Before the dam wall broke: The Cats celebrate their 2011 grand final victory over Collingwood.ON THE eve of the 2007 season, the Essendon and Geelong football clubs were sent to the Gold Coast for their community camps, to run football clinics and promote the game.
Aside from promoting the game, the teams would also train as they would have in Melbourne and Essendon was scheduled to do a skills session on a suburban oval straight after Geelong, in preparation for the NAB Cup that was to begin the following weekend.
I was in the change rooms getting my ankles strapped when our assistant coach Gary O’Donnell came walking past and said of the Cats: ”I have never seen a skills session executed at that level of excellence before. The ball rarely hit the ground and the session was done at an unbelievable intensity.”
This was a big call considering the success he had at Essendon as a player, and then as an assistant coach at Brisbane when the Lions won three premierships from 2001 to 2003. I could see in his body language that he felt we were a long way off Geelong’s level of training. It didn’t take me long to work out that he was right on the money.
That day has stayed with me while watching the Cats in recent years play one of the most exquisite brands of football in the history of the game. From 2007 through 2011, the Cats won 106 of the 123 games that they played, which resulted in three premierships and a lost grand final to Hawthorn in 2008 where they lost just one game for the season before their shock loss in the big one.
No team in the modern era has been up for this long and the dam wall looks to have finally broken. It was inevitable that it would happen and the first half of this season suggests that the Geelong juggernaut is coming to an end. Twelve months ago, Geelong was unbeaten heading into round 14 on the way to its third premiership in five years.
It is a far cry from its current position of seven wins and five losses that has the Cats fighting for the last few positions in the top eight
No soft football side has ever won a premiership and as skilful as the Cats were, they had the hardness to go with it, which formed a deadly combination. It was ruthless at the man and the ball and a lot has been made of the drop-off in the contested ball department in 2012.
The Cats were ranked third in the competition in that area last year but have fallen to 14th in 2012. Geelong fans would be asking why and there is more than just one contributing factor. Brad Ottens and Cameron Ling have been huge losses in the middle and some players just aren’t as capable or as desperate for the contest as they once were. Opposition clubs like West Coast, Collingwood, Sydney, Adelaide, Essendon and Hawthorn will go to any lengths to get back to the top again and are now hungrier than Geelong.
Ottens took the Cats by surprise when he announced that he was retiring and Geelong hasn’t been able to replace him. Trent West, Orren Stephenson and last week Dawson Simpson have all tried hard, but they aren’t of the class of Ottens who was a big game specialist.
The Cats were ranked second for scores from clearances in 2011 but have fallen to 10th this season and are being heavily scored against from the stoppages by opposition clubs. That was the difference in the game against Sydney last Friday night as the Swans kicked six stoppage goals. What stood out was the Cats’ lack of accountability at defensive stoppages that would have left Chris Scott fuming.
It looked to me as if some of the players haven’t adjusted their games to the situation they are in. Some premiership stars need to understand that the rest of the competition has caught up or gone past them and that they need to go back to the basics of winning the contested ball before running forward of the contest, particularly in the defensive 50. Joel Corey has been a great player for Geelong but he was a prime example of that by conceding multiple goals to the Swans in wanting to play the game on his terms, not the team’s.
The Cats’ drop-off in the midfield has seen them go from the most prolific scoring team of 2011 to a side that has lacked potency this season. The loss to injury of Travis Varcoe and Daniel Menzel has been enormous as it has forced Steve Johnson up the ground to gain possession rather than inside the forward 50 where the Cats need him most. Johnson has been goalless in eight games and the Cats have dropped from an average 115 points a game in 2011 to just 93 points in 2012. Matthew Stokes is also having his leanest year since his debut season in 2006, averaging fewer disposals and goals than before. Johnson and Stokes kicked 79 goals between them in 2011.
Out of contract at the end of this season are Paul Chapman, Shannon Byrnes, Corey Enright, Josh Hunt, James Podsiadly, Matthew Scarlett and David Wojcinski. All bar Byrnes are aged over 30 and most of these champion players will sit down with Chris Scott in coming months to discuss their future and whether there is a role for them next year.
Getting Menzel and Varcoe back into the fold next year to complement Steven Motlop, Allen Christensen, Mitch Duncan, Taylor Hunt, Billie Smedts and maybe Port Adelaide’s Travis Boak shows that the Cats won’t be bottoming out as Brisbane did after their successful era.
Chris Scott has a tough job ahead in making decisions that will set Geelong up for the next five years, not the next 12 weeks, which may mean making some tough calls on the older brigade that have just been magnificent for so long.
A fourth premiership in six years looks beyond the Cats, but they will go down with a fight, as they always do. I may be proved wrong, as they’ve proved many doubters wrong before.
Whatever happens, Geelong’s recent success provided its supporters with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a truly great team.
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