As a playing group, the Geelong Football Club sits at the crossroads in season 2017. Will they maintain their presence in the top 4 and push one step further than last year? Can they make their 5th Grand final in 11 seasons, or they will slide out of the top 4? Let’s take a look at what’s happening at the Cattery.
Forward Line Issues
Geelong’s list has undergone an overhaul in recent seasons. The latest cleanout saw regulars Jimmy Bartel, Josh Caddy, Shane Kersten and Corey Enright as well as the rarely-seen Nathan Vardy, Billy Smedts & Mitch Clark depart at the end of the 2016 season. The significance here lies in the goal-scoring options which have left the club. In particular, Bartel, Caddy and Kersten who booted 54 goals between them in 2016. Coach Chris Scott knows he will need to make up for this reduction in goal-kicking options, hence the somewhat unimaginative decision to try All-Australian defender Harry Taylor up forward during the JLT Series. Scott will persist with this move because he knows Tom Hawkins requires assistance, and if new recruit Aaron Black (3 games in 2 seasons) doesn’t deliver, the coach will be turning to alternate plans post haste. Taylor’s re-positioning also comes out of necessity at the other end of the ground. Geelong is too tall in its backline (Taylor, Tom Lonergan, Lachie Henderson, Andrew Mackie) so moving the best mark of those four (Taylor) to the forward line solves two issues with one positional change. Scott has been searching for a second tall in the forward line to compliment Hawkins since trading Podsiadly to Adelaide at the end of 2013. Black will be next to try-out for the position after the failures of Vardy, Clarke, Kersten, Josh Walker and Mitch Brown. Scott will be hoping Lincoln McCarthy (24games, 19goals) continues his growth as a key forward in 2017.
Rock Solid Defence
Geelong’s defence will continue to be miserly in 2017 despite Corey Enright’s absence. Its greatest asset is its ability to create effective match-ups on most opposition forward lines. Geelong had the second stingiest defence in 2016, surrendering only 1544 points for the season. The aforementioned defensive talls will continue to perform, but it’s Geelong’s defensive youngsters who will also assist in the club’s top eight aspirations. With Jackson Thurlow returning from injury, the impressive Jake Kolodjasjnij, Tom Ruggles and Josh Cowan all growing in experience, and Zach Tuohy hopefully replacing Enright’s run off half-back, Geelong’s backline remains its most dependable asset in 2017.
Third Man (Stuff) Up
The AFL’s banning of the ‘Third-Man Up’ in ruck contests will hurt Geelong. The club favours a mobile ruck combination in Rhys Stanley (200cm 100kg) and Zack Smith (206cm 105kg) but also relied heavily on Mark ‘Third-Man Up’ Blicavs (154 times in 24 games) coming over the top of the ruck contest. In 2016, 32% of Geelong’s hit-outs came from this third man up tactic. This was the highest percentage of all clubs in 2016. Geelong will be sweating on how this rule change will impact on their ability to get first use of the football at stoppages around the ground. The removal of this important strategy from Geelong’s arsenal could have significant ramifications on their top eight expectations, let alone their top four aspirations.
Geelong has two midfield ‘Blue-Chippers’: Joel Selwood and Patrick Dangerfield. Without these two players, Geelong would not make the top 12 let alone the top 8. Geelong’s 2017 finals hopes depend on their other midfielders playing consistently to their ability. With Caddy gone, (18 games, 21 goals, 23.6 av/disp in 2016), the heat of expectation must now be placed on the rest of the midfield group. Mitch Duncan, Cam Guthrie and Steven Motlop must perform at the level they are capable of and they must do so more consistently. Geelong’s young midfield brigade of Darcy Lang, Cory Gregson, Jordan ‘Mad’ Murdoch and Sam Menagola (and to a lesser extent Nakia Cockatoo) also need to provide support to the key midfield group. Most have had the years and the opportunity, now they need to take ownership and prove they belong.
It also wouldn’t hurt if the much maligned George Horlin-Smith was afforded more senior opportunities. If not for any other reason than to see a bloke running around who looks like he’s sporting a bigger pair of shorts than Daniel Harford ever dreamt of.
Chris Scott will also be wanting more goals from this midfield group to make up for the already mentioned departures of Bartel, Caddy and Kersten. Those three ex-Geelong players kicked 54 goals between them in 2016, while Duncan, Lang, Gregson, Murdoch, Menagola and Guthrie managed only 47.
That’s a problem.
Selwood, Danger and Motlop managed a healthy 71 goals between them in 2016. (Only 9 goals for Selwood, his lowest season tally since 2010).
2017: The Draw
Geelong plays seven of their eleven home games at Simonds Stadium, the other four games divided equally between the MCG and Etihad. Due to the redevelopment of the Brownlow Stand at Simonds Stadium, Geelong will have no home games at their fortress until round nine (May 19) against reigning premiers, the Western Bulldogs. Geelong plays only three home games at Simmonds Stadium before their round 12 bye, so they will be hoping to have built up some wins on the road to launch themselves into the second half of their season. After their bye, Geelong’s season is comprised of four games interstate, (WCE, Giants, Bris, Adel) five home games (four at Simonds Stadium and one at MCG) and two away games (Etihad and MCG).
Despite Brian Cook’s recent comments where he supported Chris Scott’s appointment for another two years, the members are growing restless. Time for another premiership in the Selwood era is ticking and valuable draft picks were surrendered to secure Dangerfield. Geelong must ‘make hay’ in these stars’ prime. Since winning the 2011 grand final, Chris Scott has coached Geelong to 2 finals victories from eight appearances.
If Chris Scott can coach this team to anywhere around fourteen wins in 2017 then he deserves a two-year extension. Anything under twelve wins and he should be moved on. If Geelong misses finals football in 2017, the fans might rip down the new stand they have waited so long to enjoy.
2017 Season Prediction
Many pundits believe Geelong is a top 4 lock in season 2017. However, I feel they are placing too much worth on last year’s ladder position. Fans knew Geelong had scraped into the top 4 in 2016 and the performances toward the end of the season did not warrant such a reward. Those unconvincing performances continued into the 2016 finals series. A lucky ending in the Qualifying Final against Hawthorn (Isaac Smith missed a match-winning shot after the final siren) saved Geelong from embarrassment, but they managed to get what was coming by suffering an utterly humiliating loss to Sydney in the preliminary final two weeks later. Don’t be fooled by the 37 point margin. It was a disaster.
If the Geelong players are still smarting after that finals-football masterclass handed out by the Sydney Swans, they may muster up enough grit and determination to stop falling asleep at the wheel. Journos and headline writers will try to be humorous and refer to their habit of ‘disappearing during games’ as ‘Cat-Naps’. To their members, it just looks like disinterest. That’s unacceptable.
The coach states he and the playing group have addressed this ‘fade-in fade-out’ problem during the off-season. The JLT Series indicated nothing had changed, but we’ll wait for the real stuff to begin.
This Geelong outfit is capable of winning between twelve and fourteen games. Its success will depend on the development of its younger players, and the desire and desperation of its mid-tier players to perform at their ability, consistently.
I believe the Cats will slide down to the lower half of the eight in season 2017. 14 wins would be a pass mark for this list, but if they are unlucky in a few close games, the natives will be hoping 12 wins will get their beloved Cats into the finals. St Kilda missed out on finals action with 12 wins in 2016 and competition for those bottom eight spots will be stronger in 2017.
Geelong 2017 Ladder Prediction: 7th (13 wins).