Since attending my first Cats game back in 1985, I’ve always known one thing about the Geelong Football Club; when Geelong does Hollywood, they do it better than any other team in the competition. However, in 1995 I also learned the Fremantle Football Club can pump out arthouse flops like a Swinburne graduate with an inheritance cheque. So how did Sunday night’s game go so right for Geelong and so poorly for Fremantle? Let’s examine the themes because we all know the ending.
A late withdrawal saw Zac Smith come out of the Geelong line-up, replaced in the side by the versatile Josh Cowan. This was an inspired move by the coaching staff. They foresaw the game would be played at speed and if Geelong lacks anything – it’s outside run. I will concede that Cowan is far from a Jamaican track athlete, but he’s closer than Zac Smith. This move also showed some versatility and self-confidence from the coaching staff who were prepared to back their instincts. Fremantle elected to go short up forward against Geelong’s tall backline, perhaps justifying Geelong’s decision to bring in Cowan to replace Smith. The game was scrappy early in the first quarter, but Geelong found its rhythm and moved the ball quickly and with accuracy. Geelong plays its best footy when they take the game on and use their skill and flair – and during the game you got the feeling they had been given a licence to back themselves more so than the previous two years. Perhaps the coaching staff realise this group has matured enough to enable them to loosen the coaching strings and bring back a touch of Hollywood.
Geelong’s defence held up well, with no Docker kicking multiple goals. Tom Ruggles blanketed Nick Suban (and outplayed him) having 11 more possessions and gaining 567 metres (highest for a Geelong player). This was arguably Ruggles’ best game in the hoops, all topped off with a 1980’s style punch-on near halftime on the outer wing. He’s fast becoming a crowd favourite down at the Cattery, a mixture between Paul Chapman and Steven Hocking. Tom Lonergan and Lachie Henderson performed their duties, controlling ex-cat Shane Kersten and the dangerous Cam McCarthy who kicked the only goal between them. Zach Tuohy, (16 kicks, 8 h/balls @ 92%Eff), in his first game for the Cats, took up from where he left the JLTs. He created options and run across halfback, his creativity to be a great asset throughout the season. Andrew Mackie was very good across the whole of the game, his experience important since Enright’s retirement at the end of last year and Harry Taylor’s banishment to the forward line…
Joel Selwood, Patrick Dangerfield and Mitch Duncan put on a masterclass though the midfield. Yes they lost the clearances (34-48) but that is beyond their control when the team losses the hitouts (18-63). The threesome made up for the shortfall in clearances by gathering 82 possessions (35 contested), kicking 4 goals, and applying 20 tackles. The pressure they applied on the Fremantle midfield allowed the other Geelong players to swarm on the ball and feed it forward with quick handballs and kicks, placing the Dockers on the back foot from the beginning of the match. Nakia Cockatoo and Jordan Murdoch roamed between the 50m arcs, also smashing into contests which created loose ball opportunities for their teammates. Their pace alone netted them both a goal apiece and they accumulated 11 score involvements between them. Cockatoo seems to have filled out considerably over the off season. He’s tall (186cm) and is whippet-quick. The goal he kicked in the last quarter was worth the admission price alone. However, if he’s not careful how he lunges at opponents he will do damage either to himself or the opposition at some stage this year and the match review panel will be waiting. If ‘Mad’ Murdoch can kick 70% of his attempts at goal from 50m on the run, he’ll snag 20-25 goals in 2017 which would be a great output. Steven Motlop ran and hassled opponents, his pressure off half-back causing Fremantle to make errors. He’s lightning-in-boots and is irreplaceable. His contract expires at the end of this season and Geelong need to lock him away ASAP. Mark Blicavs partnered up with Nat Fyfe, trying his best to keep the Brownlow medallist honest. Blics is an athlete turned footballer and spent most of last year lost on the football field. Chris Scott gave him a job to do against Fremantle’s best. Fyfe ended with 28 disposals which included a goal and more score involvements than the goal umpires. The positive out of this experiment was that at least Blicavs spent the game in the vicinity of the ball. If he can learn from the best and be dragged into the correct positions, perhaps the ledger of athlete and footballer will come closer to squaring up. Expect him to be given more run-with roles this year.
Don’t you love Zac Dawson? Tom Hawkins gave Zac a bath (3 goals) and Cat’s fans loved it. To be fair, the ball was coming in from all angles and with accuracy, placing the Fremantle backmen under pressure. It didn’t help when Dangerfield rested in the pocket and contributed 3 goals of his own. Daniel Menzel ran around the forward line at will, chip-kicking into space, setting players up and using his trademark side-step (yes, he does it all the time) to get around players and break lines. Lincoln McCarthy (3 goals) was dangerous in only his 25th game. He runs and works hard, with opportunities following.
Brandan Parfitt and Tom Stewart
Both players should hold their spots going into next week’s game against North Melbourne at Etihad Stadium. Parfitt pulled a few tricks out of his arsenal to show he has the makings of a senior player (although he went at 56% Eff) while Stewart was solid in defence (100%Eff).
Geelong brought Hollywood and a touch of gangster to Subiaco on Sunday evening. They didn’t shy away from the contest and they didn’t back away from the fight. Some of the goals were freakish (Cockatoo, Hawkins, Motlop), and some passages of play were electric. In all, I felt like I was watching a vintage Geelong performance. At times, they made what should have been a hard road trip look like a training drill, but does this say more about Fremantle than it does about Geelong? The statistics from the game make for head-scratching reading. Both teams ran at 77% disposal efficiency. Geelong had less kicks (194-206), less handballs (169-176), less inside 50s (43-51) but they still won in a canter by 42 points. Geelong won the contested possessions (148-138), won contested marks (20-9), won rebound 50s (40-24), but also won the error count (61-54).
After some pondering, I unravelled the underlying message in the script. You see, this Geelong team has worked on its structures over the off-season. In this game, they were more efficient with their efficiency. And to that, I say, Hooray for Hollywood.
Tinker, Taylor, Forward, Why?
My dad once said to me, “Son, being a nurse would be a great career move.” The look I shot at my old man that day should have been the same look Harry Taylor gave Chris Scott when he was told, “Playing forward could be a great career move.” Taylor seemed as lost on the forward line as I would have been roaming the wings of the Alfred Hospital. I’m predicting the cold sweat I get at the sight of anything medically dodgy is nothing compared to the horror that sweeps through Harry Taylor when he sees centremen streaming forward hoping he will provide a leading option. Note to Harry Taylor: Running into a forward pocket waving your hands above your head like a leader of the French resistance trying to signal an allied aircraft may be defined as ‘providing an option’ – but it’s just not a viable one.
Make no mistake, this game was Taylor’s Fall of France. No goals, no points, no tackles. He tried hard, as the French resistance always did, at one point crunched from all angles by approaching henchmen with their fists raised. I remember when Taylor used to execute those skills in our backline - to great effect.
I don’t want to highlight too many lowlights, but Taylor even managed to turn a gift into a grenade that blew up in his face. This was in the form of a generous last quarter pass from Steven Motlop, where Taylor waited for the ball to arrive as opposed to taking it at its highest point. Then again, perhaps if he had attacked the ball, he may have lost all bearings and fisted it into the Subiaco carpark.
Geelong is too tall in its backline, (Mackie 193cm, Henderson 196cm, Lonergan 197cm, Kolodashnij 193cm and now Stewart 190cm), so the coaches have decided to move Taylor to add height and an extra marking option up forward. Big Harry may eventually learn the art of being a forward, but how many casualties and lost opportunities will it take in the meantime?