The Geelong flame re-lit at the Almanac: a survey of the Cats’ past six weeks.

or A Geelong Life (in Fitzroy)

 

Just over a month ago, I was in Adelaide for the Cats game. As our plane taxi-ed past the Iron Maiden jumbo jet on the tarmac at the Adelaide Airport, en route back to Melbourne, I decided the mighty Cats were in for a Big Year. We’d won the night before, impressively enough, and I still had the winner’s glow.

 

Although the scoreboard didn’t suggest it, the boys had played good footy against the Crows that Friday night. Really good footy. Only wasteful kicking kept the Crows in it. Although there was a momentary wobble in the final stanza, the win was well-deserved I thought.

 

Paddy Dangerfield had a strange game. He seemed a little self-conscious; a little lost. He won the footy brilliantly at times, dished off some quick handballs in congestion, but his kicking was all over the shop. It was a good-enough sort of a game, but not one of his gems.

 

One of the encouraging signs was the way the Cats handled the pressure and how, when Geelong had control, Corey Enright played as if he had his feet up on the desk.

 

Sitting in the plane looking through the draw, I was confident the Cats would well and truly consolidate their top four position over the following weeks. And, if results went as anticipated, we’d be playing North for top spot in Round 12.

 

We wished.

 

In two weeks we were crook-as and looking for a diagnosis.

 

First week, the ball bounced for the Pies who smashed us drowsy Cats in the first quarter at the MCG. We were left wondering again. Crazy questions like: was that the same Cam Guthrie who had played in Adelaide the week before? Could we butcher three-on-ones any worse? The natural conclusion was that the Pies were better than everyone thought and the old not-much-difference-between-top-and-bottom thesis got a run. It’s a crap thesis. We were ordinary on the day. There are quite a few ordinary sides.

 

We thought we’d get over that pretty quickly with a win against Carlton the following Sunday. Well, we were even worse. The spirited Blues played with greater desire and observable effort and dismissed the few challenges that the Cats presented. Carlton were simply too good on the day.

 

Well, what a fine narrative complication that presented. You must remember, we of the hoops grew up on flimsiness and flashiness, and spent our formative lives content watching great footballers do astounding things minus the reward of the pennant. What a worry that is: to have that old feeling tugging at the heart. “You could be so good!” “It could be your year!” “Don’t muck it up!”

 

At least the following week’s match against GWS was at Kardinia Park. It was a miserable winter’s day made brighter by an early-afternoon telephone chat with Michelle Payne. She was in good spirits. We talked about the Cats – she is a big fan. I was trying to get down to the Brunswick Street Oval to see the Roys, but the gloom and rain kept me in front of the fire with one eye on Hawthorn v Melbourne (where the Bill Ellis and Queensland crew were) and the other on Carlton v Brisbane. When the precipitation eased, and we were out of Iced Vo-Vos, I rugged up and headed out, racing to the sanctuary of Stop 25. Mercifully the tram arrived, steered by a bloke who looked like Mr Godolphus from No. 96 – even though we weren’t on Nicholson Street. I like a tram-driver who uses the full dial on the heater. It was like Tahiti in there.

 

I considered going all the way to St Kilda or wherever the No. 11 goes these days but got out at the footy ground where it was raining again and the Roys were playing Parkdale in the wet. The ground was in good nick and so were the Roys. Lenny the Barrister from the pub came over to inform me, excitedly, that the Roys had played the second quarter as if it were a dry day. They led by a few goals and the mood in the three quarter time huddle was spirited. They were even eating the purple snakes – those ones which taste shocking by why wouldn’t a port wine flavoured jelly snake taste shocking. The Roys ran away with the game in the final quarter. Aidan Lambert – remember that name – kicked a classic running goal. The Roys’ winless April was long forgotten. Finals?

 

The rain had plastered my hair to my head and I had drops rolling off my brow and along my nose but my coat had kept the rest of me dry. It was missling-pissling as I walked to the North Fitzroy Arms. What a refuge to walk in from the cold!

 

Perc looked content in his usual spot, parson to the congregation of Blue-Baggers – more than tolerable in that very human way. “Thank the Lord Greg Dear doesn’t run this pub,” I thought to myself. I assumed the position in front of the fire and I’d barely had my first sip when the final siren went and the pub was filled with Carlton voice. Well, if you ever want to happiness personified, Perc looked like a Labrador off the leash, his cheeks bouncing with those famouos Carlton words. He called for the loading of the NFA Footy Songs CD and the pub was away again, and again.

