Success as a Mud Pie

I think it’s over. I hope its over.


I hate success. If what Cats fans have witnessed since 2011 is success, then I’m for the off. This nearly success. Corporate success. The most members success. The largest raffle success. Six losing preliminary finals success. Resurrected old blokes’ success. The best grandstand success. The all-in recruitment of the golden goose (sic) success. The best warm up facilities success. The new jumper design success. The website paraphernalia success.




Leave me out.


It’s got to be success with connection. Perhaps success is connection?


The decision to rebuild is really an acknowledgement of failure which is the first step to success. But punching a brick wall is just plain stupid. The first step is never taken. Plenty of side steps are taken, but no first step. And the final result is a broken hand.


Leave me out of that.


The Cats have been reading brilliant novels but stopping on page 39. Conquering two thirds of the highest mountain. Buying the Grange but drinking the Spumante. Planting lamp posts instead of trees.


Belligerence is tactless. Guileless. It’s the non-thinker’s solution. If Einstein were nothing but belligerent then his conceptual masterpiece, his world bending imagination, would not be known to us. He would have just been happy to make the eight.


I admire tenacity. I admire resilience. I admire determination. But they’re like shouts in a hurricane. Tenacious about what? Resilient why? Determined when?


Perpetually angry eyes are the mark of the clueless.


Cobbling together a team without purpose is hopeful. Nothing more. Gathering a talent pool and saying, ‘go and win’, is like asking a robot to describe love. Whipping yourself repeatedly with a willow stick makes your skin go red. That’s about it. It certainly won’t change anything. Or create anything.


Really good questions need to be asked. Purpose re-established. Culture renewed.


Here’s an idea: build a team.




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About Damian O'Donnell

I'm passionate about breathing. And you should always chase your passions. If I read one more thing about what defines leadership I think I'll go crazy. Go Cats.


  1. Dips, what a piece. This is articulate rage, frustration bulging outa every sentence. This is not a front bar boof crying foul but a fan’s genuine lament with their club and the Bass Strait like gap between the club’s talk and their actions realised. And with lines like this pearler – Planting lamp posts instead of trees – its sports literature at its finest.


  2. Brilliant stuff Dips. Righteous disdain superbly conveyed.

  3. Love it, old mucker.

    Leave me out of Chess Scott!!

  4. Bang on and bravo.
    Time for renewal.

  5. Cheers lads. Kind words Trucker. Frustration does bring forth the rant.

  6. Who killed Bambi? Logically you’re right Dips, but who says “Joel – thanks but we’re not re-signing you”. “Paddy we want to see what we can get for you as a trade. Best of luck winning a flag elsewhere”.
    The Eagles have the same issue and more. McGovern, Shuey and Gaff are all past it. Darling is tradeable for high draft picks. Kennedy and Hurn are in our best 4 players but not in our next flag. The fans don’t want to finish 15th the next 3 years to rebuild, so you wait for these overpaid unemployables to get injured and call quits on their own career.
    Footy clubs trade on emotion and contract players based on what they’ve done not what they are likely to do in the final year of a contract. Age wearies all of us, and footy clubs need an actuary and a harder edge to contract deals. Clarke is the only one who gets it. Sell high. Boy low. Who knew?

  7. Thanks PB. But if no one does anything, nothing happens.

    I get the difficulties of running a club (a little bit), fan expectations, money, sponsors etc. Understand. What I don’t get is employing a failed strategy for 10 years.

    Courage is required, there is a tight rope to walk. You don’t discard the soul of the club (like the Cats discarded Johnno). But courage is required. Great players, even very good players, can be re-deployed. Bartlett for example. Leigh Matthews. Ablett senior and junior. Selwood can do it too. And the young blokes who bleat about not getting opportunities? here’s a tip: get better.

  8. Kevin Densley says

    Hi Dips. This is enjoyable, witty and interesting like basically all your Almanac pieces, though I’m not at all sure that I agree with this one’s overall thrust – fundamentally, Geelong has been so close to ultimate success for the last decade that certainly a lot has been done in an appropriate manner. That’s another way of looking at it. I’m not at all sure that (virtually) manufacturing a few years of significant ‘failure’ does anybody any good. Yes, the club should give a few more younger players more experience, that kind of thing – encourage a number of older blokes to look for greener pastures (whatever they are) – but don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.

