There was not a lot of expectation on this game. Geelong was arguably the form team of the competition coming in and the Crows were winless in 2020. I was still keen to put my hand up to review this game though, and it had nothing to with the fact that I’m drinking my coffee out of a Geelong Cats team-of-century coffee mug… Worth noting, the last time I did this, was when the Cats played Carlton in Geelong and we all remember how that worked out, so I tried, Crows fans.

Both teams made multiple changes to their sides.

The Crows lost Daniel Talia to a foot injury, which must’ve had Tom Hawkins licking his lips as he dodged coming up against one of the stingiest key defenders in the league. But the Crows would not be making any excuses. No Butts about it. 😉

Adelaide would also drop Seedsman, who may have entered no-man’s land in footy lore. McAsey would also be dropped and McPherson lost to injury. The Crows would be sporting a younger looking forward line bringing in Chayce Jones, Darcy Fogarty and Ben Crocker. Potentially a sign of the shift of this team to a clear focus on the future and seeing what these kids have got before a brutal end-of-season review.

A notable milestone in this game would be Taylor “Tex” Walker playing his 200th game. Now, while Walker is far from Adelaide’s favourite son, or most of the competitions favourite player of late, he still deserves the respect of the footy world for this achievement. It must also not be forgotten that Walker, despite some of his failings, lead his footy club as captain, out of one of the darkest and hardest times any club has ever experienced. He led them all the way to Grand Final in 2017 and was recognised as the best captain in the competition twice in a row. To put that in perspective, since the award was created in 1986, only 3 other men have achieved the feat in Wayne Carey, Michael Voss and Mark Ricciuto… fair company. He’ll get past 450 goals to finish his career and be recognised as the Crows greatest goal kicking forward, which is another achievement not to be underestimated.

Geelong made another five changes to its side. Geelong almost has a rotating door policy for some of its positions at the moment. Chris Scott is working hard at the seemingly impossible task of trying to find the perfect balance for his side. Tuohy (injury), Selwood (injury) and Taylor (managed), were the notable out for the Cats. They would welcome back Big Cat Esava Ratugolea, Jack Steven, Luke Dahlhaus, and injury-plagued Jordan Clark. An interesting decision by Chris Scott to select former Crow Josh Jenkins as an emergency in this game. Potentially just to ensure he made the trip and could enjoy his former captains 200th?

Also, A nod to the coaches for coordinating their use of the Fogarty name.

 

The Breakdown:

 

The Crows would start the game hot. Probably invigorated by Walker’s milestone, the Crows would do their best to pressure the Cats around the ball and drop back in defence with numbers to not give the Cats any space moving forward. It worked for the better part of the quarter, but the Cats just had the aerial dominance and won some key one-on-ones. It was a tight game and Adelaide really should’ve been closer if they had made more of some of their opportunities.

The moment of the second quarter belonged to Harry Schoenberg. But the whole play was something to marvel at. McAdam would gather on half back and instantly turn and deliver to Walker in the middle of the ground. A rare sight against Geelong. Walker would also immediately turn and bomb the ball long into the attacking fifty. A spillage from the mark and Schoenberg would gather and spin out of trouble before steadying and slotting through his first major. The excitement was infectious. More importantly, it brought the Crows back within 5 points of the Cats with three minutes left in the first half.

This game was just a slog. It was gritty and dirty, and it was all about effort and your willpower to win the footy over your opponent. It was great planning by Adelaide who seemed to look at the Cats and decide they didn’t want them getting out on the break. “Keep the Ball in front”, would’ve been the catch cry of the week. So often we saw the Cats chipping the footy from wing to wing trying to find an inlet to their forward half. It was a defensive masterclass. Albeit, Geelong doesn’t mind that style of play, but you only have to look at what they’ve done to previous opponents who’ve let them get away with a more attacking game.

Of course, Geelong have their own solid defensive style. The Geelong defence probably felt the first ounces of pressure in a few weeks, that they were actually being tested with the game on the line and without their forwards having free reign.

