies are at the peak of their powers, Chris will downplay victories by claiming “we were lucky”. This year it was “the opposition has nothing to fear”. That was when we were about three games clear and playing out of our skins approaching the mid-year break.

 

 

I know it’s his way of putting a lid on expectations, and a method of dealing with the media, but if press conferences are code for ‘talking to the players’ what message is being sent? Or does this downplaying also reflect an attempt to calm his own success anticipations?

 

 

What are other possible pointyenditis clues?

 

 

Chris believes that matches, and seasons, are too long – thoughts echoed by Patrick Dangerfield. Perhaps that explains something. Everyone’s getting bored by the halfway mark. Have to eradicate that thinking! Scott has far more chance of convincing the AFL to accept Kardinia Park as a finals venue than he does of getting them to hold the finals in Round 12.

 

 

Maybe rebuilding on the run is part of the problem – it only ever results in a mediocre success? You can be a contender, but fall short because the immediate focus is blurred by having one eye constantly glancing to the future.

 

 

But of course, results justify methods, and the above would be praised if ultimate success prevailed (and one has to acknowledge drafting hurdles raised by always being a contender).

 

 

Scott seems to be at his best when backs are against the wall. His contract extensions could be too lengthy and breeding grounds for pointyenditis. One-year deals might have him wanting to exit the club, but tough love could be a cure: get thinking entrenched in the here and now.

 

 

However, it wasn’t just recurring pointyenditis that had this Cats fan in a current tether about coaching tenure. It was more specific this finals campaign, and it began with that thinking ahead.

 

 

“We’ll be a better team next year,” Scott observed approaching the qualifying final against Collingwood. It was a mystifying statement, and one that mostly passed unnoticed by the media (beyond simply reporting it) who, in this analogical account, often qualify as quacks anyway.

 

 

Was he covering himself, or the team, for failure? Was he giving players an out? Don’t worry about it boys if you lose this week ’cause we’ll be a better side next year? Was he feeling the pressure?

 

 

Counter-productivity continued when questioning the Pies’ selection of potentially underdone players.

 

 

For a man who apparently didn’t take much heed of psychology, he was suddenly deploying it at will.

 

 

Could an inconsistent narrative be one of the symptoms, or causes, of pointyenditis?

 

 

The non-selection of Rhys Stanley, meanwhile, revealed manifestations of panic, of overthinking, of taking eyes off your own game and focusing too much on the opposition.

 

 

Unless Stanley’s omission was a desperate attempt to secure Todd Goldstein by emphasising a first ruck position was there for the taking. After all, thoughts had already progressed to next year.

 

 

However, the most damning evidence of enduring pointyenditis is that players weren’t mentally prepared for the heat of the battle in that first, and crucial, final.

 

Now, backs were against the wall for the follow-up final against the Eagles. Scott remained on the field with the players, firing them up before the first bounce, and endeavour was finally revealed.

 

 

But just when hopes flickered that a pointyenditis antidote was nigh, Chris was at it again leading up to the Prelim. “Richmond were a better side last year,” he offered blatantly, and the media duly took it up, using it as a taunt that said more about us than the Tiges. Not very diplomatic, and perhaps revealing the pressure of worsening psychological conditions.

 

 

Maybe pointyenditis doesn’t exist and it’s me in denial. The truth is that we’re not good enough, even though our best is good enough, but we can’t be at our best when it matters etc, etc.

 

 

Players win premierships, not coaches, some say, and I’m being too harsh in expecting Scott to be the one bringing it all together. And, of course, there have been many good times along the way during these bipolar seasons.

 

 

Whatever, I fear pointyenditis has become too entrenched in the psyche and a new perspective is required, or time in the wilderness. As always, I’ll be delirious if proven wrong.

 

 

Chris could have a road-to-Damascus moment, but he doesn’t seem an epiphany kind of guy. He’s more ‘never-give-an-inch’. And, like in the Paul Newman movie of the same name, intransigence doesn’t end well very often.

 

 

Then again, the definition of epiphany is that it happens unexpectedly to those who don’t expect it.

 

 

I’m still hoping to pen a mea culpa. But, maybe, for that to happen Chris has to mea culpa himself?

