So, it seems as though we’ve reached that point in the season, huh?

The good teams are now going to stand up, stake their claims and march onto the finals, and those who were brave, those who were plucky, and those who were simply playing above their station for a while will capitulate.

In a 24 hour span we saw the Hawks mutilate the Giants in the snow, the Lions castrate the Suns at the Gabba, the Dogs spiflicate the Bombers at Marvel, and down at Kardinia Park, we saw Geelong beat the Kangaroos into submission in a display that sent North Melbourne crashing to their lowest ever total score.

Remember the talk about the Cats being gone? It was only a couple of days ago. Remember the talk about them falling back to the pack and not being ready for finals? I reckon there was some of that as late as this afternoon. And remember when North were going to head down the highway and give the Cats an almighty scare?

That’s how the story went today… right up until the game started.

Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly. North fans, be warned – this is not going to be pretty. There is no sugar-coating the way your team performed.

THE GOOD

THE PRESSURE

Right from the outset, the Roos didn’t stand a chance.

Let me put this in perspective – North Melbourne are a brutal team. When players like Cunnington, Ziebell and Zurhaar hit you, you stay hit. When they tackle you to the ground, you feel it for days. They test you, mentally and physically, and they bring the pressure.

When you play them, you have a choice – you either stand up, or you stand down.

Today Geelong stood up.

The Cats brought some brutality of their own. Yes, North Melbourne finished with one more tackle overall on the night, but there is tackling, and then there is tackling that dispossesses and takes an opponent to the ground. There is tackling that pins a guy in a stoppage when he’s going nowhere anyway, and there is tackling that stops a potential forward surge dead in its tracks.

The tackle count may have been close, but the Cats made the tackles that actually mattered.

Gary Ablett led the game in tackles, with ten. When was the last time we could say something like that? Tim Kelly had a rather sedate offensive game, but his defensive intensity was up, finishing with seven tackles. Tom Atkins was amongst it, as was Duncan, Guthrie and Blicavs.

The Cats didn’t just lay tackles – their bodywork and commitment to the contest spoke volumes. When Joel Selwood had to go against the young bull, Cam Zurhaar on the wing, he didn’t hesitate. Their bodies crashed together in the contest with neither giving an inch. For North, Zurhaar was one of the few willing to put his body on the line. The Cats challenged North to take their own pressure to another level.

It was a level the Kangaroos simply didn’t have.

Geelong answered a lot of questions about their pressure and intent tonight. There will be fewer questions asked given the answers they provided against North. The looked North Melbourne in the eye, took their best and gave it right back.

Is it any wonder they’d like a home final at Kardinia Park? Hell, if I were Chris Scott, I’d be plotting some way to damage the MCG so the Grand Final could be played in Sleep Hollow.

Don’t go getting any ideas, Cats fans.

DANGER ZONE

Well, we had the standard heart-in-mouth moment when Dangerfield limped off the ground toward the end of the second quarter. Was it part of the ‘Danger Show’ this time? I don’t think anyone’ll be mentioning it at Kardinia Park.

At that stage of the game, Danger had collected the lazy 22 first half touches to establish himself as the most dominant player on the park, and when he returned after half time, he split his time between the middle and the forward line.

His 33 touches at 76% efficiency was a marked jump from his recent games, where his disposal has probably prevented him from having a significant impact. He had seven clearances, and sent the Cats inside 50 four times, but I was most impressed with his willingness to once again put himself in harm’s way to take intercept marks as the Kangaroos engaged in the exercise in futility that was their strategy around exiting their defensive half.

After being named All-Australian vice-captain last season, am I the only one thinking Danger’s place in this year’s team wasn’t really that certain? Maybe I mark him harshly, but I haven’t been as impressed with him this year as previous seasons. However, tonight’s effort probably puts his name back into the conversation, if it had been removed at any stage.

Geelong fans – I know you’re biased. We all are, but do you have Danger in the best team of the season this year? And if you have to choose between him and Tim Kelly to go in, who do you choose?

FLYIN’ GRYAN

Yeah, so he didn’t fly much, but he did give the Cats a kick in the backside to get them going, firstly with a nice goal from the boundary, and then with 17 touches, seven score involvements and a couple more goals of his own.

Miers (who spells his surname incorrectly and needs to address this) is one of the good news stories of the season. A local product, his ascension to reliable small forward in what should be a deep finals team has added something to this team they were missing last season.

You look at the Cats’ forward half now compared to 12 months ago. It is completely overhauled, which is quite amazing that they’ve been able to gel so well, so quickly. Miers is a huge part of the 2019 Geelong revival, and the sort of player that can bob up in a final and make a huge difference.

That kicking style of hanging the ball right out to the side worked for him tonight, but you can just hear the wolves at the door if he has an off-kicking night down the track, can’t you?

ONE SOLDIER DOWN, ANOTHER STEPS IN

During the week we all saw footage of Jordan Clark going down, holding his elbow. He was out tonight, and this, according to some in the media, was going to destabilise the back six of the Cats.

