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Geelong Cats: the slide begins now

Will it be back-to-back premierships for the Geelong Cats? Ben Waterworth assesses the reigning premiers in part seven of his 2010 AFL season preview.

‘We are Geelong, the greatest team of all’. That’s how the Cats’ theme song begins and over the last three years, Geelong has lived up to those lyrics.

Geelong was a total mess at the end of the 2006 season. The club’s board was so frustrated with the team’s output on the field that they conducted a thorough review of the entire football department. By the end of the review, the board came to the conclusion that significant change was needed.

And that’s what happened. New fitness staff were hired, the well-respected Neil Balme was appointed general manager of football operations and Tom Harley was named as the next captain of the club.

How quickly things turned around.

Between 2007 and 2009, Harley led a team that was close to invincible. Like the Brisbane Lions three years before them, they intimidated opposition teams with pure skill. Everything that a player did on and off the field was for the team’s benefit.

Going into the 2010 season, the Geelong Football Club is widely regarded as one of the most professional sporting organisations in the country. They’ll be looking to build on that reputation this season as they aim for their third flag in four years.

2008/2009 review: It was clear very early on last year that every Geelong player was still hurting from the 2008 grand final loss to Hawthorn.

Hawthorn was by far the better team during the 2008 finals series and they proved that no matter how well you perform throughout the home-and-away season, you need to perform when September rolls around.

After only one loss for the entire home-and-away season, Geelong choked in the grand final against the Hawks. It was later revealed that many of the Cats’ players carried injuries through September because they were not rested during the regular season when they should’ve been. So after the Cats failed to capitalise on their opportunities during the second quarter, it was evident that, due to a lack of fitness, certain players couldn’t run out the game. The Hawks just blew them away.

But here’s the difference between 2008 and 2009. After learning from their mistakes, The Geelong coaches and fitness staff went into 2009 with a different plan from a fitness perspective. Midway through last season, the club chose to rest certain players who were under slight injury clouds rather than playing them. While it cost the team a few losses, the strategy paid dividends on grand final day against St.Kilda. Going into the game they had all of their best players available to choose from and when the pressure was on during the last quarter, those players were able to run out the game.

The Cats’ second premiership in three years confirmed their status as one of the most dominant sides in the history of the game. Their grit and determination, not only in the grand final but throughout the entire season, was stirring as they held off all who tried to slay them. It was a magnificent team orientated effort from a champion team.

But there was one player who won just about every individual award possible last season – Gary Ablett. As well as playing in his second premiership, he won his third consecutive AFL MVP award, gained All-Australian selection for the third time, won his club’s best and fairest and finally won the Brownlow medal that had been eluding him for the past three years.

His outstanding season further established him as the best player in the game at the moment. He averaged a whopping 34 possessions a game and booted 27 handy goals for the year. At 25, Ablett still has plenty to offer and as scary as it may sound, he still has room for improvement.

Player to watch in 2010: At just 21 years of age, Joel Selwood is already a superstar of the competition. He has achieved so much in his three years at AFL level that it’s almost worth him retiring right now.

During Selwood’s short career, he’s been part of two premiership victories, won the 2007 NAB AFL Rising Star Award and was selected as an All-Australian. No wonder the new Gold Coast side are keen on signing him as the club’s high-profile recruit. 

But Selwood’s inclusion into the leadership group further proves that Geelong hold him in such high regard. At half time during last year’s grand final, Channel 10 showed footage of Selwood addressing the playing group in an attempt to rev up his teammates for the second half. For a man of his age to take on a responsibility like that is phenomenal. He is a natural born leader and there is no doubt that he will one day captain an AFL side.

In three years, Selwood has already polled 37 Brownlow votes, which is why I am picking him to win this year’s medal. Umpires notice him because his natural game is to put his head over the ball and win contested possession at the stoppages. Selwood will naturally receive votes if his possession tally is high and if he plays a full season, he has the potential to take enough votes off Ablett.

The word coming out of Geelong during the pre-season is that he has bulked up significantly. So, with a stronger body and even more experience, expect Selwood to improve again this season.

What to expect in season 2010: As much as I have talked up the Cats so far, I have this hunch that this is the year that the Cats’ gradual fall from grace begins.

There is no doubting that their squad is as strong as ever. It’s possible that Ablett, Joel Corey, Paul Chapman, Steve Johnson and Jimmy Bartel haven’t reached their full potential yet. Tom Hawkins’ continual development is exciting for Cats fans and he is bursting at the seams to make a serious impact in 2010. Harry Taylor continues to grow as a key defender. There are still plenty of positives.

However, they’ve had their time. Teams such as the Western Bulldogs and St.Kilda are ready to hop into the right-hand lane and overtake the Cats.

They’ve lost Harley through retirement and key players such as Matthew Scarlett, Brad Ottens, Darren Milburn and Cameron Mooney are all over 30 now. They have promising young players on the horizon but they will take time to develop because they haven’t been able to break into the senior side just yet.

For Geelong to improve they must keep looking long-term. They’ve recruited well in the last two years with the inclusions of Steven Motlop, Mitch Duncan and James Podsiadly proving that they are looking to the future.

They’ll finish top four, but I just can’t visualise them up atop the podium in the last week of September.

Final ladder position: 3rd

Ben Waterworth is in his second year of a Bachelor of Journalism. This article is the seventh in a series previewing the 2010 AFL season. You can read more of Ben’s work at A short sport thought, or watch him on the podium during the final session on 8 April in the Sport Journalism Symposium being held at La Trobe University. He’s also part of the team of upstart’s new audio companion program, upcast.

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