So, what we need to establish here is whether Geelong are this good, or Melbourne are this bad? It may not be as easy as we think, but given the Cats just gave the Dees an 80 point hiding, there’s something strange going on.
Melbourne were supposed to be the team on the rise, remember? The Cats were supposed to fall over and spend a bit of time in the bottom half of the ladder, remember? It looks as though someone forgot to tell either of them.
Geelong were brutally efficient, playing to the strengths, and also to the conditions. Melbourne floundered in the wet, like an African swimmer at the Olympics – they were trying… most of them, anyway – but they weren’t really getting anywhere.
Let’s check out what went right, and what went wrong in the good, bad and ugly.
PLAYING THE CONDITIONS
One team out there tonight played intelligent, wet-weather football. The other team was Melbourne.
In the wet, the team that goes hardest for longest usually comes out on top. The Cats were uncompromising at the contest, applying two, three and four consecutive tackles to earn possession of the ball. You know the funny thing is – Melbourne actually had more tackles on the night.
But whilst the Cats had less tackles, less inside 50s (73-48), less clearances and less hit outs, when they got the ball they bloody well did something with it.
While the Demons faffed about with handballs sideways, backwards, and sideways again, Geelong grabbed the ball, looked forward and gained not only distance, but placed enormous strain on the shaky Melbourne defence.
Geelong played with a substance. Melbourne tried to play with style.
One has to look no further than the stars of the Geelong team to see how they wanted to play. Dangerfield was going long, Selwood was going long, and Stewart was going long whenever they could. Distance was their ally, and they used it well.
When attacking the ball, the Cats did it full-bodied, and they reaped the benefit. It was the perfect wet weather brand of footy – uncompromising and honest. When they asked the questions of Melbourne in the first half as to whether they’d match them, no answers were forthcoming. The game was all but over then and there.
There are a few players in the league who you know will play well in the wet. Going into this game and looking at the forecast, I thought “this is right up Dangerfield’s alley”. He throws himself into contests like a madman in the wet, and I reckon he has a grip like a vice. The way he tore the ball away from James Harmes at one stage, when a stoppage seemed inevitable, was incredibly impressive.
Harmes is no slouch, but Danger just reached in and wrenched the ball away from him. He took off and cleared the area with a long ball, and that started the Cats rolling. Not only was he doing hard work down low… how good were his hands above his head!
Whilst others were dropping chest marks and fumbling the slippery ball, Danger took three overhead marks at full stretch. I don’t think I saw another player on the ground do that tonight, even those who would tick off marking as their best attribute.
He finished with a huge stat line of 37 disposals, 24 contested touches, six tackles, two goals and ten score involvements. He may be playing with the ‘Little Master’, but Danger was the master of Kardinia Park this evening.
Not to be outdone Clayton Oliver seemed to have the ball on a string at times. He was the other player I thought would have an absolute ball in the conditions today.
It’s amazing how you just know, when the wet weather comes, there are some players whose skills do not desert them. Oliver’s ability to one grab the ball irrespective of where it is, and release it in one motion is the best in the game at the moment. I watched a few of his takes and releases on replay, convinced that he was throwing it.
He wasn’t – his hands are just that good. It’s a shame he doesn’t have a little more faith in his kicking, especially in the wet, because as you’ll read below, his ability to handle the wet ball with such ease isn’t an attribute shared by all his teammates, and in these conditions, it can make those slick handballs difficult to glove.
But no negatives here, for Oliver. That goofy-looking bugger was excellent in notching 44 disposals with 25 contested touches amongst them. He had an incredible 15 clearances for the game, and was one of the few Demons to run the game out until the end. When you listen to people speak about the best young mids in the game, if they don’t mention Oliver, I believe that gives you the right to give them a smack upside the head. I’m not completely sure, but I think it does.
A TALE OF TWO FORWARD LINES
So, many will write off the performances of Tom McDonald and Sam Weideman due to the weather, but looking at the game of Tom Hawkins, there are other ways to get involved.
Hawkins crashed several packs today, opening the door for running forwards to create goal opportunities. It must be noted that Hawkins benefitted greatly from the well-orchestrated open Geelong forward line, and when the opportunity arose to throw his weight around, he did so expertly.
I loved his forward 50 ruck work, winning a very important clearance against Gawn at one stage, before handing off to Menegola, who handed to Kelly for a goal.
Hawkins had three direct goal assist amongst his 11 score involvements, and finished with two goals of his own. His unselfishness was on full display in the last quarter when he stopped on the goal line and handballed to the rookie, Jordan Clark for the kid’s first goal in fo
oty. That was classy.
At the other end we had Tom McDonald, who many have tipped to win the Coleman this season. Though he had 17 touches, his influence on the game was minimal, having to work right up the ground to get his touches, and spending a little time as back up to Gawn in the ruck.