 

 

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Comments

  1. Took my first (and last) trip to Kardinia Park in May. You ripped my Eagles apart with attacking footy. Windswept Geelong South railway station at 3/4 time listening to the baying mob through the last quarter waiting for the train that never comes (its a VicRail conspiracy against visitors).
    The Cats dealt with us easily enough in the semi, but the rapier was gone. Replaced with a bludgeon and shackles. Bobby and Bomber’s dash and dare gone with the grind.
    I’m not sure if you’re pining for flags or classic Cats beautiful footy. Suspect you would prefer the former but settle for the latter.

  2. Great piece, Paul. I nearly fell off my horse when I heard that “We’ll be better next year,” quote before a final.
    And dull methodology is the enemy of good football. What you want is to spend enough time immersed in chaos during the season for it to be your natural environment when finals come. To have spent more time in chaos than your opponent has, and thus to be incrementally more graceful/productive in it.
    As to the Paul Newman movie you mentioned, Never Give An Inch, it comes from a Kesey novel called Sometimes A Great Notion and if you haven’t read it you have a mind-bogglingly wonderful experience in store. A truly great, though difficult, book.

  3. The cats looked stellar for most of the season, but they had a great run with injuries. Can a team get a little stale or complacent without flux to challenge them? Losing Hawkins for the prelim may have damaged the cat’s confidence? As you say, Scott’s taunt at Richmond just might have got an airing before the game. It could be worse, you team might have lost only 2 games for the year and then the GF…ring a bell?

  4. Thanks Paul. Very astute piece.

    Scott seems to have nailed the recipe for contract extensions. Get wins early as the media dumps on some other poor suckers. When the team starts to wither talk about transitioning, young group, long season, whatever. Just talk and talk and talk till the season’s over. Finish 4th – 8th and repeat next season.

    The sponsors are sort of happy, the supporters are sort of happy, the Board is sort of happy. The club doesn’t lose face in the “industry”.

    I get infuriated that at round 19 “we’re not settled on the best 22”. FFS!!
    I get infuriated with the late change-itis that inflicts our team.
    I get infuriated (as you point out) that a day before a big final he says we will be better next year! That was really a pitch for his job. Appalling stuff.
    I get infuriated with the same game plan. Hoping for a different result is just stupidity.
    We have 5 ruckmen and play somewhere between 0 and 1 of them.
    The Cats are in a holding pattern. The seasons have become somewhat irrelevant (which has robbed me of enormous joy) because we already know what September looks like.

    Should we be happy just to make finals? A lot of teams don’t. I say NO.

    New coach time. But who’s out there?

  5. Three comments.
    1. Re the season just finished – rather than whack your coach, why are you Geelong folk not beating up on Tom Hawkins and his persistent lack of discipline which in 2019 has probably cost your mob a Flag? Hawkins’ absence in the Prelim Final was pivotal. Probably the difference between the 21 point lead Geelong had and the 6-7 goal lead they should have had. Scott can’t coach players when they’re sitting in the grandstand.
    2. Re Geelong’s longer term record at the pointy end – finals are bloody hard to win. Over the last 20 years, Geelong’s finals record is 18-17, and its record under Chris Scott is 7-11. Is that so bad, considering the brilliant team of 2007-11 had largely moved on through most of his tenure?
    3. The one area where I reckon Scott has really mucked up is in making finals venues an issue. Geelong never used to bleat and moan about playing finals at the MCG. By doing so, Scott has actually created a psychological problem for the club that never previously existed. Ironic that over the same 20 years, their MCG record is 18-13 and the one recent final the Cats played at Kardinia Park – they lost!

  6. george smith says

    This is a mob that lost grand finals they should have won – 89, 92, 95, 08. then there was the “leaving Gary Sidebottom off the bus” final which cost them a shot at the title in 81.

    The Moggies have psychological problems it’s true, just like Essendon, Collingwood and Fremantle.

    And just like Long John Silvers turn into Jake the Pegs and Kens turn into GI Joes against Collingwood, the same thing happens against Geelong. Both teams need to overcome the transformer syndrome from the oppposition and stand firm. The cats 09 to 11 were feared, after 2012 not so.

