It was a game the Cats controlled for almost three quarters, but as we entered the final stages of the third quarter, you could feel the momentum change.
West Coast had been hammering their forward 50 arc for little reward. Credit where it’s due – the Geelong defence was resolute, led by Tom Stewart and Harry Taylor.
But as Liam Ryan started to look dangerous, and Brendon Ah Chee got loose to cut the lead to just eight points, you could sense the Eagles were coming, and coming hard.
The last quarter was a cracking contest, with the West Coast stars coming to the fore.
Sheed, Shuey, Kelly, Darling and Kennedy all got involved, underpinned by a sublime performance by Nic Naitanui to guide the Eagles home in a ripping contest.
Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
THE BLUE CHIP RUCKMAN
I was never great at maths. It just wasn’t my thing. Hell, these days I reach for the calculator whenever I need to solve an equation, and I am so inept at it that once I start counting things and they exceed 21… and I run out of fingers, toes and other bits to count them on, I give up counting.
Well, I gave up counting the little things that Nic Naitanui did in this game to continually give his team an advantage.
It’s easy to look at the hit outs – they were amazing, and they continued all game. He fed Luke Shuey, Elliot Yeo and Tim Kelly with monotonous regularity to the point where it became a complete shock when the Eagles didn’t win the clearance. I suppose some credit should go to the Cats for matching the Eagles in number of clearances, but from where I sat, it was the quality of the clearances that was telling. Nic Nat provided silver service. The Cats were forced to fight for the scraps.
But Naitanui’s game was so much more than the hit outs. His presence and follow up work at stoppages was absolutely brilliant. He had the ball nine times – just nine bloody times – but no player on the park wielded the influence of Naitanui… and he wielded it like a samurai sword, completely cutting the Geelong rucks to ribbons.
The stats say he had four clearances himself, but that does him no justice. When Nic Nat moves, the pack moves with him. He is like an unstoppable force, moving two entire teams of footballers in the direction he wants them to head.
After competing well early, I started to feel sorry for Esava Ratugolea, who was obviously outmatched by a man with unbelievable athleticism packed into a frame that was just as agile as him as well as a better sense for the way the game was being played.
There will be some people who don’t watch this game and look at the stats tomorrow morning over a coffee. They’ll be tempted to think that Naitanui didn’t do all that much. Nine touches, right? How much damage could he do with nine touches?
If you encounter one of these people, see if you can convince them to actually watch this bloke play footy. See if you can convince them to stop trotting out some of the stupidest reasoning possible to devalue Naitanui’s worth to this team. See if you can stop them from making a fool of themselves when talking about footy.
I bet you can’t – you cannot cure idiocy.
If you viewed this game and didn’t see Naitanui as the most damaging and influential player on the park, I don’t know that we were watching the same game. He rested on the bench for 30 of the 108 minutes of gameplay tonight but it didn’t matter. Others could have played 100% of the game and still would not have approached his level of brilliance.
Time to start believing. Nic Naitanui… three votes.
THE SPARK PLUG
I want to take a moment to point out a bloke some may miss in the overall scheme of things. And that guy is Liam Duggan, who has quietly (unless you’re Charlie Constable) gone about carving out a niche for himself in the Eagles defence based on one thing – hard work.
He does not shirk an issue and in many cases actually causes the issue!
His 17 touches were incredibly important and I thought his actions through the first three quarters helped to keep the Eagles in the game. He was really clean with the footy, ran hard and zoned off at the perfect time to make intercepts.
Then, when the game was at its hottest, Duggan threw his body into multiple contests to ensure the Eagles were able to, at the very least, break even. It’s probably not a sexy pick, particularly with that head of hair (ah… the 17 year old me would be proud of it) but I like when a nuggetty defender gets the job done, and that’s what Liam Duggan did in this one.
THE BLUE AND GOLD TIDE
What a comeback.
We all heard the commentators bleating at three-quarter time about how no teams (bar North Melbourne in Round One) are running over the top of teams… don’t they ever get sick of being wrong?
To their credit, they hedged their bets by citing the crowd noise and how this game felt different to the others so far. Even via TV you could feel it. There was a swell building and the Cats stood on the shore hoping to withstand it. The Eagles wave was building at the end of the third quarter and it took until half way through the last to truly crash down on Geelong and wipe them out.