He finished with three marks, no goals and five score involvements on a day where only Jake Melksham looked as though he could threaten in front of goal (he didn’t, however, missing most of his chances).
Weideman had 12 disposals and a goal, but was also mostly innocuous. He had four score involvements, but was hardly sighted in comparison to Hawkins.
Two games in, and Stewart is showing that his 2018 All-Australian selection was no fluke. With 27 disposals off half back and 13 rebound 50 possessions, Stewart attacked every contest with ferocity.
He gained a mammoth 762 metres to lead all players, and took the game on whenever the opportunity presented. With the Cats running in numbers, he had no shortage of support, which aided his disposal efficiency (78%).
When Stewart is able to get a run at the ball, you may as well start setting up to cut off the counter attack. His ability to win one-on-ones and make things happen for his teammates has been the biggest positive to come out of the Geelong backline in the last couple of years. But there’s more to come, with Jack Henry and Jordan Clark both showing enormous potential, the future of the Geelong defence is in safe hands.
So while Oliver is the coal, providing the fire, Brayshaw is the diamond he helps produce. I loved Brayshaw’s first half in particular today. I’m not sure how many times Max Gawn put the ball right down his throat but he definitely seems to be Gawn’s favourite clearance target, and Brayshaw’s clean hands make the taps look great.
He had seven clearances for the game, and sent the Dees inside 50 on eight occasions. His courage – never questioned – was on display again as he and Gary Rohan had a big collision, and he put himself in harm’s way on multiple occasions to with the ball for his team.
Brayshaw ran at only 58% efficiency today, but the conditions had a fair bit to do with that for a lot of players – he was definitely not on an island in that case.
He had 17 contested possessions himself, and looking from the outside in, I’d like to see Brayshaw get to the outside a little more, as he has the skills to work both as an inside mid, and an outside runner, delivering the ball. With Viney and Oliver at the coal face, Brayshaw could be deadly delivering inside 50 as the last link in the chain, but he needs more outside ball to do it, and he is often drawn to the contest.
ATKINS AND DAHLHAUS INSIDE FORWARD 50
The Cats lacked a bit of forward pressure last season… let’s face it, they had Dan Menzel in there with his tackling allergy. Well, they’ve taken their anti-histamines and got rid of the problem, and now they’ve replaced him with tackling machines in Luke Dahlhaus and Tom Atkins who look as though they absolutely love wrapping someone up in a nice aggressive cuddle.
Wouldn’t they make good partners to snuggle up with on the couch, ladies?
Neither of these players shirk the issue (you’re not allowed to shirk anything at Geelong when your captain has never done it in his life!) and their tenacity when attempting the keep the ball inside 50 is wonderful.
They combined for 19 tackles between them as they harassed, chased and scragged the Melbourne defenders all game long.
He just keeps going from strength to strength.
Just the lazy ten clearances for Tim Kelly again this week after nine last week. Shall we pencil him in for 11 next week? Great start to the season by Kelly. That price might start moving on up for 2020.
He had James Harmes to contend with for the first half, but Kelly’s ability to collect at ground level and dish off before the pressure arrived held him in good stead. He now leads the competition in clearances, which is amazing given he was initially viewed as an outside player, and will be vital in not only providing offensive punch for the Cats, but also in terms of what he means for teammates.
Kelly being tagged by Harmes and the like means that Dangerfield and Selwood are able to ply their trade unimpeded. If they start to get hold of the ball, the opposition is forced to make a difficult decision in picking their poison. Kelly’s ascension into the elite midfield ranks has been a joy to watch, an his retention becomes more vital week by week.
I kind of covered this in the “playing the conditions” section above, but so many times, particularly in the first half, the Melbourne midfield would go one, two or three handballs too many in a sequence that was bound to be brought undone by a fumble.
I love watching how quick Clayton Oliver is with his hands, but at times he really needed to get the ball on his boot today. I know he’s the creator… the architect of the Melbourne midfield, and his game was incredible in a side that was belted, but on three or four occasions with the wet ball, his handballs were too slick, too good, and too difficult to handle in the conditions.
But this isn’t just a criticism of him – when you get the ball 44 times, you’re more likely to stand out when things go awry. The Dees as a whole played a bit of dry weather footy in wet conditions in the first quarter and a half. Sadly for them, it was long enough for the Cats to gain the ascendancy, and they weren’t going to give it up like they did against Sydney last year.
Melbourne were caught with the ball multiple times after trying to control handballs that slipped through their hands, or they double-grabbed at. For mine, in these conditions, you have a handball to get you into space, and you get it on your boot. Melbourne were lining up four or five sideways and backwards handballs at a time, which is great when the end product is players in space, running and bouncing forward, but in the wet, it just ramps up the pressure with every situation where they can’t grab it cleanly.
I know it sounds fundamental, but the Dees fell into the trap over over-possessing the ball early in the game, and it put them in a position that made it incredibly difficult to come back from.