  7. Super piece Paul.

    I had quite a few “Did I just hear that?” moments before and during the finals. The ones you pointed out were clangers. And there were others. I wondered why the two AFL360 sages never challenged C. Scott on his numerous assertions. Even gentle questioning would have been effective. As for fair dinkum interrogation?

    But what would we know. We are in the cattle class of people who ‘aren’t privy to all of the information’. And there’s no point C. Scott explaining stuff to us because we’re not bright enough to understand.

    Elite, professional, commercial sport is about self-preservation. Listen to how C. Hutchinson and C.Wilson talk about footy on Classified. Who’s safe? Who’s job is in danger? And what a clever tactic: make it appear to be such a skill that you have to be a special special person to be considered for it.

    Oh to be able to make the quantum leap from ordinary yob to superhero.

  8. Paul Spinks says

    Thanks all for your thoughtful contributions…

    Peter B., Good on you for making the journey to K.P. It’s often been an Eagles happy hunting ground, though – an infamous victory in 2006 comes to mind. V Line conspires against everyone, even Geelong fans trying to attend night finals at the ‘G at times, but it’s improving. Your assessment for what I want from the Cats is probably accurate, though I applaud any team that takes the game on – right spirit, as opposed to classical.

    Thanks, ajc: Agree about dull methodology. Even when it’s done well and alternated with chaos it isn’t as much fun to watch as full-on footy. Haven’t read the Kesey novel – thanks a lot for the tip. Sounds interesting. I’ll follow it up. Reading some Bukowski at present – maybe it’s contributing cantankerous.

    BJ: We were stellar for the first half of the season, up and down after that. Complacency is the enemy of all teams, and part of the coaching challenge is to maintain focus and set goals? Hawkins’ suspension didn’t help, but I reckon losing the first final – or not being up for it – was most damaging. Had to be extra fired up against the Eagles, and that possibly contributed to Tom pushing the boundaries. Are you referring to ’08? We lost one match during the season then the GF? If so, wouldn’t say that was worse – an enjoyable season; unhappy end.

    Dips: You outline it very well – similar thoughts have crossed my mind. Would the desire to be a career coach be so strong, I then ask myself? I hope not, but sometimes it’s hard not to draw that conclusion without know what’s said behind closed doors. The club is pretty set on Chris – I keep saying ‘this year will answer all questions’ but it doesn’t. Maybe next season will, as I indulge my own definition of insanity.

    Stainless: most supporters of other clubs (and the media) wonder what the fuss is about when Cats’ fans criticise Chris Scott. You have to be there, kind of thing. I doubt he’d give a toss about what I wrote. Of course, it’s not all bad – more often, frustrating. This season was particularly so, and I felt some coaching comments undermined. Generally, fans criticise a coach or player because we’d like them to be better. Re Tom Hawkins – see my above response to BJ (we were playing catch-up finals after week one). It isn’t just about losing finals, it’s about how they’re lost, and again, supporters recognise when their own team is flat etc. Arguing the case for home finals was fair enough, but not always the timing.

    George: I guess supporters of some teams would be happy to have those problems, but I too draw parallels between the moggies and maggies. Yes, we’ve become a different team since 2011 – more clinical, less of the team ethos.

    Thanks, John Yes, the standard of media analysis is generally poor – too many commentators allowing loyalties to obstruct, too much focus on controversy. It often seems like Scott has the media conned (or cowed?). Interestingly, Wayne Carey saw through spin and called it how it was in an Age article following the qualifying final, if you read it – he’s been the first so far I’m aware of. Chris was frustratingly secretive following the prelim, but the molehill is becoming a mountain, as they say. Wonder how much the media guy at the Cats controls things.

  9. Sack him

  10. A great piece, Paul.
    As a North supporter, I can assure you that B Scott’s post-match ponderings were full of bluff. Maybe it is the St Kevins education?
    My other question with the Cats is the age profile of their list.aylor, Ablett, Dangerfield, Hawkins, Selwood, Henderson, Rohan, Duncan, Tuohy, Jenkins, Steven are all 28 years old or older. That is an unusually large proportion of a list.