Yep, the injury to a kid in his first season was going to be the reason the defence couldn’t function. You know… the defence that just held North to their lowest score ever.

It is testament to that Geelong Footy Club that they have built a culture that can see them rotate different players through a system to the point their defence operates so seamlessly irrespective of whether Clark sits out, or Blicavs moves into the ruck.

Underpinned by Harry Taylor, who simply moved over the Ben Brown and tag teamed with Lachie Henderson to restrict Brown to just five touches, the Cats’ defence was watertight.

Players like Jack Henry, Jed Bews, Zach Tuohy, Jake Kolodj… something, and particularly Tom Stewart were able to work so cohesively that the Kangaroos not only failed to kick a goal in the second half (after just one in the first half), but they failed to look even remotely threatening.

It was fitting that it was Mason Wood with the ball in hand attempting to avoid North’s lowest score in history. If I were a betting man (I’m not, obviously – The Mongrel Punt is betting advertising revenue free in case you didn’t know) I would’ve put the house on Wood missing. It’s just not who he is to step up and make big plays, even when the game is well and truly over.

Stewart had ten intercept possessions, as did Tuohy, whilst Henry bobbed up with 11. It was a comprehensive destruction of the Kangaroos, and it started with the powerful Geelong defence flexing their considerable muscle…

… even if they had to do it without Clark and Blicavs.

THE NARKLE DEBACLE

Fuck it…. I didn’t want to use the ‘Narkle Sparkle’ thing I’ve already read everywhere else, so I found another word that rhymes with his surname, and though Quinton was nowhere near a debacle, he added to the debacle that was North Melbourne at Kardinia Park. There… that unnecessary explanation made it all worthwhile, right

I’ll defer to my Geelong Mongrels on this one, but if the Cats have every player on the list fit and firing, is Narkle a best 22 player? Because he looked like one tonight.

He was clean with the footy, made good decisions, didn’t panic when he found himself under the pump, and worked hard all over the ground to collect the footy. I think a trap of being a young forward can be that you start to find yourself anchored to the forward 50. You start thinking that unless you’re hitting the scoreboard, you’re not doing your job effectively.

Well, Narkle got most of his touches around the centre and half back as he took his turn on the ball, working up the ground and then working back toward goal – it just makes you so hard to stop if you’re willing to do the work up the ground. He finished with 21 disposals, and eight score involvements, including two goals of his own. When you throw in the six clearances and four tackles, it was a very solid night at the office for him in his first game since this time last season.

What a way to return.

SCOTT THOMPSON

So one of the very few bright spots for the Kangaroos was the fact that Scott Thompson was having a beauty playing at full back.

His contested marking and ability to read the ball in flight made life really difficult for the key Geelong forwards.

Of course, in line with North’s night as a whole, he got a couple of head knocks and, after seeming to convulse on the ground for a few seconds, was assessed for concussion and was prevented from continuing in the game. A ruptured testicle couldn’t stop him, but a couple of bumps to the head…

If you’re basing North’s defence on what we saw tonight, they will be losing half of their most reliable defensive duo down back for next year. Thompson has been a warrior for them, and his retirement leaves a huge hole next to Robbie Tarrant.

Who do North fill that hole with? Majak Daw is the obvious choice, but there will be a bit of a question as to how good he can be, coming from so far back to get his body right again. Could Mason Wood transition to become a good defender? How about if he takes the second best forward and leaves the best to Tarrant? It’s not as though Wood is THE long-term answer up forward anyway – that’s Larkey. Could Ed Vickers-Willis fill the role once he rehabs his knee?

Looking from the outside-in, North look really shaky down back without Thompson. They are an injury to Tarrant away from disaster next season. if I were them, I would be looking to see just how much Alex Keath wants out of Adelaide, and just what the Crows want for him. It’d solve a few problems.

THE BAD

THE QUICK SIGNING

Now this isn’t meant to stir things up, or kick a side when they’re down – I am more just wondering if a result like this had occurred whilst Rhyce Shaw was the interim coach of North Melbourne, would they have been as quick to sign him?

These are the same players, and he is the same coach that were there four weeks ago when North were doing some pretty impressive stuff. Imagine if North had trotted out a 14-point performance two weeks into Shaw’s run as caretaker coach? I honestly don’t think there is any way in hell that they could appoint him based on being part of the lowest offensive output in the history of the club.

Rhyce Shaw should think himself very lucky to have put pen to paper a couple of weeks back. If North had been a little more ‘exhaustive’ in their search, and had it dragged on until about now, I don’t think Shaw gets the job, such is the fickle nature of AFL coaching.

THE GIFTS

I don’t think many North supporters will be reading this – maybe just the masochists, but that free kick not paid to Jack Ziebell in the marking contest in the second quarter was an absolute howler from Ray Chamberlain.

It is probably the most blatant case of blocking we’ve had this season. Tuohy’s eyes were off the ball, he slammed straight into the North captain, preventing him from contesting at all, and Razor ray swallowed his whistle.