It was a wave built on pressure, on belief and on the sublime skill of a big bloke in the middle. It was a wave ending with the now-Coleman medal leader taking marks and kicking goals like he was years ago. And it was a wave built on emotion as the crowd compelled the home team to get over the line.
The Cats found themselves strewn about the beach as the blue and gold wave washed over them, leaving them sitting there wondering what had just hit them.
It was a comeback that hit them – you remember? The things that don’t happen in 2020, apparently.
WITH A FLURRY
Remember when Josh Kennedy was a spent force?
Come on… it was only a month ago. In the slippery Gold Coast evenings, he couldn’t get near the pill, and was looking like a man on rails when he ran at the footy. Fast forward a few weeks and not only is he leaping and clunking marks to ice games, he is now the outright leader in the Coleman Medal race and has the opportunity to join some all-time greats by securing his third medal this season.
Kennedy was huge in the last quarter as he put the Eagles on his back and ensured that they would not be beaten on his watch. His goal, reading the perfect tap from Naitanui, should probably be considered one of the goals of the year given the connection between the two players and the timing, but given that award goes to the spectacular goal, it won’t be.
Kennedy’s renaissance over the past month has been one of the great stories of the season, and with West Coast now sitting nicely in the top four, you get the feeling he may have a few more chapters to pen just yet.
Tim Kelly going against the Cats was always going to be very interesting, and the plot thickened in the first 15 seconds as Kelly burst from the middle and kicked long to Josh Kennedy, who marked and goaled. Any nerves, any misgivings he may have had about facing his former club were gone with a silky smooth centre break and the resultant six points.
Kelly was very solid in his first outing against the Cats. Whilst nowhere near the party he had last week against Collingwood, Kelly’s ability to extract the footy on the inside, or run to receive on the outside made for plenty to get excited about.
He picked up two direct goal assists and duelled with Dangerfield for the title of best run and carry option on the ground, with 500+ metres gained for each.
Tim Kelly’s time is now. He was brought in to aid the Eagles in their quest for two flags in three seasons and after a few rounds to find his feet, he is finding a bit more than that. He is finding his wings.
What we get from Tim Kelly for the remainder of the season will go a long way to dictating just how good this team can be. He has had 23+ touches in three of the last four games (just one game in the five games prior) and looks to have developed his connection with Naitanui well enough to be a danger at every stoppage. The Eagles invested heavily in Kelly, and now it appears as though he is ready to repay the faith.
THE FORGOTTEN DEFENDER?
The entire Geelong defence was resolute in the first half as they absorbed the repeated attacks of the West Coast mids to repel them time and again.
Harry Taylor was doing a great job on Josh Kennedy and with Lachie Henderson and Jack Henry slotting in to cut the Eagles off at the knees, the Geelong defence looked watertight. However, it was the return to form of Tom Stewart that made them look great.
Stewart is coming off two straight All-Australian selections but like Jeremy McGovern, will not be on the podium this year. He has missed too much time due to a shoulder injury sustained in a rather innocuous bumping exchange with Tom McDonald.
The Cats really missed him.
After sitting out for three weeks, Stewart returned last week against Freo and eased his way back into the side. It seems it took him a week to rediscover his mojo, as he was excellent in this one, notching a game-high 11 intercept possessions and running at 86% efficiency as he drive the Cats from the back half.
I always take an interest in how Stewart is playing. As many of you know, I am a Hawthorn man, and I take a bit of an interest in whether James Sicily will ever make an AA team, himself. I reckon he is judged harshly because the player people compare him to is Tom Stewart. And when they make that comparison, it becomes apparent that Stewart’s ability to win the hard footy and not lose his temper whilst doing pretty much what Sicily does… only better means that he is the preferred pick.
It hurts me to say, but watching Stewart in this one, particularly in the first half, I was nodding to myself as I knew that pound for pound, Stewart is better value.
YEO V DANGERFIELD
This was a pleasure.
Watching Dangerfield and Yeo battle it out at stoppages was one of the highlights for the nerd in me who still lives in a world where football heroes go head to head and don’t spend the whole game steering clear of their direct opponent.
