Easter Monday saw two of the AFL’s greatest rivals square off at the MCG. Their previous meeting, (JLT aside), was in last September’s qualifying final where Isaac Smith missed a set shot after the siren, handing Geelong a 2 point victory in yet another remarkable chapter in this epic tale. Since 2008, when Hawthorn won the premiership in an upset over the more fancied Geelong, these two juggernauts have slugged it out like Ali and Frazier. However, yesterday, midway through the final quarter, as Geelong punched out eleven goals in a row, the Hawthorn trainers were reaching for the towel. By the game’s end, Hawthorn had transitioned from Muhammad Ali circa 1966, to Apollo Creed thirty-five minutes into Rocky IV.
Eight seasons have now passed since that 2008 Grand Final, and after yesterday’s result, it could be fair to say, the saga has finally come to an end. (Unlike Rocky).
These heavyweights of the AFL – having won 7 of the last 10 premierships between them, fought ugly early. Hawthorn’s field kicking was terrible, leading to countless turnovers, while Geelong’s missed opportunities in front of goal were costly. When Jack Gunston threaded a corker from the boundary line, Geelong fans shook their head unsurprised. Gunston had been the subject of discussion during the week, having not kicked a goal all year, so it was odds-on he would open his account against the Cats. Geelong had the opportunity to knockout their nemesis in the first quarter (kicking 2.7 to 2.0.) but Tom Hawkins, Steven Motlop and Harry Taylor all failed to capitalise. Hawthorn had stuck its chin out early but the Cats couldn’t land a first round knockout.
It took until the 18th-minute mark of the second quarter for the first goal to be registered (by Nakia Cockatoo) ending a run of seven straight behinds for Geelong. The Cats would hold Hawthorn goalless in the 2nd term (6 behinds) while adding 3.5 themselves. The incident of the day - Gibson’s ‘shephard’ on Tom Ruggles – brought the crowd to its feet as Ruggles was helped to his. See my opinion on the clash below.
Half time saw the Cats leading comfortably by 24 points, but they still had not put the Hawks away. The problem with gaining the upper hand over a champion team – let alone your nemesis - is you don’t want to give them opportunities to re-group. Hawthorn came out swinging with much more intensity in the third quarter. At the 20 minute-mark of the term, they had kicked 2.4. to Geelong’s one goal, bringing the margin back to a respectable 14 points. If the Hawks had managed to score the next major, it would have seemed anyone’s game. However, in the remaining eight minutes of football, Geelong kicked 3.2 to blow the lead back out to 34 points.
Any hope of a puncher’s chance comeback was quickly silenced by Geelong as they put through the first three goals of the final term. Jack Gunston kicked his second of the game, (and his second of the year), but from then on it was red wine and crackers time for the Geelong faithful. (Should be a combo at the MCG food outlets – could catch on). In all, Geelong slammed on 11 goals to Hawthorn’s 2.2, running out victors by 86 points.
Rising Stars, Rising Elbows and a Flying Cockatoo
Has a club had two rising stars in consecutive weeks? If not, the Geelong Football Club went close in 2017. In only his second game for Geelong, James Parsons, (21 disp, 75% eff,) was eye-catching then eyebrow-raising. He kicked 2.1, his 55-metre bomb late in the third quarter his first goal for the Cats. Whilst raising his hand to grab the rising star nomination, his elbow collected Luke Hodge’s jaw ensuring such recognition would have to be more quietly afforded to him later in the season.
It’s great to have Nakia Cockatoo back in the side after a thumb injury sidelined him in round 1. His pace and size are imposing for a young footballer, (23 games, 20y/o), and his enthusiasm for the contest is infectious. He is an important cog in the Geelong machine and justified Chris Scott’s desire to get him back from injury earlier than expected.
With Brandan Parfitt also impressing, the future looks bright down at the Cattery. Geelong has brought youth into the side over the past few years, but these three footballers in particular, (and Tom Stewart performing in the backline) are dripping with talent.
Marks, Handballs and Tackles
For the past few weeks, I have been concerned with Geelong allowing teams to chip the ball and take marks around the ground under little or no pressure. Midway through the second quarter against Melbourne last week, Geelong was trailing in uncontested marks, 4-22. It lost that count at the end of the day 60-97. Yesterday, in the first quarter, Geelong trailed Hawthorn in uncontested marks by a staggering, 5-22 and eventually lost the overall count, 73-93. In total this season, Geelong has lost the uncontested mark count 200-274.
It seems Geelong cares little about marks unless they are in the forward 50 (a count they won 6-14 against Hawthorn). The Cats move the ball quickly by hand, reducing its kicks and therefore its marking opportunities. This method of play-on and handball also draws the tackler, meaning the opposition often out-tackles Geelong. Midway through the second quarter, Hawthorn led the tackle count 40-18, though they only trailed the possession count by sixteen (164-148). These two sides play a different brand of football, but one was much more effective than the other on Easter Monday, 2017.
Chris Scott played Harry Taylor forward for the first three-quarters, only moving him into defence in the final term. Taylor ‘peppered’ the goals in the first quarter, (if you can call two shots at goal, ‘peppering’), an unlucky bounce robbing him of what would have been his first goal of the season. He followed up with this third behind for the game in the second quarter. He would have felt a twinge of envy when permanent backman Lachie Henderson pumped through a goal from 50 meters. Fourth-gamer Tom Stewart rubbed salt into Harry’s wounds in the third quarter, when he charged onto a loose ball in the forward 50 and snagged his first goal in AFL football.
Poor Harry, exiled up forward, has now played a whopping 5 hours and 52 minutes on the forward line for a return of zero goals and four behinds.
Geelong has kicked 75 goals, 37 behinds in four rounds.
As per my article, Tinker, Taylor, Forward, Why?, despite Scott’s insistence that the move is working, the above evidence points to the contrary. However, Scott will have you believe it must be working because Geelong is winning. I would suggest that Taylor’s influence on matches is far diminished compared to his days on the backline. Mind you, at least when he is caught behind in the forward line, he knows how to spoil.
I copped it from all quarters, (bar Geelong supporters), after I sent out a tweet calling Josh Gibson’s shepherd on Tom Ruggles a, ‘dirty act’. The Match Review Panel (MRP) agreed with those who considered the bump ‘fair’. Perhaps the tactic of strapping a bandage around Gibson’s head to imply contact was ‘accidental’ negated the fact that the bump itself was intentional and Ruggles was helped from the ground and did not return due to a concussion. There are other ways to shepherd a player away from a ball-carrier and I fear the MRP have set a precedent that we will hear referenced at some stage in the future.
As Geelong sits at the top of the ladder and Hawthorn last, one reflects on a long decade of rivalry. Three premierships won by Geelong and four by Hawthorn. These two teams have slogged it out for ten years and their supporters have gone along for the ride. As the strains of ‘We Are Geelong’ filled the MCG and Cat’s fans celebrated the 86-point victory, I could not help but remember the Hawthorn supporters who had left midway through the final quarter. They sure weren’t ‘riding the bumps with a grin’, but Tom Ruggles is probably smiling today.
HAWTHORN 2.0 2.6 4.10 6.12 (48)
GEELONG 2.7 5.12 9.14 20.14 (134)