 

“Turn the volume up,” he said, nodding, with that Labrador grin.

 

And they did.

 

By this time Geelong v GWS had started and Stevie J had already kicked his supreme roving, across-the-shoulder goal from the pocket. How the Kardinia crowd would have loved that! Certainly it sent the North Fitzroy Arms off! The bar was getting fuller with non-Foxtel people coming especially to watch what was shaping as a terrific game – with majority of the support with the Giants (really?).

 

Interestingly Zac Smith was having the better of Mummy early, a trend which was to be sustained throughout in what was a very impressive game for the recruit. The Cats were winning in close while the Giants were playing fast-break football. They are like the Harlem Globetrotters when the court opens up. Teams are going to have to stop that from happening to contain them.

 

GWS led in the second quarter but it was one of those see-sawing games. By the early stages of the final quarter the pub was completely engaged by the footy. There was pot-in-hand hootin’ and hollerin’, cheering, and groaning and lots of front bar umpiring. The anti-Geelong sentiment became more obvious with every free kick and 50 metre penalty they were given.  It had turned into such a game that you could even hear the Kardinia Park crowd going off – a rarity. Not often the quiet folk of Geelong become excited. You could hear them declaring their undying love for Jimmy Bartel who was dishing out another lesson in Reading The Play and how to be where the ball is while keeping the position you’re playing a total secret.

 

The Cats had had more scoring but the result was still in the balance, something of which the Cats skipper was acutely aware. He took over with 15 minutes of footy which made the anti-Cat crowd groan even more. Why does such footy talent annoy some who say they love the game? Working with Dangerfield, Joel Selwood led from the front. His gather after a Dangerfield spoil was eye-hand coordination at its finest. His capacity to win the footy in scraps and somehow get it going in the right direction was inspirational.

 

But it wasn’t enough as a couple of Giants’ goals kept the game alive, and the Geelong crowd was shrieking with nervous support. Again, step up Joel Selwood. A pass to Hawkins for a huge set shot goal from 50 and a final goal to Menzel and the Cats were safe.

 

“He’s good that Selwood,” Perc said.

 

Dinner with the Queenslanders around the NFA’s big table was appropriately entertaining especially when Perc sat down – and Billy extracted his life story. Perc was worried Bill was a Fed.

 

So the Cats had an OK win in one of the games of the season. Selwood was the talk but the performance of Zac Smith was what most caught the eye. It was important game for him.

 

To top-of-the-table North the following week. I had some tickets – thanks to one of the members of the Men In Hats syndicate who are part owners of Prince of Penzance.  Andrew Nelson is one of the coaches of the Fitzroy Under 9-S team and his son Henry is one of those super-honest half-back types who can win his own footy and doesn’t stop trying or concentrating (for a second). Henry and Theo have been in the same class together at school every year. We’re all Cats fans. So we got the kids settled and in that time-honoured tradition of Dads at the footy Andrew and I had a couple in the bar.

 

The first half was tight. Danger had a massive first quarter and he didn’t stop for the duration. The Cats looked to have control of the game but, again, a side stayed in it with fast-break footy including three first-half goals to Boomer. If Joel Selwood divides opinion, Boomer really divides opinion. Danger’s dominance continued through the second half and, with a few Roos injured, the Cats were way too strong. Dangerfield exploded here and there, accelerating like no-one else on the ground, leaping and barging and stepping. There was even gambolling and some frolicking. It was some performance. And the slipper went well too.

 

It was another performance which made the Collingwood and Carlton losses puzzling. But a performance which suggested we’d be right up there.

 

To last Saturday night and I couldn’t go to see what was certain to be a fast and entertaining match with the Western Bulldogs. The emerging Dogs had some injury issues, but the thought has been that pace can catch Geelong out. I was hosting the St Monica’s Moonee Ponds Tennis Club which has become something of a tradition. So, while I was asking people to spell Mississippi and  to name the four strokes of the individual medley, I had the phone on the table in front of me. The boys were off to a flyer.

 

Watching the replay, the Cats were very good. Corey Enright! Jimmy Bartel again! And the usual suspects: Selwood and Dangerfield. Menzel bobbed up here and there. The under-manned Dogs battled away but they were somewhat off. They turned the footy over too many times and the Cats swept it away. It was a convincing win to Table 5 (defending their title) and to Geelong.

 

So what of the Cats this season, and their chances.

 

Well, it’s about time we re-lit the Geelong flame here at the Almanac. Because Chris Scott and the players have.

