The Cats spluttered through the first few rounds before looking like they’d found their mojo with their demolition of the hapless Eagles last week.
Sydney arguably had the hottest start to the season of any team. Big wins, wins on the road, wins against good teams, rising star nominations and Buddy back kicking goals. How quickly things have changed.
Sydney started hot but the Cats kicked into gear as the quarter went on and stamped their authority on the match. The Cats were out to show last week was not a fluke and they have found their 2020 form. They quickly blew out the lead on the Swans with a six-goal first quarter.
However, in a tale of two quarters, the young Swans team responded emphatically and wrestled control of the footy back from the Cats in the second quarter. They closed down the limited space on the SCG and took away the Cats’ chipping game as soon as they got forward of their defensive fifty. They also started winning the footy in close at stoppages, which the Cats had dominated in the first quarter. It was the response of a team far more mature and experienced than the Swans, which should buoy their belief going forward to be able to tough it out in future games.
The second half was a huge struggle. Both teams had heroes and highlights as the lead changed hands eight times in the second half. It was tight and every possession felt important. Geelong had more of the footy and seemed to be the team with more control, but the Swans would not be denied and simply willed themselves over the line. Proof of that lies in Papley’s game-winning goal in which he gave multiple efforts before getting his chance to throw the ball on his boot and force it through the goals with what seemed like desire. A cracking game that had a finish to match that will be debated and discussed long after the final siren.
Tom Papley didn’t have a lot to say in this match. He was absent for large periods thanks to a close checking Tom Atkins. But if you let go of this guy after he gives off the handball he is just as likely to get the footy back and kick the match-winner on you. Yes, Papley didn’t do much but he had the biggest say, and thanks to our friend the serial position effect, it’s likely that his two plays will be the two things we will remember the most. The first goal and the last goal. Thanks, Tom, we needed that.
Let’s get into the stuff that mattered….
THE BEST STUFF
The Ruck Demolition
In the Mortal Kombat theme; Tom Hickey… Flawless Victory.
A week is a long time in footy. Rhys Stanley was coming off a commanding performance over Nic Naitanui and probably expecting to keep on rolling with his good form. Nope. He was absolutely demolished by Tom Hickey in this game. Hickey was commanding. He was winning the ruck contests and then following up his work and winning clearances.
Nothing demonstrated this more than when Hickey and Stanley attended a throw-in in the Swans forward 50 in the third quarter. Hickey simply nudged Stanley under the ball, grabbed it and then calmly snapped a goal to level the scores. Stanley was beaten and Hickey knew it.
Hickey’s dominance was so pronounced that at three-quarter time Chris Scott threw Mark Blicavs into the centre to try and curb his influence. In a testament to Blicavs versatility, he had the first three centre clearances of the quarter and picked Hickey up every time he stepped outside of the Swans defensive 50. Of course, Hickey would respond as a seriously in-form player would. His efforts in the last quarter were huge in getting the Swans over the line, including some telling clearances after he adjusted to competing against Blicavs compared to his usual whipping boy.
He was the absolute standout in the middle of the ground. Leading the game in contested possessions and clearances, including six centre clearances.
Great step up by the young guy in this game. With no Sam Reid and no Lance Franklin, the Swans needed someone up forward to compete and bring the footy to ground, allowing the likes of Tom Papley a chance to do their work. Well, not only did McLean compete against the Cats defence, he straight up beat them. What a mark of the footy this kid is.
I have to highlight a couple marking contests where he lined up on Lachie Henderson, who has stamped himself as the Cats’ best key defender since the first week of last years finals series (particularly when Blicavs continually shifts to the ruck/wing). McLean completely outpointed Henderson both times and looked far more experienced and established than in actuality. It was a huge performance by McLean, particularly when compared to the output of the two Geelong Key forwards.
Jack Henry was irresistible in this game, and he did it at both ends. He locked down a defensive post when he was there and playing second ruck for the majority of the game. I’ll touch on Tom Stewart as well, but Henry was fantastic for Geelong in this game. Often flying as the third or fourth man in and spoiling the footy. Or fighting for it in congestion and feeding the ball out. Henry is as courageous as he is versatile. Honestly, watch the guy, he is near impossible to track down if he has any sort of space. Cats’ fans would be ecstatic that he has signed on to stay at the Cats long-term.
It’s hard to believe that Florent is still only 22 (I say something similar about a lot of Sydney’s players). It feels like he has been around for so long. Holding his place outside the stoppages, Florent provided the link between the contested Swans play in the midfield and half back to their forward line. Florent had a huge 600+ metres gained and lead the Swans for disposals, score involvements and inside 50Tom Stes.
A lot can be said for his goal in the last quarter. Gathering the ball in a forward stoppage and just knowing so much in that moment. Knowing he had no time, so he had to throw the ball on his foot in a single step. Knowing where the goals were. I’m going to give him credit and say he knew that no one was on the line as well.
Another big performance from Guthrie; arguably Geelong’s best midfielder with Dangerfield out. Guthrie has to keep playing big games if the Cats want to continue being competitive. He had his chance to kick an important goal in the last quarter but missed, as most Cats did during the night. Otherwise, he was very impressive in the last quarter. He can hold his head up high as he didn’t leave much out on the field in this one.
Guthrie played a more attacking role in this game and it was often that he was found feeding the ball out of the front of the stoppage or spreading forward to be damaging. His 30 disposals tonight, were not of the cheap variety out the back of packs or running across half-back.