  11. Paul Spinks says

    Cookie: I was wondering co-coaches …Scott gets the season up and running, another coach takes over for the second half – probably not his twin.

    Thanks, Smokie: There are also consistency parallels? North could range from looking average to genuine contenders. Age could be definitely a factor for us. Ok about the Steven recruitment, as footy is secondary to other issues in his life. Not so keen on Jenkins – he’s another that can talk out of turn – but will reserve judgement.

  12. Sorry Paul but I’m not letting you and your Geelong cohort off that easily. Coach-blaming is such an old-school Richmond thing. Having just re-watched the Prelim Final I’m even more convinced about my earlier comments. In effect this game was the Grand Final (i.e. the best final between the two best teams), and for half a game, Geelong well and truly had Richmond’s measure. But I must have counted at least a dozen goal-scoring opportunities that went begging where you could imagine Big Tom clunking a mark or at least creating more pressure on the Richmond defence. Had a couple of these been converted, it was just about game over. That Richmond had its own Big Tom playing this exact role at the other end only underscores the significance of Hawkins’ absence. Maybe it’s time Geelong had another round of the Leading Teams honesty sessions where players call one another out, especially for their costly lack of self-discipline. Hawkins wouldn’t be the only candidate here. Where was Dangerfield in the second half when the team needed a lift? What was Miers doing taking dives and missing easy set shots after threatening to be your match winner in the first half? Sure, the coach has a role in maintaining focus but ultimately it’s these individual moments that make the difference.

  13. I reckon Tommy realised what he’d done. Not that that makes it any better Stainless.

    I agree re the status of the PF.

    Lots of selection issues, and game style issues at Geelong. These have commentators and fans alike putting the spotlight on the coach.

    In the Collingwood final, I agree with the view that the Geelong plan (incuding selection) was off the mark. In playing such slow footy they rendered Hawkins ineffective and even moreso G. Ablett ineffective. Ablett’s body seems to be way beyond a tight contested game. But whenhe receives the footy in the clear few use it as well.

    Dips’s point is also worth noting.

  14. Great piece Paul.
    I love your statements of uncertainty.

    Cats top of the ladder after H&A.
    I guess that is due solely to the players.

    I don’t know what you cats are looking for.
    But watching you hunt for it is entertaining.

  15. All problems at the Cattery for next season are solved. Josh Jenkins will be able to support Hawkins in attack.I kid you not.

  16. Paul Spinks says

    As I check into a somewhat mouldy Thai guesthouse at the pointy end of the monsoon season…

    Nothing to be sorry about, Stainless: When a team is successful the coach receives credit, when it fails, criticism. Chris Scott gets plaudits for a favourable win-loss ratio and making finals, so should be under scrutiny for our failures too, is my take, especially when they’ve become endemic. Given our finals struggles over the past eight years, not to be prepared for the first one against the Pies is hard to ignore.

    You’re right – you need the personal and the attitudes etc. I was pleased with out effort in the prelim, but ultimately we weren’t good enough – or the Tiges were too good, depending on your perspective. That match mirrored our season – great for a half, but unable to maintain it. I contend confidence was impacted by the topsy-turvy lead-up form.

    (The stats for the second half of the season are bizarre as much as damning: couldn’t win two matches in a row, dramatic drop-off in scoring and accuracy, reflecting changes to game style and minds not being right.)

    The chemistry that makes up a successful footy team is one of those intriguing ponderables: to what degree is it coach or player, chicken or egg, right time right place? Like a great band or movie all the ingredients have to be in place, starting at the top with the administration. Cats bake a good cake, but am forgetting what it tastes like with icing.

    I did call for a review awhile back. Think we might’ve kinda sorta had one recently – but not at a 2006 scale.

    Gazza seemed a bit out of sorts during the finals, JTH – thought he might pull the plug.

    Thanks, E-regnans: the uncertainty probably comes from being a clueless fan trying to make sense of things from a distance. Happy to entertain you – but wish we did it a bit more going down the guts.

    Are you Joshing, Fisho? If not, all problems solved and feeling reassured.

    Now, if y’all will excuse me, I have a hankering for some chillies.

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