Thank you, Geelong. And to a lesser extent, thank you, Hawthorn.

After a game that resembled a rolling maul on Thursday night to usher in the resumption of the AFL season, the Cats and Hawks exploded out of the gates in the first quarter, restoring the faith of many AFL supporters in the process.

It was a great spectacle, with two teams ripping in, hitting targets and playing attacking footy.

And then the Cats stepped on the throat of the Hawks in the third quarter and Hawthorn did little to hamper them from that point on.

Here’s The Mongrel’s Good, Bad and Ugly of the Hawks and Cats’ latest installment.

 

THE GOOD

 

THE CAPTAIN DOES IT AGAIN

Righto… I’m a Hawthorn man, and I am completely and utterly torn. Tonight, I witnessed my team get flogged by a superior outfit that wanted it a little more than we did. No, scratch that. A LOT more than we did.

And once again, almost on cue, it was Joel Selwood leading the way.

I have lost count of the amount of times he has torn the heart out of the Hawthorn team, and it is via his efforts to drag his team over the line over a large number of years now, that I have become a huge Selwood fan.

It seems that when he plays the Hawks, he grows taller, stronger, faster and better. I don’t have many regrets in life, but I regret not getting in Hawthorn’s ear in around the time of the 2006 draft and just mentioning that this bloke might be a tad better at pick six than Mitch Thorp.

Yeah, just a bit…

I love watching Selwood play footy, and in the first quarter in particular, we got a real treat.

Matched up against Brownlow Medallist, Tom Mitchell, Selwood was the best player on the park. As Liam Shiels clamped down on Patrick Dangerfield, Selwood collected nine touches and four clearances for the quarter and was the impetus for the Cats to kick away in the early part of the game. In just about every body-to-body contest against Mitchell, Selwood hustled and bustled his way to a victory.

He then found himself matched up against reigning Hawthorn best and fairest, James Worpel. So he beat him too.

I could write all day about Selwood. He is the kind of captain I would follow into battle without hesitation. He leads by his actions, and despite copping a huge amount of garbage over the years for his ability to attract head-high tackles, he is one of the best hard ball winners in the game.

He finished this game with 28 touches, 17 contested disposals and eight clearances as he turned the clock back and produced a vintage Selwood performance.

On Brownlow night this season, if any other name is called for three votes in this game, it’ll be wrong.

Hats off to Joel Selwood – easily the best player on the ground against Hawthorn again… and it both delights and hurts me to write that.

 

THE PREMIERSHIP QUARTER

Several people had some high hopes for the Hawks this season. I thought they’d make the finals, and possibly make a little bit of noise without being a genuine contender. I may have to reassess things pretty soon because that third quarter, they were like witches hats as the Cats put on an absolute clinic.

Geelong grabbed the game by the throat in the third quarter and started to squeeze. The Hawks didn’t give a yelp as Dangerfield broke the Liam Shiels tag, Gryan Miers bobbed up for two goals, Sam Menegola started having an impact, and Mitch Duncan started getting the ball in open space and punishing Hawthorn.

It was a clinical performance, and one that should have opposition coaches sitting up and taking notice.

As the Hawks flounced around, the Cats started to look for the kill, and they repeatedly drove a stake into the hearts of Hawthorn supporters with a six goal to one quarter that effectively ended the game.

This is the Geelong that was so dominant in the early part of 2019, and whilst Hawthorn is not one of the best teams in the comp, they are quality unit. This win was a good one – a very good one.

There are a few who wrote the Cats off. They may have been very premature.

 

ON A WING AND A PRAYER

I’ve been a little harsh on Mitch Duncan over the years. I have always felt he was a bit of a third-string midfielder that had quality ahead of him, who made him look better.

I’m not a head-in-the-sand kind of person, and I am happy to have my mind changed, particularly when I am focusing quite a bit on a particular position.

This season, on the heels of the All-Australian selectors completely neglecting wingmen, I decided to develop a formula to assess them on a weekly basis. I’ll link it below.

MEMBERS – The 2020 Wingman Ratings Round One

After this performance, I have no doubt Duncan will be featuring heavily in the Round Two rankings.