Tom Stewart doing Tom Stewart things and holding up the Geelong defence. How people seem to have discounted him from early AA discussions is dumbfounding – perhaps he is a victim of the Cats seemingly inconsistent form so far this year. However, Stewart has been everything but inconsistent. He is Geelong’s intercept king and continued his top form in this game.
The Swans Efficiency
The Swans were ruthlessly efficient in this game. Geelong dominated a few key statistics in this match, but yet, when the Swans got the ball in their hands and managed to get it inside attacking 50, they scored. And they often scored goals. Unlike the Cats who were searching for avenues to goal and wasting good opportunities in front, the Swans were slotting them from everywhere and in pressure moments. And as previously touched on, it was younger Swans who were making these shots. Incredible. The Swans lost almost every stat yet hung in this game long enough to then turn it their way. That’s what good teams do.
THE GOOD STUFF
Playing as a key defender with the match-up on Jeremy Cameron for most of the game. Cameron had his moments and kicked a couple goals while matched up with Melican, but he didn’t let it deter him. He really stood tall for the Swans. Unfortunately, ended up subbed off due to injury, but Melican was terrific while he was on (over three quarters of the game) and deserves huge credit for holding up the dam wall for the Swans under a barrage of inside 50s.
All Class. Like Ryan Gosling in the Notebook. Does the hard work and is not afraid to continually work for it. Delivers in the big moments in a way that Cats fans love and keep wanting more. Putting his hand up alongside Guthrie for the title of Geelong’s best player in the absence of Dangerfield. Coming off a huge game last week, Duncan continued to be almost the only Geelong player to actually look for teammates when going inside 50 and honouring leads. Their eyes must light up when they see him with the ball in hand.
You may have to look that term up. This is a section for love for the young Swans. No doubt a few previously mentioned are also included in here. This is for players who are 22 and under and with less than 40 games. I’m talking McInerney, Rowbottom (who may have ice running through his veins), Gulden, Stephens, Warner, Wicks, and of course McLean. That’s a third of the Swans team.
Now not all of these players starred tonight, but they each had their moments. Each of them had a time where it was their time to stand up. Whether it was clunking big contested marks up forward, slotting tight goals at the death, or providing run out of defence and the required desperation to get a fingernail on the footy or beat a guy like Joel Selwood to the ball, which is no mean feat. It’s hard to believe a team with so much youth can still be so composed.
Speaking of youth, I thought it was a really good game for the Cats youngster. A couple good goals in a big third quarter. Linked up well and had a hand in plenty of Cats forays forward. Hopefully see some more of him going forward.
THE NOT SO GOOD STUFF
The Cats’ Efficiency
You can forgive the frustration felt by Tom Hawkins going into the last quarter. The Geelong forward 50 entries for the majority of the game were horrible. Often long bombs in hope and just as often not honouring hard leads by their forwards. It was only by the weight of numbers that the Cats stayed in the contest. Couple this with the scoring inaccuracy and Geelong only has themselves to blame for this loss. They also controlled the footy further down the ground as well. Geelong had 80 more disposals than the Swans, they had 35 more contested possessions, 26 more inside 50’s and over a dozen more shots at goal.
It has to be mentioned, as with all games of this nature there was a controversial call by an umpire late that one team will agree with and one team won’t.
Well, the umpire calling play on, not 15m for the possible mark to Jeremy Cameron in the dying seconds of the last quarter will be out with a measuring tape this week. Particularly with some kicks often travelling all of eight metres often being paid a mark. Big call. Just an FYI. The ball went damn near 25 metres. A ridiculous call, but alas, the Cats have had some decisions go their way recently – just ask Lions fans.
Very off night for Hawkins tonight. It was initially made difficult due to the close checking of Tom McCartin who was more than holding his own against the big Hawk. This was then exacerbated by the very poor delivery he received for the majority of the match. However, once Hawkins started to break free in the last quarter, he needed to convert. He took two good marks inside 50 which yielded one behind and non-score. Then followed that up by dropping another marking opportunity once he had done all the hard work to get free.
This is not the usual from a player of Hawkins calibre and it can be argued the reigning Coleman medallist is having a rather poor season so far. How much of that is down to his own personal form, as he clearly needs to make better use of his opportunities, or the teams overall game style will have to be seen.
Mentioned in the Ruck Battle discussion but deserves another mention here. Stanley is far too inconsistent for the Cats. You can’t go from his effort against the Eagles to this week. Another poor performance could see Stanley axed, if he survives the review from this game.
Well, the Swans have jumped up to fourth on the ladder and steadied their season. But their biggest test is arguably yet to come, in the form of the unstoppable Melbourne Demons at the MCG next Saturday night. A big statement, I know, considering they have now beaten both grand finalists from last year, but this is the way football works and when this season finally shapes up we could be looking back at this teams run saying “That game. That was the game it became real for them”. With Hewett and Rampe as potential in’s that could shape as the match of the season, so far.
Another close game for the Cats. This time they didn’t get the lucky escape. Its hard to get a read on Geelong’s form. Is this the team that couldn’t go with the Demons and struggled to put up away the hapless North Melbourne, or the team that demolished the Eagles? Who knows? But we will have a much better idea after next week when they face the Tigers in a huge Friday night match. A Grand Final re-match and both teams chasing a win to keep pace with the new upstarts in the top four this season. It’s not all on the line just yet for Geelong (still above .500) but they’d want to start banking some wins if they don’t want to have to fight for their spot in the eight deep into the season.