  9. Thanks KD.

    I’m not suggesting that the Cats necessarily “bottom out” but I am trying to describe what I think success doesn’t look like, and what it doesn’t look like is the current strategy. I’m also not suggesting that success is necessarily winning. But what I believe is that a team building culture works better than the current patchwork which seems to have muddled what the priorities should be.

  10. Kevin Densley says

    Fair enough, Dips. The Geelong Football Club, as long as I’ve known it (stretching over more than fifty years – wow!) has always been an extraordinarily complex, weird and wonderful enterprise!

  11. Roger Lowrey says

    Great piece Dips. Unfortunately I am too emotionally shell shocked to respond in any meaningful way just now.

    Shall digest and discuss in more detail when we can next see each other.


  12. Hayden Kelly says

    Fairly raw that but I reckon you are on the money . Cats strategy this year was always high risk and I wonder how much this has stifled the development of the young Cats . Nothing wrong with conceding and re setting . Right now I think Essendon , Carlton and even North supporters probably feel better about their clubs future .

  13. Daryl Schramm says

    Wow. Interesting piece Damien.
    “It’s got to be success with connection. Perhaps success is connection?”
    I consider Geelong has had success in the past 10 years. If you were not rusted on Cats, which club might you have felt connected to over the same period?
    So much here to consider about the bigger picture of life in general.

  14. Roger – painful wasn’t it? Crikey. Look forward to that beer and the discussion. I’m sure you’ll have some great insights.
    Hayden – great question about how other supporters feel about their clubs. I’ve had this discussion with a few mates. Consensus was that the Cats are not as close to a flag as many others.
    Daryl – great question here too. Which club would I have felt connected to? Off the top I’d say Dogs and Demons but not for the obvious reason. Mainly because both teams have gone about nurturing a team of young blokes who the supporters could watch grow. In my view the Cats of about 2003 to 2011 were brilliant because we watched them mature and knit together. From VFL kids to champions of the game. I certainly don’t have the answer as to how that connection is made in this modern era, but I do know that repeating the same mistake doesn’t help.

  15. Chris Bracher says

    An outstanding contribution to Australuan sports writing Dips.
    Inherent in the operation of contemporary elite sports clubs around the globe is a constant tension: responsible commerciality versus soulful engagement. A complex equation. Honest observations such as yours are so important as a reminder that the end game in competitive sport is winning a flag/pennant, from which commercial success will flow.
    Once spreadsheet methodology is principally reiled upon to measure success, then footy clubs can devolve into the equivalent of the journeyman player on the world tennis circuit. Being financially comfortable via a consistent world ranking of 100 can pay the bills but disincentivise the harder clamour for ultimate success.

  16. Great call on “perhaps success is connection”. Read a great quote recently that I shared with my 12 Step mates. “The opposite of addiction is not abstinence. The opposite of addiction is community.”
    I’ve had a ball following Swan Districts with my nephew playing all season. Couldn’t give a rats about the Eagles or AFL. We lost an Elimination Final to West Perth by 4 points on Sunday but jeez those kids had a crack. Goal a minute from the end for WP to take back the lead. Now I know how Collingwood fans felt in 2018.

  17. Cheers Chris. Great analogy of the tennis player. I guess my frustrations are born out of a loss of connection to the players and club (unlike the 2003 – 2011 era) which may be “necessary” if clubs are to flourish economically (though I’m not convinced of that) and an apparent inability or refusal to develop strategies outside of the one that hasn’t worked for a decade.

    PB – sounds like you’ve had an enjoyable winter. The sort I used to have!

  18. Dips as a Norwood man have followed with interest re Jacob Kennerley,Ben Jarvis and Cam Taheny with only
    Ben playing the 1 game I firmly believe each had plenty to offer but know let’s play dads army instead.
    Frustrated in that regard with stuff all sympathy – why oh why keep copying the same formula and keep getting effectively the same result

  19. Yes that’s my frustration RB.


  20. Geelong 2007-2011 under Bomber was based on Stephen Wells great recruiting from the draft.
    He still picked gems since mid range with success on Guthrie, Duncan, Henry, Menegola, Stewart Kelly and Ratugoela taken late.