He finished with 20 touches and ran at 80% efficiency on the night, running hard both ways to both aid his defenders, and provide a valuable forward option as well. He had two direct goal assists and kicked one, himself, and was integral in some passages of play that blew the Hawks out of the water.

So, it was one game, and I’ll be watching Duncan more closely as the season unfolds. However, from what I saw tonight, with such a small sample size, I am happy to put my hand up and admit I may have underrated him a little… and may have been a little ignorant as to the role he was playing.

Let’s revisit things in a few weeks.

 

CORNROWS PARFITT

Now here is an interesting case.

I expected Brandan Parfitt to have a breakout season last year, and he provided a fair bit of what we’d already seen to that point in 2019. I was a little disappointed, as he is a strong body and had the potential to be a powerful force coming out of the middle.

Maybe the time to deliver is now for him. I might have been 12 months early.

Parfitt was heavily involved in the middle in the first quarter, picking up four clearances to match the brilliant output of his captain as he ripped the Hawthorn midfield to shreds.

Strangely, he found himself on the wing at points, which seemed to take him out of the role he was so effective in. It will be interesting to see if Parfitt needs to be in the mix to be effective this season, or whether he can adapt and become the kind of player that can work both on the inside and outside this season.

He finished with eight clearances and a game-high ten tackles, which will no doubt please Chris Scott.

Maybe… maybe this is the year, and if it is, this is exactly the kind of organic improvement teams need to take their game to the next level.After playing in a prelim in 2019, I’m guessing I don’t have to spell out what the next level is for the Cats?

 

A BIT OF A RUCK LESSON

With Ben McEvoy toiling away in defence (I’ll get to this), the ruck duties for 90% of the game fell to Jonathon Ceglar.

And it fell to Rhys Stanley to give him a bit of a hiding.

Stanley was incredibly important early in the piece, using his athleticism to provide Geelong with first use of the footy. The Cats dominated clearances early in the game, allowing their mids clean passage out of the centre, and a pathway to goal that was just a little too easy.

Ceglar fought back well later in the quarter, but watching him in the ruck, it was obvious that Stanley’s style was really unsettling him. Ceglar took his eyes off the footy at just about every centre bounce. Don’t believe me? You have an IQ box – go back and have a look.

There will be those who look at the stats and allow them to guide their opinion of the ruck duel – please don’t do that. Ceglar had 30 hit outs and four clearances – a pretty decent statistical output, but he was soundly beaten by Stanley, who amassed 26 hit outs, but added two goals and six clearances of his own.

Stanley was integral in setting Geelong up, roving Ceglar’s ruck work on several occasions, and running a straight line up and down the ground to both create a forward option, and drift back to help across half-back.

It was hard to find a winner for the Hawks, and given Ceglar was one of their best at points and was still soundly beaten, it was no wonder the Cats were able to pull away.

I still can’t believe he didn’t play against Collingwood last season… too soon?

 

THE SLIGHTLY BIGGER MASTER

He’s still got it.

I am so glad we’re able to see Gary Ablett go around once more. It is an honour and a privilege to watch him play football. Whether he is roving the pack and snapping a goal, or running the boundary, looking inboard and hitting a target, there is simply no doubting that Gary Ablett is astonishingly good, even now at his advanced AFL age.

How do the Cats handle him this season?

A week off here or there? Keep him fresh for what will undoubtedly be a serious finals assault?

Gaz looked a little cooked at the end of 2019, and struggled against opponents he would have eaten alive five or six years ago. There is no way Brayden Maynard should have been able to curtail the brilliance of Ablett so easily. Not a fit Gary Ablett.

At 36 years old, it is amazing to think he could still prove to be the difference between a Preliminary Final loss and a Grand Final berth in 2020. Such is his brilliance.

My best on ground for this game is Joel Selwood, but Gaz was not far away either. 21 touches, playing predominately forward, to go with two goals and seven score involvements, Gary Ablett was the Little Master again this evening, and I am grateful to be able to watch him.

Even if it seems there is slightly more of him to watch at the moment.

 

BOUNCING BACK

I want to focus a little on a bloke here who could have dropped his head after a bit of a horror first quarter.