Of course, it will somehow be “technically” correct, right?

To make matters worse, from that decision, the Cats went straight down the other end and kicked a goal as Gryan Miers received from Kelly.

Moments later, another gift came the Cats’ way when Tom Hawkins was awarded a mark he clearly dropped because the umpire guessed.

Look, Geelong were far and away the better side. North were putrid, but there was only one thing worse than the standard of footy played by the Kangaroos tonight, and that was those two dreadful umpiring decisions in the second quarter that aided Geelong in setting up a match-winning lead.

THE UGLY

THE WORST EVER

How would you like to have that score line hanging over your head? You’re a trivia question. You’re a part of the worst day of a club that was given beltings year after year upon joining the VFL, and now, as part of a professional footy club, you wander 45 minutes down the road and trot out a performance that sees you manage just one goal in four quarters of what could loosely be termed football.

Shall we name names? Yes… let’s.

Ben Brown – Goalless and handled way too easily in the contest.

Mason Wood – Played like people expected him to play before the start of the year.

Jasper Pittard – Took three marks. Dropped seven marks. Seriously, got his hands to maybe ten grabs and just couldn’t glove them. Not saying they were easy, but this was an ‘almost’ game from him.

Jed Anderson – Couldn’t buy a touch early on.

Shaun Atley – So sick of this guy’s half-arsed efforts and hack kicks outside 50. 80% disposal efficiency indicates my feeling that Champion Data reward poor kicks just because they’re long kicks is spot on.

Jared Polec – Never met an uncontested touch he didn’t like. Not too fond of the contested ones. Too easily beaten and hacked the ball way too often for a player with his skill.

Shaun Higgins – He was cheap in this game.

Trent Dumont – This is the guy who was going to make the big jump this season according to many North fans. I think he has made the jump… straight off a cliff.

Jy Simpkin – Over 50 games now. 12 touches at 33%. Ugh

I give Tarryn Thomas a pass because he’s a first year player, and Nick Larkey as well because young big men take time, but the rest listed here – they phoned it in today, and if there are fingers to be pointed at Arden Street tomorrow morning, I reckon those players will be looking for somewhere to hide.

QUICK BITS

The dangerous tackle on Dangerfield… come on Danger, you put a little bit of mustard on that one. Looked like you’d been shot.

Do you know that prior to tonight it has been six games since Ben Cunnington had 30 touches? How about that it’s currently been eight games since he had 20 contested touches? Cunnington made his name this season with big numbers in those categories, but he has dropped off significantly in the second half of the year. North fans won’t want to hear  it, but I reckon it could cost him a spot in the AA team.

Interesting to see Ablett spending some time in the guts in the second half. He was being worn like a glove by Jamie Macmillan, and was soundly beaten when up forward. The move into the middle really worked him free of the attention and allowed Gaz to work into the game well.

Is it me, or does he look a little heavier at the moment? I wonder whether Ablett is doing all the training sessions currently, or whether they are nursing him through to September? The ten tackles says that he’s still working hard on the field, but I wonder how his recovery is going? Maybe it was the retro jumper?

Can’t  wait for AFLW to start again, so we can have all these blokes talking about the low scoring and the inability of the women to hit the scoreboard… and I am sure many will be pointing those people to this game, where the half time score line was 27 to 11.

It’s not often you see Ben Cunnington beaten in the air by another mid, but Sam (whose name is definitely not Todd) Menegola did it tonight. It was enough to make me sit up and take notice (I like to slouch).

Really nice moments for Gryan Miers in this game. He has been such a great developmental pick up for the Cats. His pressure and goal sense adds a fair bit to their front half.

Really quiet game from Joel Selwood, which I was a bit annoyed at. If you’ve read these columns before, you would know of my admiration for Selwood, so when I get to see the Cats play, I like to see Joel strut his stuff. He seemed in a real rush every time he got the ball tonight – always had someone bearing down on him.

Really thought Todd Goldstein should’ve done a little better against Mark Blicavs. Maybe it was the mids’ fault, but Goldstein won 42 hit outs, yet Geelong won the clearances 47-26. That is an annihilation. So, was it poor ruckwork by Goldy, or poor roving by the mids?

Or was it just great clearance work by the Cats?

I think I am about done. It was a nice percentage booster for the Cats, but I reckon it should be pointed out that the first half of this game was absolutely horrible to watch – if I wasn’t scheduled to cover it, I would have turned it off. Poor skills, poor delivery, poor game overall at that point, and it only got marginally better.

North get to lick their wounds and host the Power next week. Port will be desperate to win… which they always are, but they do screw up quite a bit. North will have a point to prove, I suppose; and that point is that they’re really not as shit as they demonstrated today.

The Cats get a possible top of the table clash against the Lions at the Gabba. I’m looking forward to it already – great test for both teams, and with Richmond taking on the Eagles next week as well, we are more than a little spoilt.