The Cats class and experienced bodies would win out, but I am far more confident of the Crows claiming a scalp on their run home than I was a week ago.

But enough breakdown, let’s get into the stuff that mattered.

 

The Best Stuff:

 

The Wild Man

When you ask who stepped up to win this game for the Cats, it will be easy to look at the names like Dangerfield with some of his noticeable clearances, or Hawkins and Duncan with their goals. But you should really be looking at Cam Guthrie. Often overlooked behind the likes of Dangerfield and Selwood, and now Duncan and Menegola. Guthrie was rudely left out of the Mongrel Punt round 12 All Australian team. Here are the stats Guthrie had game-highs in today; Disposals, Marks, Centre Clearances, and score involvements (equal). A bigger endorsement would be to simply re-watch the last quarter. Talk about asserting yourself on the contest. 10 disposals and some critical moments. Some of the Cats players may have had an easy win in mind, but Guthrie was not going to let it slip.

Reilly O’Brien

I rate Reilly O’Brien very highly.  Awesome all game. Dominated the ruck. Geelong would eventually get on top of the clearances in the last quarter, but it was no fault of O’Brien. He gave his midfielders silver service all game and heavily exposed one of Geelong’s few consistent weaknesses. Could’ve made them hurt more if he’d put it on the scoreboard, and then had Stanley hurt him the other way.

Adelaide’s Defensive Structures

Their commitment to stifle the Cats was first class and they just never relented. Granted the Cats got over them late in the last quarter, but the margin did not reflect the closeness of this game. Adelaide’s players and coaches deserve huge wraps for their planning and execution against the Cats ball movement and could’ve potentially laid out the plan for future opponents.

Kyle Hartigan

I mentioned early that Hawkins would’ve loved to have seen Daniel Talia’s name on the “out” list. However, things would only slightly improve as Kyle Hartigan would pick up Hawkins and do a superb job. Granted he was left nowhere near as exposed as Clurey last week, but Hartigan is definitely a better body match up. Hartigan also displayed the confidence to peel off Hawkins and assist his other defenders. Hartigan must’ve listened to the experts this week. It seemed every time the Cats looked up at Hawkins, there was Hartigan riding shotgun on his shoulder. It was actually disappointing the Geelong Midfielders didn’t adjust and continued to put the ball on Hawkins head when his defender was positioning himself too well for that option. Hartigan definitely won the day but as Hawkins does, he still chipped in with a couple good moments, particularly in the second half when he snuffed the life out of the Crows challenge. Had Hawkins kicked straighter, this contest might’ve just flipped.

Tom Stewart

I don’t think a lot of people would have Tom Stewart in their standout performances in this game. Please go and re-watch. Stewart was absolutely pivotal. You really can’t underestimate the confidence you gain form having such a class defender in the side, particularly with Harry Taylor absent. 20 disposals, seven marks, and four intercept possession doesn’t scream “influential” at you. But it’s the moments when Stewart exerts himself that are the most telling. He does maximum damage and thwarted the best of attacking plays by the Crows.

 

The Good Stuff:

The Adelaide Good:

The Tex

Started the game so well. I wasn’t caring about his disposals as he was always going to be outmatched by multiple Cats defenders. But he continually brought the footy to ground to give his smaller players a chance. His pressure was first class. You can argue he doesn’t get the ball enough, but you could not argue his endeavour when he doesn’t have it. It must be said that for the limited time with footy Tex had, he played a bloody big hand in most of Adelaide’s scoring. Particularly in the first half.

Matt Crouch

Really stepped up today. Carried the load in the middle of the ground. 14 tackles with his 22 disposals and he’s showing his teammates he’s committed to doing the tough stuff as well.

Rory Laird:

A solid performance. Worked extremely hard between the arcs for the Crows. Led them in contested possessions, disposals, centre clearances and inside fifties. Add in his seven tackles and you have a solid all-round performance.