 

Here’s how I see it now.

 

Dangerfield and Selwood in their current form establish the direction of games and very hard to stop. I can see a 16-coach summit being called at Burnham Beaches (Clarko won’t go).

 

I was worried about the big blokes. Smith, Stanley and Blicavs, of similar build and athletic style, were playing like wingmen. Zac Smith has altered that. Interestingly Rhys Stanley, who will play better footy than he has in the first half of 2016, did not play in the GWS game. It seemed, from the comfort of the fireplace in the NFA, that that responsibility served Smith well. He was the dominant big man – and he played like a genuine ruckman, like a Goldstein or a Mumford or a Gawn. Smith has maintained that approach over the past fortnight. Zac Smith can have a big impact on this season. The versatile Blicavs gives Chris Scott a fair bit of flexibility.

 

Harry Taylor and Tom Lonergan have been solid. Lachie Henderson has slotted in extremely well, and has been in form. He reads the play, he has reliable hands and he makes pretty good decisions. Jake Kolodjashnij is playing stronger footy than he has before, but is still learning the caper. Andrew Mackie still understands the value of taking the game on. Then there’s Corey Enright and Jimmy Bartel. Add a couple of youngsters – Ruggles, who seems to have a smidge of the Ray Card in him,  has been the pick of them.

 

In the mid-field, Cam Guthrie is asked to play numerous roles – sometimes he is scrapping and blotting out, sometimes he’s is fending and dashing away. Mitch Duncan has improvement in him. S. Motlop has already improved. Josh Caddy is injured. Who gets the opportunity there? George is injured too.

 

Among the wing-flankers time has been shared around. Menzel is a star. Cockatoo looks like he has something but he is young – and injured. Then there’s McCarthy, Lang, Gregson, Murdoch.

 

Which brings us to the big forwards. Tom Hawkins is such an important part of the side. Shane Kersten has been chipping away in support of him. Fans of other clubs would hardly know him. But he is also an important player. He hasn’t quite had the game which tells everyone – including himself – that he has a mighty lot to offer. But he has threatened a few times. I suspect Nathan Vardy will be given his turn. One thing, it seems to me, is that Rhys Stanley is not likely to play a John Mossop role up forward. Zac Smith is more likely to clunk a few. Then there’s Danger out of the square!

 

The Cats are on top. St Kilda cannot be taken lightly tomorrow night. There’s much to play for. Mainitaining top spot going into the bye would make for a happy break.

 

In what has turned into a fascinating season, the Cats are right in it.

 

Consider the flame re-lit.

 

 

John Harms Geelong memoir Loose Men Everywhere is part of the omnibus (three books) titled Play On. If you would like a copy send an email to j.t.h@footyalmanac.com.au

Play On front cover final

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au He has written many columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted j.t.h@footyalmanac.com.au He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo10, Anna8, Evie7. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

Comments

  1. JTH – yes the flame is re-lit. For now.

    We need to have a plan B if Danger and Selwood are a bit off. I don’t think Caddy is a big loss. I prefer Cocky, and I like the way Menegola moves. He will be back soon. Throw in Selwood The Lesser and a fit Mitch Clark and we look very potent and with plenty of depth.

    Vardy is not looking like he will make it.

  2. Ben Footner says:

    Adelaide & Geelong the form sides of the competition at the moment. Could we be heading for the ultimate ‘Dangerfield Cup’ showdown?? The prospect is horrifying.

  3. Rulebook says:

    JTH and cats fans did you realise,Danger was so good ? If he had stayed at the Crows the partnership with,Sloane would have continued to blossom and be at least as good as Dangerwood.The best player in the game either of the two clubs would be premiership favorites he is a freak

  4. j.t.h.c.a.t

    Welcome back. Where you been for the last few seasons?

    If, just if, it is us again in the Big Dance…which locker room will be more fluid? The one hoping it couldn’t happen again, or the one hoping it couldn’t happen again?

    Fondest,

    r.g.f.a.l.w.a.y.s

  5. Three analytical comments.
    1.Against Collingwood and Carlton, the Cats let the opposition merrily kick the ball in the back half and zoned back to the centre-line area. The follow-up 45 degree inside kick landed many times as the “slack” Cats allowed the oppo to play. A play-on passage followed and more Carl/Coll inside-50 forays – with an edge – produced game-winning totals. Dangerfield’s last qtr agst Collingwood was poor. Most people think he’s a 9.5 superstar. I favour an 8.5 rating.
    2.I watched the GWS game and the home-town umpiring was hugely important despite Selwood’s influence. The negative free-kick numbers is still worrying as it generally shows Geelong’s inability to go hard at the first contest – ground or aerial.
    3. Last Saturday night was a revelation of a new Geelong-tackling frenzy. If that happens in the finals, the current likely oppositions will find it very difficult to weather that storm. Unless their coaches can develop more cohesive out-of-pack possession.

