Why Geelong Is The AFL's Mrs Doubtfire
In a not too different dimension, Geelong could have won 10 premierships over the last 16 seasons.
Seriously, they could have gone complete Bayern Munich over the league, and we really wouldn’t have had to move around the imaginary furniture all that much.
In the real world, they were still exceptional, winning three flags, ending a 43-year premiership drought and sending a bouquet of legends to the Hall of Fame.
At their height, they played some of the most intoxicating footy the sport has seen in recent years, yet for all their wonder, the Cats never cemented their legacy as the definitive best club of the young millennium, despite having sufficient chances to do so.
Geelong’s last eight seasons have presented footy fans with with a curious pop quiz upon how one perceives professional sporting success.
Is it okay to be in constant contention, to run rampant over home and away seasons, conduct yourself as a model of organisational stability, yet never actually bring home the bacon?
For as admirable as Geelong have been in their weird post-2011 existence, it could equally be argued they’ve failed spectacularly, failing to convert any of their brilliant regular seasons into anything remotely successful come Finals time.
For a team that’s won 68.7% of their home and away games since 2012, and who’s made the top-4 six times, it’s rather sobering to note they’ve not even a single Grand Final berth to show for their labours, dragging along a lamentable 26.6% win rate in September.
All of which makes Geelong the most fascinating team heading into the 2020 Finals.
Once again, the Cats have rolled out a wonderful regular season product. While Richmond recently got the better of them (the Tigers have beaten them in 5 of their last 6 meetings) it was yet another top-4 finish with convincing scalps of both Brisbane and Port Adelaide. The Cats sent a league-high 5 players to the 40-man All-Australian squad while Tom Hawkins, at 32, appears to be in career-best form and was finally rewarded with a richly deserved Coleman medal.
The loss of Tim Kelly was expected to hamper Geelong this season, yet they instead emerged with the league’s most volcanic attack, more impressive in a season throughly devoid of scoring. While the Kelly loss may still plague them in the Finals, the bevy of assets they recouped should be able to set them up for another strong era.
As always, the overall picture looks brilliant with the Cats, however it’s only when you take a closer look do you notice the tomato sauce stain right in the middle of the portrait.
Elite sport is about championships, it’s what everybody is fighting tooth and nail for and it’s what Geelong’s paws have been constantly and violently slapped away from in recent years.
So why do the Cats keep coming up short? A few years ago the suggestion was that the midfield needed a major re-design after consecutive Preliminary Final man-handlings in 2016 and 2017. To the Cats credit, they worked hard to remedy their inside shortcomings bringing in both Luke Dalhaus and Gary Rohan while internally promoting the likes of Brandon Parfitt, Gryan Miers and Tom Atkins to more pronounced midfield roles.
This year’s major modification has been the club’s drastic shift to a more possession orientated mindset.
In 2020, the Cats mantra has been to control what’s controllable, employing an elaborate form of ‘keepings off’ which in theory was implemented to make sure menacing counter-attacking teams like Richmond are forced to defend them much deeper.
While sporting clubs the world over continue to pray at the feet of the great god of possession, few teams are actually equipped to live that life in the mean streets of their respective leagues.
The Cats however are suitable qualified, stunning everyone this season with an outrageous +43 disposal differential, made possible by an equally ridiculous +26 mark differential speaking to a team that who’d prefer to go down on their own terms and via their own skill errors.
Over the last twenty years only one club has sported a +40 and +20 disposal and mark differential and that was Hawthorn in 2011 who were of course on the cusp of one of the most destructive eras in AFL history.
We’re essentially in completely uncharted waters where this Geelong game-style is concerned. They’ve lost the disposal count twice this season, the marks just once, with most teams left completely bamboozled by their newly adopted ‘tiki-taka’ lifestyle.
This style is of course neither airtight nor unbeatable. When the Cats met Richmond a couple of weeks ago they helped themselves to an extra 32 touches and 38 marks, yet were still soundly beaten, having kicked a single goal to three-quarter time. As always, Richmond bided their time, and struck on the counter with their customary ruthlessness- reminding Geelong of the current pecking order in the AFL.
The Cats may well fall short once again during the Finals however they won’t have died wondering.
They’ve once again bravely gone into the lab and conjured up something new rather than re-purpose the same flawed product.
While Chris Scott receives plenty of flack for his grumpiness and awful Finals record, there’s something deeply admirable about a coach who isn’t set in his ways, and is prepared to try something different.
If the Cats can pull off their new-found identity in the same way Robin Williams seamlessly transitioned into an ageing female Scottish housekeeper during his own hour of need, then a fourth flag in 13 years could be theirs for the taking.
No, the world won’t end if Geelong doesn’t win the flag in 2020, it hasn't every other time they've come up short, yet their willingness to re-invent themselves, and keep challenging the league's best and brightest has been a refreshing experience amid a year filled with so much negativity and doubt.
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