Geelong flexed their muscles in such a manner that it made the West Coast Eagles seem like a Mr Puniverse contestant at Kardinia Park.

After a competitive first quarter that may have had some Cats fans wondering if the Eagles were up for the challenge of breaking a 15-year losing streak at the venue, Geelong simply took control, and in a devastating, brutal 30 minutes of football, ended the challenge of West Coast and slammed through ten goals to set up what would eventually end in a 97-point win.

The Cats had winners all over the park, with Jeremy Cameron slotting into the forward line with ease. Both he and Tom Hawkins ended up with three goals apiece, overshadowed by the four goals from Cats midfielder, Mitch Duncan.

For the Eagles, the positives were few and far between. They lost Jeremy McGovern early in the piece and were left scrambling to cover his absence. They also scrambled to cover the lack of discipline and desire from a couple of their “elite” mids, but we’ll get to that.

Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and the very ugly.

 

THE GOOD

 

DUNC’ED ON

Can we give a bit of credit to Mitch Duncan?

Are we allowed?

It seems as though every time this bloke turns in a great game, someone else does something spectacular to overshadow it. Such is his lot in life, it seems. However, it is hard t ignore a four goal blast in favour of other aspects of this game, regardless of who played their first game for the club and had a damn good time doing so.

Mitch Duncan really should have finished with five for the afternoon in a masterful display of running forward and not just hitting the scoreboard, but belting it into submission. His four majors were punctuated by a booming torpedo punt from the boundary that sailed past the outstretched hands of the West Coast defenders on the line for a goal on the half time siren.

Let’s be honest – someone should have bloody touched that, but in many ways, it was fitting they didn’t. The Cats, and Duncan, had dominated the second term, and a ten-goal stanza was a great reward for a side that was so overpowering. On the other hand, two Eagles flying for the footy and both missing it was one of those moments that captured their entire afternoon in one moment.

They made an effort – a half-arsed one, and got zero result.

Duncan continued to do as he pleased, registering 12 score involvements for the afternoon as he and his Geelong midfield mates dismantled their West Coast counterparts. Even with the big Fijian against them in the ruck, the Cats’ mids won the clearance battle 43-35 and were +17 in inside 50s.

Geelong had winners all over the park, and though we may see others get shared credit for this win, the performance of Duncan is as good, or better than, anyone else on the park.

 

THE OUTCAST

It amazes me that Lachie Henderson does what he does so well despite being the bloke that was released by the Cats at one stage, and then picked up as an insurance policy.

You can imagine the conversation between Henderson and the Cats, right?

“Well mate… thanks for everything, but we’re gonna delist you…”

“But I…”

“Don’t worry – we’ll get you in the pre-season draft and if an opportunity comes up to slot you into the defence, we’ll consider it. Thanks again…”

Lachie Henderson took that opportunity and has not looked back over the past couple of seasons. He was arguably the Cats’ best player in the 2020 finals series and his name will be right up there in the best players from this game as well.

Sneaking forward to snag two goals (was it Nathan Vardy he ran off to do this? Jake Waterman? Someone has some questions to answer), Henderson had a ball, working in conjunction with Tom Stewart and Jack Henry to completely shut down the Eagles “kick it long and hope” style of attack all game.

There are a few players in the league that look as though they just take whatever is going on in their stride. One of them is Brennan Cox at Freo – he just looks like he is in second gear all the time. Henderson is not too far removed. Calm, composed and in control, he patrols the Geelong defence like a night time security guard in a shop where no one wants to steal anything anyway.

On the scrap heap one minute – a full time defensive maestro the next. That. Kids, is the benefit of hard work, dedication and trust in the word of those around you. Geelong deserve a heap of credit for the way they’ve managed Henderson and allowed him the opportunity to work his way back, not just onto the list, but back into a permanent position in the best 22 for this team.

 

THE HALF BACK WALL

I touched on it quickly, above… but how bloody good were Tom Stewart and Jack Henry in this one!

Stewart is everything you’d ever want in a half back flank, and would be rampaging his way into contention for a third All-Australian slot as we speak. With another 27 touches in this game, his balance, poise, and ability to maintain his feet even when under duress are such a calming presence in the Geelong back half.

I almost hate writing it, but if I could pick one bloke from any team to slot in at half back for my Hawks, it would be Stewart, just ahead of a healthy Nick Vlastuin.