  6. JTH, the Almanac always seems richer for your literary contributions and following up from Glaser, where the bloody hell have you been! I agree with Dips that Tea Caddy isn’t much of a loss, I always feel he’s somewhat of an elephant in the proverbial who has the uncanny knack of destroying Geelong’s natual flow. Anyway, like Hap, whilst I love what he’s brought, in my opinion Danger can be a bit over-rated by the pundits (8.5 is a fair reckoning Hap) and the Catters current form owes a lot more to the stepping up of the big Zac, the emerging Magical Menzel’s form and the second coming of that most versatile, Pivotonian specialist in avoiding any suggestion of back pocket malingering, the one and only, most marvellous, Moses-bearded messiah – Jimmy. Go Catz!

  7. Three analytical questions.
    1. How did it ever come to this when those shiny arsed, bean-counting, know nothings on the match committee tapped Stevie J on the shoulder, gave James Kelly the flick and Stokesy the ol’ heave-ho? Pricks.
    2. Don’t those bastards understand that it is our unalienable right to have the best team, with the best players but be not quite good enough even though we know we are?
    3. How is it that people (mostly shiny arsed, bean-counting, know nothings) spruik 2007 to 2011 as the golden era when it was really 1989-1995 and that 1967 was pure platinum?

  8. Game of the year. Brilliiant. Cats getting 9 points in front was the difference. Saints youngsters stopped trying to save the game, and took it on again.
    JSelwood typically ungracious giving umps a bake after the game. Wasn’t SMotlop within earshot?

  9. Richard Jones says:

    Quite right, Peter Baldy.
    Bendigo lad Geary miked up and barking orders. Looks like the next Sainters captain.
    And helping the young Sainters getting the job done.
    Can we stop spruiking our hooped boys Harmsy and take a bit of a back seat.
    For Chrissakes Harmsy put the cue in the rack and just let the season unfold.
    And no JMoro … they didn’t make a mistake.
    Jimmy Bartel looks gone. Stokesy certainly is [oh, sorry, u were supposed to be being very twee!]
    But once more: Harmsy — put the Macquarie Dictionary on top of the keyboard to prevent fingers from reaching the keyboard.

  10. Jeepers, Richard, what are they putting in the water up there? Although I suspect it’s just me. But, if you’ll just let me take the Dictionary from the keyboard for a second,..

    Cats were disappointing, and frustrating. Yes, Moro, it feels like old times.

    Hap, I suspect Danger affirmed your argument tonight.

    Some bizarre decision-making in the forward third from the Cats.

    The flame’s still flickering in my lounge room.

    Intriguing season.

    Let me know when you will allow me to write again Richard.

  11. Having said all that, this was a Group 1 mozzing, and I’ll take full responsibility for the loss.

    Although I invite you to watch how determined and capable the Saints were. A memorable win for this emerging group. The snior players must be proud of the young’uns. Imagine the rooms last night!

  12. Well John the flame might have been lit again, but a loss like Saturday looks like an ice bucket was tipped over it. The loss indicates some cultural problems. It brings back memories of the fllakey Geelong teams I used to follow. The playing ability is certainly there but to lose to teams like Carlton, Collingwood and St Kilda, make you wonder how the team delivers in September.

    The season looks a bit like 1997 with a very even eight, making the premiership race dependent on who fires in the finals. Adelaide did in 1997. In 2016 ?

    Glen!

  13. JTH – next time you feel the need to declare that the Cats are “re-lit” could you please whisper it rather than shout it.

    For the record I have admonished myself for the same crime.

    I watched the last three quarters from the couch. We had with us an exchange student from France who had literally just stepped off the plane. Her knowledge of Australia is not that broad, so her knowledge of football was non-existent. It was magic to watch her become totally consumed by the Cats v Saints contest. After we explained the major rules to her she was completely enthralled. Hand in mouth engaged in the battle. And like the rest of the family, ultimately disappointed.

  14. As have said to a few who will listen – this year, success will depend on who releases their inner Jarman come finals.

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