Tom Stewart is a star. The two-time All-Australian defender is one of the best rebounding backmen in the game, and is capable of controlling the tempo of the contest with his run and carry out of the back half.

But in the first quarter, he was put to the sword. Matched up on Shaun Burgoyne, Stewart gave him way too much leeway and the veteran was able to capitalise, sneaking goalward to boot a goal out of mid-air. Stewart was nowhere in sight as the ball sailed through.

Stewart then found himself with Jack Gunston to deal with, and the sharpshooter took him straight to the goal square. A few minutes later, and Stewart was in the awkward situation of having three goals kicked against him by his direct opponents in the quarter.

Have you ever been in that situation? There is two ways you can go here – either you knuckle down and are resolute, or you go into your shell and hide.

In the second quarter, Tom Stewart rose to the challenge.

In that quarter alone, Stewart gained 258 metres for the Cats, as he slotted into his usual role across half-back, completely undeterred by the events of the first quarter. Burgoyne drifted out of the play. Gunston was virtually unseen.

But Stewart was prominent. He had nine disposals, four intercepts and demonstrated that he is not the sort of player that will allow one bad quarter to dictate the course of the entire game for him. His response was what you would expect of a mature, settled and composed man, and that is exactly what Geelong needed him to be.

Well done to Chris Scott for backing him in, as well. You should never doubt players like Tom Stewart – they rarely give you a reason to.

 

THE BAD

 

THE SLING

I’m sorry to say, but Shaun Burgoyne will cop a week for the sling tackle that slammed Patrick Dangerfield.

I can see Burgoyne’s case – he couldn’t see that the ball had spilt out, and was completing a tackle – yes, a pretty hard tackle, but you know what… I like hard tackles. No, that is not a sexual comment.

I was pleased to see Danger get up and continue to play the game, but to argue Burger didn’t know what he was doing is a pretty weak defence. We’ve all laid a tackle, and if you have played footy at any point prior to 2000, you know when you’re tackling to hurt someone.

Burgoyne is a great player, but he was tackling to hurt, and as much as it pains me to see a player pinged for a “dangerous tackle”, I reckon he’ll get a week.

I suppose the only other defence is that Dangerfield clearly had an arm free, so I guess we’ll see what happens.

 

THE UGLY

 

THE CAPITULATION AND THE LACK OF WINNERS

When you see your side crash out of the game, the one thing that can give you a little hope is that they fight it out.

There was very little fight in Hawthorn this evening.

From Jonathon Patton and Oliver Hanrahan almost missing their foot with snap shots on goal, to Isaac Smith playing the wing role like a damn millionaire, it was difficult to find a winner for the Hawks.

James Frawley was okay, as was Sam Frost, and Chad Wingard looked to get into the right spots at times for little reward, but as a whole, they were a team beaten all over the park.

And it showed in their demeanour.

Long hack kicks inside 50, very few targets hit on the lead, and a defence that looked a little too tall for my liking made the Hawks look cumbersome.

The speedsters got nowhere near enough of the footy, and with Scully, Smith, Henderson and Worpel combining for just six combined disposals in the pivotal third quarter, you can see how the Cats were able to get on top and ram home their advantage like Joe Ganino on a third date.

Most concerning for me was the way James Worpel faded. The reigning best and fairest had just five touches in the second half as the Cats pulled away. Last season, he stood up at crucial moments. In this game, he stepped back, and allowed the game to play out rather than impacting it.

That might seem a little harsh on a bloke his age, but hey… not every bloke his age has a Peter Crimmins Medal.

With that award comes an expectation.

 

A FEW QUESTIONS

 

WHERE TO PLAY BEN MCEVOY?

This will be the lamentation of many Hawthorn fans today – why waste Big Boy McEvoy in defence when Ceglar is being beaten in the ruck?

There were a couple of occasions where McEvoy was exposed at ground level by Esava Ratugolea, who whilst younger, isn’t exactly going to win the Grand Final sprint any time soon. With McEvoy’s hands and ability to read the flight of the ball, I understand why he’s back there, and he was good when he got a run at it, but isn’t that why hawthorn has James Sicily, and why they recruited Sam Frost?

The defence is too big and the ruck is ineffective.

