AFL Finals: Geelong team preview

8 September 2011

Written by: Jonathon Wilkinson

Home and away review

2011 was supposed to signal the end of the Geelong Cats‘ golden era, but clearly the message didn’t make it down to Kardinia Park.

Despite losing coach Mark Thompson and star player Gary Ablett Jnr, the Cats have racked up 19 wins for just 3 losses to finish second, in what has been the clubs’ best season since 2008.

Geelong started the season on fire, winning 14 games straight, including notable victories over rival premiership contenders Collingwood and Hawthorn. However, the second half of the Cats’ season was less convincing, winning only five of their remaining eight matches .

There were plenty of positives, namely the emergence of young guns Allen Christensen, Mitch Duncan and Daniel Menzel, while mercurial forward, Steve Johnson, enjoyed one of his best seasons to date. The Cats also broke several records as they thumped Melbourne by 186 points,  Gold Coast by 150 and rivals Collingwood by 96 in convincing performances.

However, these huge wins covered up deficiencies in the Geelong side, as they began to look vulnerable, with losses against lower ranked teams,  culminating in Sydney putting an end to the Cats remarkable unbeaten run at Skilled Stadium.

The Cats were exposed around the stoppages in losses to both Sydney and West Coast, and struggled all year to deal with teams that applied intensive tackling pressure. While new coach Chris Scott has made some changes, the problems of last year still persist and there are question marks over whether the Cats’ high possession attacking game-style is too outdated to win another premiership.

Key finals player

Joel Selwood

Selwood has excelled in the absence of Gary Ablett jnr, and is now the number one midfielder on Geelong’s list.

Not only has Selwood had more disposals this season, he has also been more effective, ranked second in the AFL for inside 50’s and fourth for goal assists. Selwood has been clinical in his approach, and precise with the ball, proving to be a vital member of the Geelong midfield. He’s also had his best season defensively, making more tackles and winning more contested ball than any other Geelong midfielder.

Selwood will be the most important cog in the Cats’ engine room, and they will need him to fire if they want September glory.

Why Geelong can win the flag

Geelong has a terrific list, with one of the most balanced and gifted sides in the league. The Cats have potential match winners all over the ground and if they’re on-song, there are very few, if any, that can defeat their attacking game style.

But perhaps the Cats biggest advantage is their experience in pressure situations. The Cats understands what it’s like to win and lose grand finals, and will draw on that experience for inspiration. Being the underdogs is a huge advantage, as there won’t be the expectation or pressure on them to win.

The premiership window is closing for several of their most established players, so this may be the last chance to win a premiership for many Geelong veterans.

Why Geelong can’t win the flag

The Cats struggle to deal with teams that apply forward pressure,  as it tends to force ineffective disposal, particularly in defence. Collingwood applied it brilliantly last year in the preliminary final, locking the Cats in their defensive 50 and forcing turnovers at will.

Geelong have struggled to deal with small forwards,  and with their main competitors having some of the best small forwards in the league, the Cats could find themselves unstuck by some fancy footwork.

The Cats’ playing  list is no longer the strongest in the league. While their depth and talent pool is impressive, it has now been surpassed by Collingwood, who are clearly the most resourced team in the competition. As good as Geelong are, Collingwood are stronger on paper, and if the Magpies bring their A-game, the Cats won’t be able to do much to stop them.

Best possible result

Geelong will most likely make the grand final and give their veterans one last hurrah, with an epic last-minute come from behind win over Hawthorn, finally putting the ghosts of 2008 to rest once and for all.

Tom Midwood is a first-year student in the Bachelor of Sports Journalism at La Trobe University.  Follow him on Twitter:@tom_midwood