    Stephen Wells has not had an opportunity to use the draft much under Scott with early picks, he probably got excited with last year until trade for 3 early (first rounds) for Cameron.

    He has left now is that correct ?

    The players from other clubs since 2014, unsure if being harsh

    Dangerfield – star
    Tuohy – very good
    Henderson – did his job
    Smith – ok but at what cost if lose Clark or Narkle
    Stanley – good but not trusted
    S.Selwood- injuries too often
    Z.Smith – no
    Dahlhaus – no
    Rohan – no
    Cameron – good year but did he cost too much
    Jenkins – no but cost nothing and has not cost anyone a game
    Higgins – no
    Steven – no
    Ablett – was good in his role
    M.Clark- no sadly with his issues
    A.Black – no
    Rivers – no

    Its like Geelong don’t trust Wells any more. You would hope you don’t lose Clark, Constable, Narkle who leave for opportunities when Higgins and Smith where recruited playing similar roles.

  21. Colin Ritchie says

    Cracking read Dips! There certainly will be much soul-searching by supporters, and hopefully the club, after the Cat’s abysmal performance in the prelim. After a tough season they’d simply ran out of legs to match it with a quicker, younger team. Over the next couple of years many of the older players will be gone but the concern is who replaces them, there’s not a lot coming through, where will the talent come from?

  22. Rodney – interesting list. And damning really. I can’t work out why Wells was on the outer? His list building was generally excellent, except for ruckmen.

    Col – there is reasonable talent there (Clark, Holmes, Evans, Constable, Narkle, Parfitt, De Koning, Sav, Brownless, Stephens, and Stevens). But the game plan is ridiculous, the long term thinking troubling.

  23. Daryl Schramm says

    Congrats all on a great thread. However, there appears to be a conspicuous omission.

  24. Editor’s views?

  25. I know I’m not the “conspicuous omission” but I can’t let a good rant go without a rant in response.
    Laments about Geelong’s “failed” last decade won’t garner much sympathy from outsiders. You contend that success is not necessarily about winning, yet your piece is clearly a visceral reaction to losing. I’d suggest that if Travis Varcoe nails that last shot in the 2013 Prelim or Gryan Miers doesn’t have a brain fade when he has the chance to put Richmond on the rack in last year’s Granny, you’re not even writing this piece.
    The false starting point of the angst among the Geelong faithful is that the golden era of 2007-11 is the natural order of things. It was, in fact, a freak, an extraordinary once-in-a-lifetime playing group that delivered a glut of Flags. From any objective perspective, the “failed” decade since has beena remarkably proficient effort in managing the inevitable decline of that golden generation, maintaining consistently high standards despite having to field lesser teams. The club could have gone down the more radical and much rockier paths of fundamental rebuilding, changing game strategy, even changing coach. But why would they, with the nucleus of a great side, a proven Premiership coach and the unquestioned status as a destination club that has lured a series of fine players to Kardinia Park? A couple of slices of luck and a couple of better decisions in key moments could have more than vindicated the approach they have taken with a couple more Premierships.
    From my 50-odd years of observation, I’d say that Geelong 2012-21 is simply a reversion to its historical norm. And this is where your notions about what constitutes “success” becomes an interesting cultural phenomenon. Geelong’s history is characterised by teams “playing the game as it should be played”, talented playing groups that play attractive footy, especially within the comforting environment of their home fortress. Successful? Mostly, in a winning percentage sense. Successful in a ruthless killer instinct sense? Definitely not.
    I liken Geelong to the old-school Melbourne Establishment where legions of “decent Second Class Honours Chaps” provided solidity, integrity and dependability during normal times, but were found wanting when it came to challenging the status quo, introducing new ideas and, dealing with crises (in football terms, exchange the term “crises” for “finals”).
    In my lifetime, the Cats have played an impressive 34 finals campaigns but for the return of just those 3 Premierships between 2007-11. The last decade has been consistent with the Geelong experience of the 1960s, 80s and 90s – a succession of honourable (and sometimes not so honourable) near misses, in which teams with a couple of stars but mostly full of those SCH Chaps have been found wanting when something beyond BAU has been required. I’d even extend my theory about this culture and mindset to that exceptional five-year period, the 2008 GF and 2010 finals defeats being egregious examples. It’s just that the ratio of stars to SCH Chaps during that time was such that it was almost impossible for the Cats not to win most of the time.
    Contrast this with my team, Richmond. I reckon I’ve been to twice as many finals involving Geelong as the Tigers over the years. I’ve endured a 37-year Premiership drought, near bankruptcy, administrations that resembled the Reign of Terror, plans and rebuilds that have foundered with the regularity of sunset, and countless on-field performances for which the description “rabble” is a diplomatic euphemism akin to “collateral damage”. But here’s the thing. From just 19 finals campaigns in my lifetime – 8 Flags. In short, the Tigers demonstrate their killer instinct in grabbing the big opportunities when they present.
    I’m not sure that we judge one club more successful than the other, given these contrasting records. All I can suggest is that if you don’t feel “connected” enough to a club that’s delivered 16 finals appearances and 3 Flags in the last 18 years and maintained the “winningest” record bar none in the competition over that time, come over to the dark side, my friend. At Tigerland your connection might be through brotherly love one week or a knife in your back the next, but every one of those Premierships means something special in an environment where it’s “kill or be killed”!