Not to be outdone, the efforts of Jack Henry were fantastic as well. With Stewart, he was able to slide across half back and amass eight intercepts as this Geelong defence stood tall.

I know there has been some criticism of the Geelong style over the first five weeks of the season, as their dour, defence first style of play was not what the other clubs were doing, but watching them rebound from half back with a vengeance in this one leaves no doubt that they can launch a blistering attack at any point in the game.

With Henry, Stewart and Henderson picking off errant inside 50 disposals, this performance put the league on notice that this Geelong team, despite what you may have read over the last month, is a legitimate threat.

 

STILL UNSUNG, AMAZINGLY

I have to admit, it was only in the second quarter that I started to think that Cam Guthrie was having a fair bit of a say in the way the game was playing out.

Turns out, he’d been having a say right from the outset, with nine touches in the first quarter and an additional ten in the second. I suppose the fact that all of his first quarter touches were handballs may have added to him flying under the radar a little, but the reigning Carji Greeves Medallist continues=d his terrific form all throughout the game to register 35 disposals and ten clearances.

Guthrie plays in a team full of stars, yet finally got the recognition in 2020, with an All-Australian berth backing up his B&F win. He was far and away the best clearance player on the ground in this one, working perfectly with Joel Selwood and Mitch Duncan to extract the footy and get the Cats running.

At 28, we are now seeing peak Guthrie, and with a reliability that other teams would kill for, he works just as hard irrespective of the scoreboard. All substance, with just a little style thrown in, the Tim Minchin look-a-like is the glue that binds this Geelong midfield together.

 

ROHAN STANDS UP

And he didn’t just stand up against some scrub, fourth-string defender, either. He was playing on Brad F’n Sheppard in this game, and when the heat was on, Rohan was at his best.

I’ll give a bit of credit where it’s due… even though it’s killing me. Fellow Mongrel, and Geelong tragic, Julian Russo, stated earlier this week, that with the combination of Hawkins and Cameron drawing the fire, the time was ripe for Rohan to get off the chain.

And he didn’t just get off the chain – he grabbed that chain and beat Sheppard over the head with it in the first half.

I am sure that the Eagles designated the Rohan matchup as the one they could exploit, and have Sheppard zone off to cover for teammates. Rohan was having none of it, and his attack on the footy and impact on the game meant that Sheppard was forced to adjust and pay close attention to his direct opponent.

And that spelled trouble.

To Sheppard’s credit, Rohan went back to being his subdued self in the second half, collecting just three touches after half time, but by then, the damage had well and truly been done, and the game was on ice.

Rohan gets whacked by the media (and by writers on this website, for the record) for his habit of going missing when required, but once in a while, things click and he looks unstoppable. That is the version of Gary Rohan we got in the first half of this game, and he, as much as anyone else, set the tone for what was to follow.

 

STANLEY WITH THE TOOLS TO WIN

If there was one clash on the day where West Coast should have had the upper hand, it would be the ruck contests, right?

Nic Nat… the man mountain, against the undersized, but mobile Rhys Stanley.

Whilst Naitanui did typical Naitanui things, like collect seven clearances and win the hit outs, Stanley really tested the West Coast big man, running him around the ground and really capitalising on the time Nic Nat was required to rest on the bench.

Naitanui spent 79 of 127 minutes of game time on the field. Stanley was on the park for an additional 26 minutes. And he made those minutes count.

I am sure there will be those who weigh up the impact of Nic Nat while he was on the ground and the seven clearances, but he was lacking in the way he grabs the footy and powers forward. All Stanley had to do whilst matched up on the dominant big man was break even, and I reckon he did that. Then, he had 26 total minutes to play.

The points in this contest clearly went to Stanley, with the Cats mids more than happy to work together to nullify the West Coast ball winners and negate Naitanui’s influence. We’ve heard some segments of the media mock Chris Scott’s faith in Stanley over the journey, but there will be no mocking after this contest. It was a huge win for the Cats ruckman in the midst of a huge win overall. A story within a story that is worth being told.

 

THE BAD

 

WITHOUT A YELP

Where was the West Coast fighting spirit? Where was their hunger for the contest?

Were they worried about this Covid “outbreak” in WA? (One case on day one of the hair-trigger lockdown… ).