Part of me wonders whether Ceglar’s re-signing with the Hawks was on the proviso that he moves into the number one ruck role. Might be time to renegotiate.

 

WHAT WILL JACK STEVEN PROVIDE TO THIS GEELONG TEAM?

I’m actually not sure he can give them anything they didn’t already have this evening. Selwood and Parfitt did the heavy stuff, Danger worked through his tag, and the run from Duncan and Menegola was scintillating.

Where does Steven fit in?

Well, I suppose he would have been the one with the burst speed when Dangerfield was well held in the first half, so Danger forward (he should have kicked three) and Steven into the middle gives the Cats another option. I think we’ll see him next week.

 

WHERE WAS THE CLARKSON BRILLIANCE?

We hear it a bit, don’t we? We hear about the mad-scientist kind of brilliance of Alastair Clarkson and the way he can conjure miracles in a footy game. Well, the Hawks needed one tonight and there was no pulling rabbits out of the hat for him.

The Hawks scored just one goal, and had two scoring shots in the second half. It was meek, and the inability of the team to do anything of note may indicate that the Clarkson bag of tricks may not be as bottomless as people have led us to believe.

Not only were the Hawks outplayed, I reckon Clarko may have been outcoached.

 

CAN THE CATS’ DEFENCE GET BETTER?

I watched Geelong’s defence swarm all over any stupid long kick by the Hawks in the second half… it was like they were licking their chops, knowing they were going to win the footy. Their run and spread is excellent, and with Blicavs and Taylor providing great aerial defence, and playerslike Tuohy and O’Connor looking poised… they have the potential to really tighten the screws on teams.

When you consider that Jordan Clark, Jake Kolodjashnij and Lachie Henderson can all play very effective roles in this side, the cats really are blessed with high quality defenders, and are set up quite well for a few years, even as Taylor wanders off into retirement after this season.

 

HOW FAR OFF IS TOM MITCHELL?

No, it’s not a dumb question.

Come on, you can all see he is not right just yet. I suppose the real question is – will he ever be? Mitchell may still be finding his way back to form at AFL level – he has every right to take his time in this recovery, but if the Hawks are to be anything like a decent finals team, they need the 2018 version of Tom Mitchell. And they need him in a hurry.

 

OTHER BITS

A bit of a quiet one for Tom Hawkins, but when you have your spearhead go goalless, I suppose a bit of credit should go to the defender that played on him. Ben Stratton spent a good amount of time on Hawkins (as did Sam Frost) but I’m rewatching the game as I write – the Cats weren’t very Hawkins-centric in this game. It was almost as though he was leading into the pockets and dragging half the defenders with him, which then opened up the space for others.

I think James Sicily is Hawthorn’s second best chance at an All-Australian blazer this season, behind Mitchell, but he is a fair bit behind Tom Stewart and Jeremy How already for those Half Back Flank positions that unless he pulls his finger out, the squad of forty will be as good as it gets for him.

Chad Wingard can’t hit targets. Lucky he’s not talking to the media, otherwise he’d have to answer questions around why he ran at just 35% efficiency. It was the lowest number on the ground.

Putting it out there – if Josh Jenkins was in the hoops tonight instead of Ratugolea, he would have kicked two or three on McEvoy. JJ is crafty, and would have left McEvoy for dead at ground level.

Blokes doing the crowd noise need to attune it to things happening at the time. Sometimes cheers go up for kicks down the wing and then a forward takes a mark 20 metres out and it just bubbles along like there is no reaction at all.

The lift from Sam Menegola in the second half was very noticeable. He was everywhere at points.

And I haven’t mentioned Gryan Miers yet, which is pretty poor from me. Quiet early, he ended up with three goals and looked dangerous once the Cats were up and running. Maybe a little more impact when the game was closer would have had me singing his praises a little more, but he didn’t touch it at all in the first, and was conspicuous by his absence.

Did Liam Shiels release the tag on Dangerfield halfway through the third, or did Danger simply break it? He is a hard man to contain, with that burst speed, but I am pretty sure I didn’t see Shiels running with him anywhere near as much after half time.

 

And look, that’ll do – I had to sit here and dissect the Cats belting my team, which is a little painful. Not a lot… just a little.

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PS… I really like Joel Selwood

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