So, here we are. Melbourne – a team oozing with talent, just got belted by 80 points in the wet. On a night when scoring should have been difficult, only one team struggled, with the Dees giving up 20 goals the other way.
This is a huge concern.
Remember, this is the team people think is going to win the flag this year. They’re not supposed to be getting hammered like this. They’re not supposed to start the season 0-2 and be heading into a do-or-die game against Essendon next week.
Last season, Melbourne had trouble beating their peers. Until they knocked over West Coast in Perth, they had dropped every game against teams who finished in the top eight. They had a decent September, but were crushed by the West Coast Eagles in the Preliminary Final, ending their dream.
Now they’re in a bit of a nightmare scenario. They’ve just re-signed Simon Goodwin, expectations are high, their supporters are excited… it’s all going their way!
Except they’re losing. And they’re losing badly.
Port Adelaide gave them a bit of a wakeup call, with a win at the MCG, and now the Cats totally obliterated them at Kardinia Park. We’ve heard the reasons/excuses of players going in for surgery and having delayed starts to the season – it’s a new thing for the Dees after not playing finals for so long. Welcome to the world of successful teams.
Good teams navigate through this – it’s how they win multiple flags. At the first hurdle of adversity, the Demons are stumbling. They need to find their feet, settle and compose themselves. All the finalists had players in for operations. All finalists had players requiring recovery. All finalists had a delayed start to pre-season – it’s what happens when you play finals.
That excuse doesn’t fly.
Melbourne needs a statement game desperately. It has to happen next week, and in the process they can all but shatter Bomber dreams of finals… all this in just Round Three.
So how did the ruck contest look? The conditions didn’t exactly allow for a dominant performance around the ground from either Gawn or Stanley, but the clearance numbers clearly favoured the Dees. Gawn put a large number of his 53 hit outs to advantage, and took care of seven clearances himself. Stanley had five clearances of his own.
The athleticism of Esava Ratugolea could provide a nice boost for the Cats in the ruck once he works out how to actually use it to make contact with his opposite number when he jumps. When a bloke leaps like that, you know opposition rucks are just going to step aside some of the time and take clean possession. Ratugolea has to be wise to that move.
Tim Kelly had James Harmes for company early, before Harmes was asked to do the impossible and stop Danger in the wet. Kelly and Danger had 15 clearances and 67 touches between them, so I would say James has a bit of work to do on his nullifying this season.
I thought Gary Ablett had an ‘almost’ kind of game. Had it 25 times but wasn’t too damaging. If you went to Simon Goodwin before the game and said you can take Ablett getting 25 touches at 48% and no goals, I reckon he’d take it.
Solid little outing for Gryan Miers, who had 10 score involvements and two direct goal assists to add to his own goal. His win in a 1-2 on the wing paved the way for Brandan Parfitt to hand to Ratugolea for a goal. I hope they got around Miers for that one.
So that was Charlie Constable’s second game at this level, huh? Do you think he might be thinking he belongs? 31 touches and seven clearances is not a bad day’s work, but consider this – he spent 40 minutes on the bench. Had he played a bit more, was 40 touches out of the equation? The Cats might have something special here… again.
The kicking of Bayley Fritsch was a real concern early on. A couple of his teammates really worked hard to make his kicks look better than they were in the first half.
Mark O’Connor looked like a genuine defender out there tonight. Damn you Geelong… always finding these players.
Only 18 touches for Joel Selwood tonight, but damn he puts his body on the line every time he touches it, and is happy to accept the contact if it means something positive for his team. Still the best captain in the game, I reckon.
Such a mixed bag for Christian Petracca. He looks so dangerous, doesn’t he? He’s like the frilled neck lizard. He looks dangerous, but he really isn’t. He played up forward for 16 touches and three score involvements, but he had seven turnovers and pulled out a contest late in the game. I actually understand him not going hard at that last contest – as much as you want to see him commit, this game was over and the last thing you want is a heavy collision with a few minutes to go.
Unless he has a break out game in the first half of the year, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if his name starts coming up in trade talks as the season winds down.
Is the Gawn to Oliver combination the new Brendon Lade to Shaun Burgoyne combination. Or is Gawn to Brayshaw more like it because Brayshaw tends to run and kick, whereas Oliver will handball from the clearance? Regardless of which one you choose, it is beautiful to see when Gawn lays it right to either one in stride.
Maybe the first hip and shoulder I’ve seen Gary Ablett lay in years tonight. I think it was Oscar McDonald that he got. I was in a bit of shock, so I didn’t take close notice of who he crashed into. Protect that old body, Gaz!
The last quarter was glorified junk time. The Cats were in party mode and the Dees had their tails between their legs. It would’ve been a very quiet ride back up the Geelong highway tonight, and if Melbourne drops a game against Essendon next week, it might start looking like a long season.
The Cats… well, they know how to replenish a team down there. The stars were good, the kids were good and the style of play was excellent – a well-deserved win.
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