Elliot Yeo is one of the few players in the league that can match it with Patrick Dangerfield for pure, unadulterated passion for the game and determination to win the footy. Either of these guys don’t hesitate to dive head-first into ongoing traffic if it means they get their hands on the footy before their opponent, so I was stoked to see them line up against each other at stoppages several times.
Who won the battle?
It’s difficult to say, really, as the nature of modern midfields is that matchups switch so often that they could be confused for Joe Ganino’s missus at a swingers party.
Overall, with Dangerfield registering less than 20 touches, and Yeo not hitting the scoreboard, it’s difficult to separate them. Both guys had seven clearances each, which may be a little more impressive for Danger given the service Yeo received from Naitanui, but it is still too close to call.
I reckon had you offered Adam Simpson a stalemate from the Yeo v Danger matchup before the first bounce, he probably would have taken it. I’m not sure Chris Scott would have been as happy. Therefore I suppose the nod goes to Yeo… slightly.
BRAD F’N SHEPPARD
Over the past couple of seasons, whenever the word “underrated” was mentioned, we’ve been inundated with people screaming the name of ‘Brad Sheppard’.
The thing is – no one actually thinks Sheppard is underrated at The Mongrel Punt. None of us do. We all sing his praises regularly to the point he ended up in the top ten of our end-of-season voting last year. We see what he does and we like it, so we don’t actually associate his name as being underrated anymore. If you can apply that to any thread of comments that ask about underrated players on our site, that’d be great.
Anyway, Sheppard did little to diminish the esteem he’s held in at the Mongrel this evening, completely blanketing Gary Rohan en route to picking up ten touches and making six big spoils.
Without Jeremy McGovern in the side again, more was asked of Sheppard this week, and he responded as you’d expect him to. Reliable and trustworthy, Sheppard has not been beaten this season, but I don’t think even his job on Charlie Cameron earlier in the season was as big a win as this one was tonight.
There was a period of a couple of minutes in that last quarter where the footy was hot and it got a bit willing. Mainly, it seemed to get a bit willing with Liam Duggan, who threw his body into several contests with purpose.
Sadly for one of those contests, Duggan turned his body at the right time and his hip collected Charlie Constable right in the face, almost knocking him out. Constable was able to walk off the ground of his own volition, but it was a nasty hit.
The person I was watching the game with immediately called for weeks. Are you kidding me? Duggan did exactly what players are instructed to do in the modern game; approach the footy, get down to collect it and turn your body to protect the head.
That’s what he did and the result saw Constable canon into him and recoil back upon impact. I almost kicked my idiot friend out of my house when he called for Duggan to be reported. If he gets any punishment for that, I would like the person dishing it out to offer an alternative as to what he should have done – perhaps allow his opponent to get to the footy first?
Good manners, yeah… but this isn’t a class on social competencies. This was a battle for four points, and the bloke with the team still standing won it.
A CLASSIC GARY ROHAN PERFORMANCE
I already gave a lot of credit to Brad Sheppard above, but if I am doing that, then Gary Rohan has to be on the receiving end.
Rohan is the kind of player that does not get a lot of the footy at the best of times. In 2019 he played 19 games and had six touches or less on seven occasions. He is the anti-Matt Crouch. When Gary Rohan gets the ball, he usually does some damage, so it is wise to lock him down as often as possible.
Maybe Brad Sheppard took it too far because Rohan was quiet even by his almost silent standards in this one.
With three touches as a player that is supposed to be able to not only take a great defender, but occasionally beat them, Rohan was like the invisible man out there. The last time he was this quiet was the Qualifying Final last year, but at least in that one he hit the scoreboard. He was absolutely belted by Sheppard in this one and is a huge concern, his usual pressure was nowhere to be seen as well.
I have long thought that Rohan’s ability to close down an opponent or chase down someone and lay a tackle had just as much influence as taking a mark or kicking a goal. But nothing was present tonight. He was like a phantom out there, registering just one tackle for the contest.
This game had a finals-like atmosphere, and it seemed as though unpleasant memories of last September flooded back and overwhelmed the Geelong forward. I’d go as far as to say it may be the worst game I’ve seen him play as a Cat.
WHERE DOES LIAM RYAN RANK AMONGST SMALL FORWARDS?
In terms of continued impact, he’d have to be right up there.