West Coast may point to injuries, with McGovern going down seemingly sucking the confidence from the team, and yes, the losses of Yeo, Shuey, Hurn, Ryan and Kennedy are significant, but to be pumped… and yes, I used pumped because the other word that leapt to mind was “humped” by a Geelong team in this manner is completely unacceptable.

Are you contenders, or pretenders?

It’s one thing to be a great team at home, and the Eagles have proven that over the years, but to run up the white flag so easily whenever the game isn’t on your terms… that’s the kind of thing you expect from expansion teams – not a powerhouse!

Good teams do not get belted by 16 goals, irrespective of where the game is conducted. This result should serve as a wake-up call for the West Coast hierarchy – I don’t care if you haven’t won there in 15 years; it is not an excuse for playing in such an insipid, listless manner.

The Eagles threw up their hands half way through the second quarter, and were simply playing out time for the remainder of the contest. They played like millionaires on a minimum wage budget, and they should rightfully be blasted for such a pathetic response to adversity.

Yes, the Cats were great, but at the same venue last week, even North Melbourne showed more heart than this Eagles outfit. They should be ashamed of themselves.

 

IF YOU CAN’T BREAK A TAG… WHY ARE YOU WORTH THAT MUCH?

This is the worry with Tim Kelly, isn’t it?

Over the last couple of seasons there have been instances where defensive attention has come the way of Tim Kelly, and he has retreated into his shell. The most significant of these moments came in the 2020 Elimination Final, where Levi Greenwood gave him a bath, and the high-priced recruit didn’t give a yelp.

West Coast supporters would have been hoping it was a one-off instance.

Today would have had them exchanging nervous glances.

Kelly mirrored the efforts of his team, starting well with six disposals in the first quarter to his name. Then, Mark O’ Connor decided to tighten the screws.

Over the ensuing three quarters, Kelly was the invisible man, chiming in with another six touches in the last quarter, when the game was well and truly put to bed, and O’ Connor was off getting his hamstring iced. When it mattered, through the second and third quarters, Kelly contributed just four touches, unable to impact any contest and reduced to the role of spectator by the Cats’  midfield.

There were scant boos for Kelly in this game, but like a guy we’ll talk about soon, perhaps it should have been the Eagles supporters voicing their displeasure at his performance making the most noise. His 16 touches and two clearances were the numbers you’d expect from Jackson Nelson, or Xavier O’Neill… not from a player the calibre of Kelly.

Kudos must go to Mark O’Connor and his commitment to his task, but the fact that Kelly can be taken out of the game regularly is something that will plague West Coast and render him as the number one target for opposition coaches when they’re planning to take on this Eagles outfit.

How much of a worry is it for West Coast?

Well, you have Luke Shuey at 30 years old now. You have Elliot Yeo struggling to get himself right, and you have their Mr Fix-It, Jack Redden, on the wrong side of 30 as well. Kelly is supposed to be the man that will spearhead this Eagles team as they go forward, but like any spearhead… if it is a little off, it’ll end up headfirst in the ground.

The challenge is now at the feet of Kelly – you must find a way to break tags. Whether this becomes a focus for the team to help their star out, or whether Kelly, himself, has to find a way, it matters not. What matters is this garbage has to stop, or Kelly will be forever relegated to the second tier of mids in the game.

 

THE UGLY

 

NO NEED FROM SHEED

If you’re a die-hard West Coast fan who is easily upset by a player being criticised, I advise you to skip this section and perhaps go get a drink to settle the nerves.

Dom Sheed played the worst game I have seen him play against Geelong. Content to tackle blokes head high and drag them down after they’d got rid of the ball, he played the type of game that you’d expect from an out of shape seconds player who was thoroughly outclassed by his opposition and went the AFL-version of the knuckle.

I say “AFL-version” because no one throws punches anymore (usually) and doing cheap, shitty little acts like throwing someone to ground, or grabbing them around the neck is about as bad as it gets when it comes to cheap shots.

And that is where Sheed was at against the Cats. Six of his 13 touches were effective as he found himself second to the ball and completely outworked by his opposition. He seemed quite content to exact his form of redemption by giving away free kicks (five of them) and basically playing like a cheap sniper for most of the game.

Yes, we can put some of this down to frustration, but when there was a ball to be won in the contest, I have to ask… where was he?

