A QUICK GLANCE AT 2010:
The Cats’ season started well with wins over Essendon and Hawthorn. But disappointing losses to Fremantle and Carlton gave a slight air of vulnerability to the rest of the field, indicating that they may not be the force they once were. An emphatic run of seven straight wins pushed them back to the top of the table, but doubts crept back in as fellow premiership favourite St Kilda brushed the Cats aside at the MCG, winning by 24 points.
A low point of the season followed two rounds later, as struggling Adelaide came from behind to win by 11 points. Many of the Cats’ senior players called for the team to lift their game, and the team’s form picked up again with five wins from their next six games. The only blip – a hard fought contest with Collingwood, which they ended up losing by 22 points.
The finals started with a pulsating game against St Kilda at the MCG. Skipper Cameron Ling believed he had kicked the winning goal in the last minute, only for the umpire to call him back for an off-the-ball free kick. The decision proved costly as the final result stood at 83-79 in favour of the Saints.
Business was resumed a week later though, comfortably thumping Fremantle by 69 points setting up what was billed as the match of the season against Collingwood. Unfortunately it didn’t go to script, with the Magpies demolishing the once revered midfield with intense tackling and pressure that made a lot of Geelong’s veterans look very slow indeed, particularly in the forward line where the Magpies defence seemed impenetrable.
To make matters worse, a few weeks later star midfielder Gary Ablett Junior signed with Gold Coast. Then senior coach Mark Thompson quit to go and work alongside James Hird at his beloved Essendon.
Jimmy Bartel was below par last year after suffering a fairly severe elbow injury. Thompson noticed Bartel’s curbed output and played him more in the forward line to avoid further damage. As a result his numbers, whilst still impressive, were not quite up to the standard the former Brownlow medallist had set in the past. Bartel’s ball winning skills will be even more crucial this year with Ablett departing to Gold Coast. He should also benefit from new coach Chris Scott’s more defensive game plan. Expect him to have a big year.
THREE MOST IMPORTANT GAMES IN 2011:
Round 1 – vs St Kilda, Friday 25 March at MCG
These two teams will be right up there again this year and this game will give an indication of what impact the arrival of Scott has had on the team.
Round 5 – vs Hawthorn, Tuesday 26 April at MCG
Ever since the 2008 grand final, the Hawks and the Cats have formed a fierce rivalry. If the last two years are anything to go by, expect another epic battle.
Round 10 – vs Gold Coast, Saturday 28 May at Mertricon Stadium
This will be the first time former golden boy Ablett will takes on his former side and it will be very interesting to see how the Geelong players and fans handle the occasion.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2011:
The loss of Ablett and Thompson are obviously huge losses for Geelong, but there is a definite air of optimism surrounding the ‘new era’ under coach Chris Scott. Whilst some of their older stars may be on the road to retirement, the team structure is not that different from previous years. There are stars all over the ground, and plenty of promising up-and-comers such as Tom Gillies, Daniel Menzel and Mitch Duncan who will all be knocking on the selection door.
Scott says Geelong will play in a more defensive style this season – a style which seems almost specifically built on beating the likes of St Kilda and Collingwood. The switch in tactics could also suit quite a few of their own top players such as Corey Enright, Joel Selwood and Bartel.
So whilst the majority of media attention has been placed on other teams, expect the new look Cats to be up to their old tricks. They are definite premiership contenders again and will be looking to prove plenty of doubters wrong.
FINAL LADDER POSITIONING:
1st – 4th