  26. Outstanding rant Stainless. Some very good points. If Varcoe kicks that goal and if Miers takes his chance I wouldn’t be writing this? Probably true. But Varcoe missed and so did Miers. I can’t lay the Geelong decade at their feet. Their misses are possibly the Geelong shortcomings writ large.

    My rant was a rant born of frustration that the Cats have gone off the rails. Or, perhaps more succinctly, have stayed ON the rails. The wrong rails. The bull-headed strategy of the last 7-8 years hasn’t worked and yet we repeat. If the Cats having a great home and away record is supposed to make me ineligible from criticising them, then I reject that notion.

    As to connection. Its an interesting one. I’m referring not just to supporter connection (me), but player connection too. And administration connection. The club, from the outside, looks to be rambling along. At least that’s what the players demonstrate. Players get the footy and are immediately filled with uncertainty. Why? They don’t play on instinct. Scott tries to impose order on chaos. Its failed. Is this why Varcoe and Miers missed?

    Tigers killer instinct in finals is probably a reality. History would say so. Interposed with a few decades of self destruction.

    Thanks for the comments.

  27. PS – I’m not looking for sympathy, I’m looking for answers.

  28. Rodney, all good points, but I would counter that Wellsy has found a lot of hidden gems, and the great sides had some good early picks too – Jimmy, Joel S, Joel C and Mack. But top of my head since then the first round picks have been Cockatoo (could have been anything), Smedts, Lang, Fogarty, Clark, Stephens and De Koning (could be v good). Not a whole heaps there. Not a Wells criticism at all, should be a statue of him, but some balance. By the way, he is back now, no one knows what happened there.

  29. Hawks window was 2011-16, finished top 4, played 5 prelims, 4 grannies, 3 cups. 2016, finished 3rd. Played Cats first up, Smith misses goal after the siren and that’s either our sliding door moment or it is the moment that informs the next few years. Our previous years had barely papered over what our next few years might be.

    Cats “moment” may well have been when Maxy goaled after the siren at the Cattery, in the last home and away round.

    Check out your best players in the 2016 final against the Hawks. Here it is: Selwood, Dangerfield, Guthrie, Hawkins, McCarthy, Blicavs, Menegola. Most are still the engine in 2021.

  30. Yes very telling RK. Cats best players in 2016.

    I think you’re right about Gawn’s after siren goal in round 23. Thought so at the time too.

  31. One other – when I wrote about building a team most assumed I was referring to only the on-field team. I wasn’t.

    The Blues have recruited Brian Cook to build their team. Good decision. Good start Blues.

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