 

The Geelong Good

 

The Squad

I call them the squad. This generally includes Guthrie, but he was addressed earlier. They are Menegola, Parfitt, Steven and Duncan (and Guthrie). The engine room where Geelong required the greatest improvement coming into this season. You couldn’t ask more of the likes of Hawkins, Selwood, Taylor, Dangerfield, and Ablett. You needed others to step up. And up they have stepped. Duncan, Steven, and Parfitt haven’t received as much praise as the other two but hey are all quietly getting themselves into some ripping form. If Geelong is to make any sort of challenge these are the players that will drive it, as they have so far this season.

Kolodjashnij

Did a great job in defence in the absence of Harry Taylor. Shut down Walker for most of the day and led the Cat sin intercept possessions.

Dangerfield

Had some scrubber kicks, as only Dangerfield can. But his presence around the footy and his ability to win the ball against multiple opponents and feed it out to a teammate if first class. In a tough and close game he broke away multiple times to give the Cats forwards a fighting chance before the Crows got their numbers back.

 

The Ugly Stuff:

Too Unselfish?

Paddy Dangerfield strode into the Cats attacking 50 with less than 10 seconds left in the first quarter. Form about 35 metres out Paddy wound up and…. Passed? You mean a guy who can kick the footy 60+ metres scrubbed the footy 15 metres trying to find a one-on-one contest? C’mon Danger, lift.

Don’t do it Jack

Jack Henry’s rush of blood with three seconds left in the third quarter is a huge “what just happened” moment. Marking the ball off a Matt Crouch kick, Henry could’ve simply waited for the siren. Even though he didn’t know how long was left, he knew there was little time left. Go back, soak up some seconds and then kick long down the line and don’t give them a sniff. Oh, the benefit of hindsight.

Under Pressure

There would be a few players in the Cats line up fairly nervous, with multiple stars set to return to the side in the coming games, in preparation for a finals run. Tom Atkins, Esava Ratugolea, Jordan Clark and Brad Close would all be sweating. Yes, they’ve all been out of the side for various reasons, but when you’re Chris Scott and coming up for another finals run after falling just short on multiple occasions, you’re not taking chances on players who may not deliver when you have proven stars in the wings.

The Umpire Stuff:

Measure?

Seriously someone develop a universal measurement for the umpires. There were kicks going about 20 metres and they were calling “not 15, play on”.

Advantage?

Midway through the second quarter, Jack Steven received a free kick for being tackled after disposing of the footy. The validity of the disposal is one I’ll leave up to you. However, the fact that Brad Close took the advantage in the goal square before being run down, is not up for debate. The call by the umpire to bring the footy back to give Steven his shot at goal lacked any feel for the game. Justice was served though, as Steven would hit the post with his shot.

Block Party?

Early in the third quarter Mark Blicavs bowled over Rory Sloane trying to attend a boundary throw-in. The free kick went to Sloane for a push in the back when it clearly should’ve been a free for impeding a ruckman. Adelaide would reduce the margin to two points with the subsequent goal from the play.

Holding the Footy?

I still don’t know what this is anymore. Both teams had times where they would rightfully be infuriated by a non-decision or a ridiculously tough one.  It’s just one of those things we’re going to have to expect in this years finals.

 

The Wrap:

 

Adelaide Crows:

A more than respectable performance by the Crows who would be bitterly disappointed not to claim the win with their level of effort. That should be the standard for them for the rest of the year. Bring that intensity in every remaining game and I guarantee you win one. However, they still remain winless and looking for their best side.

Hopefully, Talia comes back in next week against the Hawks, and they can do the whole competition a favour and relegate them to an almost certain bottom four finish (Sorry, letting my bias shine through there).

 

Geelong Cats:

You could call it a poor performance, or say they underestimated the Crows, but in reality. Adelaide just showed up to play with a plan and the Cats struggled to get passed it. They may have finished up with a comfortable win in the end, but you wouldn’t want this to become the norm for the Cats. Dropping games you should win is not a position Geelong is in. Not with how tight this year’s ladder is.

The Cats got the job done, but I won’t be holding this game up as a watershed moment for the team. Bank the points, move on and hopefully return to the form you’ve been displaying for most of the year.