That’s where you prove how tough you are. That’s where you win the footy and exact revenge for whatever it is you’re seeking revenge for, and that is where you make a stand.

But not Sheed.

He could have won clearances to aid his team and help dig them out of the hole his lackadaisical approach put them in.

He didn’t.

He could have ran hard to make position as an outlet player.

He didn’t.

Or, he could have acted like a petulant child to the point Geelong fans started to boo him.

Yep, that’s what he did, and I’m surprised the West Coast supporters didn’t join in as well.

Sheed has had some brilliant moments as a West Coast Eagle. Just last week, he slotted three goals in minutes to ice the game against the Pies, but these types of moments don’t come easy, and it looked as though the Grand Final hero was simply not willing to do the work in this one to make amends for his poor early efforts.

Some may mention that he had a lot of mates, and they’d be correct, but when you look at the way Andrew Gaff continued to get back and help his defence – whether he was effective or not, and compare it to the “work” of Sheed, you’ll see that one player showed a bit of heart in this game and the other… well, he was a different body part all together.

 

SOME QUESTIONS

 

HOW DID THE CAMERON-HAWKINS COMBINATION WORK TOGETHER?

Veeerrrrry nicely, without being dominant.

Really, they didn’t have to be, did they? Cameron got his first few on the board as a Cat, Hawkins was his normal, unselfish self, and they both played very effective roles in a forward line that was dominant.

That Hawkins had three goal assists and 11 score involvements indicates he is more than willing to accommodate Cameron, but I do remember Cameron burning Rhys Stanley on one occasion – you’d like to see him adopt the same mentality as Hawkins to bring his teammates into the game and reward their running.

 

SURELY SOMEONE ACTUALLY PLAYED WELL FOR WEST COAST?

I liked the work of Jack Darling. He took four contested grabs from very limited opportunities, and made the Geelong defenders work hard to close him down.

Andrew Gaff tried hard all day, and though wasteful early in the piece, never stopped trying.

Though beaten in the first half, I always like what I see from Brad Sheppard in terms of his application.

That’s about it, though. Very few winners on the day.

 

HOW IMPORTANT IS THE RUN OF ISAAC SMITH TO THE CATS?

He looked good, didn’t he?

With Menegola on one wing and Smith on the other, the Cats have a vicious one-two running punch. I may be in the minority here, but I thought Smith kind of inflated his stats in the last quarter, but I guess that is part of his charm – he is still running hard in the last quarter when all others are gassed.

If he stays healthy, he’ll be vital in the latter stages of the long season.

 

OTHER BITS

 

Quick shout out to Brad Close, who had the type of unsung game that those at the Geelong footy club would be rapt with. Completely nullified the impact of Liam Duggan off half back, limiting the damaging Eagle to just ten touches. In removing Duggan as a rebounding threat, Close’s defensive work helped the Cats hem the Eagles into their back half.

Even when Duggan did get a touch, the amount of pressure Close put him under, with smothers, etc… caused the kicks to be much less effective than they’d normally be. The Eagles would be pining for the return of Shannon Hurn to alleviate some of that defensive 50 pressure.

Tough day at the office for Jamie Cripps, who I highlighted during the week in terms of his importance. I won’t look it up again, but it was something like the Eagles being 19-3 over the past three and a half years when he kicks multiple goals. He kicked none today.

Strong game from Jake Kolod… Klodoh… I know how to spell Kolodjashnij, damn it!

His work on Oscar Allen was first class, with the young Eagle unable to stamp his authority on the game. Combine that with his work on Jack Darling and you have a pretty handy key defender’s afternoon at the office. Interesting to see him sit out the last part of the game…

Also interesting to see Mark O’Connor sitting out with ice on the hamstring. No wonder Tim Kelly picked up six seagull touches in the last quarter.

Finally, really solid defensive work in this one from Tom Atkins. My fellow Mongrel Geelong supporters were wetting themselves in the preseason when he started forward as a pressure player, but he looks like such a mongrel in defence – I would hate to play on him.

 

In the end, wonderful Geelong win, as pointed out by the insightful Jonathon Brown… their best win of the year. Thanks Jonno! The Eagles… well, they have some soul searching to do. They’re better than that, but only with effort. Without the effort, they’re… this.

 

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