He was the one who lit the fuse for the Eagles in the third quarter, and looked as though he might single-handedly blow the game open with his presence inside forward 50. Yeah, he was wasteful, but he was getting busy close to goal.
One goal and three behinds are nothing to write home about, but he does so many little things and his ability to clunk a big mark sets him apart from other little blokes.
I’m sure some would prefer Charlie Cameron or Tom Papley. Maybe even Dan Butler on this season’s form, but if I were to pick two I’d want to have immediate impact, I’d grab Ryan and Luke Breust. I reckon they make those around them a lot better.
WHAT DO THE CATS DO WITH ESAVA RATUGOLEA?
Well, he started the game in a blaze of glory and won a few contests with Naitanui in the first quarter. As a matter of fact, I felt he was close to splitting the points with Nic Nat at quarter time.
But it ended there. As Naitanui got on top, so did West Coast, and soon Ratugolea was left dropping marks and missing targets. And make no mistake, a couple of those missed targets were very, very costly.
So, what do the Cats do with him? Do they plonk him at half forward and hope he grows into a solid option? Play him in the ruck and get a quarter of good footy out of him? Maybe experiment at half back?
Look, I really don’t know what to do with Sav, but part of me gravitates to thinking that he might just be a great athlete who wants to play footy, rather than a footballer. The Cats made it work with Blicavs. I’m not sure they can do it with Ratugolea. Not consistently, at least.
AND DOES HE HATE CHARLIE CONSTABLE?
Ratugloea’s two big turnovers in this game both came at the expense of Charlie Constable, who was left floundering at half back twice as big Sav completely missed him.
I wonder what he has against him? He wouldn’t miss Dangerfield like that twice!
Of course, I kid, but I feel for Constable, who has worked hardtop get a berth in this Cats team and then he was burned by Ratugloea’s shitty disposal twice, and copped that whack to the head as well.
HOW’S LUKE SHUEY TRAVELLING AS CAPTAIN?
Based on tonight’s performance, pretty well.
Shuey was one of the best Eagles performers in the first half, picking up 13 touches as he powered his team forward. Using either side of his body, he was able to employ a cool head whilst under pressure to make considered decisions going forward.
The Eagles were quite wasteful with the ball in hand at points, opting to go long to contests in the hope something would happen. Shuey appeared to be a little more comfortable changing direction and making intelligent kicks to teammates.
He is emerging as a very good captain and his actions to bring his teammates into this game indicate that he knows what it takes to make his team better.
Very quiet game for Andrew Gaff in this one, which felt strange as he usually finds plenty of space at Optus Stadium. Without experiencing a tight tag, he was well-manned up by Sam Menegola.
Mitch Duncan looked great with the footy in hand, and if there were one player I thought may have been able to wrest the game back from the Eagles, it was him. Sadly, the Cats were unable to get the ball in his mitts enough in the last quarter to make a difference.
A very solid first half again from Dom Sheed, who had 15 touches and a couple of goals before the break. I think it is pretty safe to say that the Eagles would not have been in a position to challenge had Sheed not been working so hard earlier in the contest.
I wonder if Josh Kennedy kicks three last quarter goals with Mark Blicavs playing in defence?
Do we give Tom Barrass the nod over Tom Hawkins in this one? I do. That diving spoil he made on Hawkins in the last quarter was wonderful, even if Hawkins did his standard “arms out and pout” gesture to the umpire immediately after it. I bloody hate that… you don’t deserve a free kick in every contest, Tom. Stop whining!
That goal to Sam Simpson… it is evident that the AFL has not invested enough in technology to accurately assess goal line decisions. That knee/toe poke looked like it had been shot with my old Nokia. It’s such a shame that the current climate dictates that the league won’t be spending much in the coming seasons because they desperately need some super slo-mo cameras to accurately judge decisions like this. Imagine that was in a Grand Final? Far out…
Brayden Ainsworth may very well become a good player, but it appears as though things are moving a little too quickly for him at the moment. Shame we didn’t get to see more of Harry Edwards. Hoping he pulls up okay.
And yep, that’ll do me. The Eagles get a week off before they encounter the up-and-down Blues at home, whilst the Cats head to Queensland to play North Melbourne next week in what looms as a potential danger game.
Day four of footypalooza is done. After this game, I have to say I’m loving it!
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