And so, it was a beatdown from the Cats at Optus Stadium, never giving the messy, disorganised and, frankly, terrible Fremantle Dockers a chance.
On their home deck, Freo barely gave a yelp as Geelong controlled all aspects of the game to run out convincing 69-point winners in pretty slippery conditions. The funny thing is, only one team appeared to be playing in slippery conditions. Geelong were able to control the footy, notching a mammoth +72 in marks for the contest. Yep, you read that correctly – Freo took 65 marks for the game and Geelong notched 137.
I am no mathemagician, but that is team-death by statistics.
Geelong had 20 marks inside 50 to Freo’s two, and despite having 123 more disposals, were able to register more tackles as well, with the final tally 55-43.
I am not going to beat around the bush here – Fremantle fancied themselves as a finals chance this season. On this game’s form, they should save the effort, use it to look for a good draft pick and start exploring trade options for Adam Cerra. Based on their effort and execution in this one, they’re going nowhere!
Geelong played like a top team, and as of the end of this game, that is where they find themselves. Yes, the Dogs and Dees can leap back over them over the course of this coming weekend, but the Cats have thrown down the challenge, and you never know whether you’re going to get an answer from those teams.
Usually, I would compile a Good, Bad and Ugly for this game, but this contest was so one-sided, that for the second time this season, I am splitting the review into two. The first half will be focused on the power of Geelong, who continue to play the type of footy that, whilst not attractive at points, makes them look as though they can win it all.
The second section will be on Freo, and whilst it will not be good, I have a few thoughts and ideas about how they could get a better, or at least a different structure going forward. Maybe you’ll hate the ideas. Maybe you’ll laugh at me and think I’m nuts – you would not be alone there. However, maybe some will agree – I guess we’ll soon see.
How do you highlight the best in a team where everyone contributed? How do you shine a light on the standouts when, at points, they all stood out?
The Cats delivered a comprehensive lesson in how to play as a unit. There would be a heap of teams out there watching the way this played out, and fearing that the Cats have everything required to go all the way in 2021.
EXPOSING THE WEAKNESSES
Battle-tested and bearing the scars to prove it, the Geelong midfield was far and away the better outfit in this contest, putting their Freo counterparts to shame, denying them the football and causing them to kick under pressure when they got it.
How many times did you see a Fremantle player try to kick inboard in this game from the wing? I can remember one, and it was Rory Lobb turning it over as only he can. There was no daring footy from Andrew Brayshaw, no sizzling passes to position from Adam Cerra, and nothing to make you “oooh” or “ahhh” when Caleb Serong had the footy.
With Nat Fyfe carrying a shoulder injury, and David Mundy well down on his usual production, the Cats cracked down on the emerging Freo midfield and the pressure was just too much for them to handle.
The Cats squeezed the life out of a Fremantle on-ball unit that was evidently not up for the fight. Guthrie, Menegola, Selwood and Dangerfield brought the heat offensively, and a bloke named Brandan Parfitt demonstrated just why he is one of the best tacklers in the game, notching ten more in this one – a couple of his rundown efforts were absolutely fantastic.
With just ten effective touches between Brayshaw, Serong and Cerra in the first quarter, the Cats had the Dockers on toast, and once Sean Darcy removed himself from the contest with a sore left knee, the Cats had their final obstacle removed. From there, the midfield domination was complete.
CAPITALISING ON THE STRENGTHS OF OTHERS
The ruck situation always seems to be an issue for the Cats, and as time ticked by in this one, it seemed as though it may be the case once more.
Sean Darcy was looking great and was leading the Dockers’ charge with some inspiring second efforts. Matched up against Rhys Stanley for the most part, Darcy bullied his way to 15 first-quarter hit outs and seven contested touches, however, when you look at the clearance numbers, the Cats actually finished the quarter up 13-12.
Was this a matter of Darcy not feeding his mids, or was it a matter of the Geelong mids disallowing the young Fremantle onballers any opportunity at clean possession?
Maybe a little from Column A and a little from Column B.
Darcy put the ball at the feet of his mids at times, but the rate at which the Cats closed in around that player meant that any release handball was poor and rarely hit a target. As so often happens, the clearance numbers skewed the actual result of those stoppages, with the Cats well on top in second possessions from those stoppages as well as winning the footy with first hands on it more often.
Darcy started to take the footy from the ruck, and actually managed to negate the influence of Hawkins in the ruck inside forward 50, but all good things must come to an end, and when Darcy needed a rest, he was replaced by that renowned big man, Blake Acres.
Yep… you could just see Stanley and Blicavs shaking in their boots at the prospect of contending for the ruck taps with that bloke, right? With Rory Lobb subbed out with a torn heartstr… errr, sore ankle, and Darcy soon to follow, the Cats continued to apply the pressure around stoppages, leading to an advantage in tackles as well as clearances.
Ignoring the unused sub, the bottom six players in terms of disposals in this game belonged to Fremantle, and eight of the bottom nine fit that description as well, with the sole Geelong player failing to hit double figures for possessions being Esava Ratugolea.
However, I would argue that he was more effective than any other player in single digits.
Geelong had everyone playing their role in this game. Luke Dahlhaus was on-song early, picking up six of his eight tackles in the first half. When the heat was on, so was he! Brandan Parfitt turned tackling into an art form, whilst Quinton Narkle showed quite a bit as well.
Looking at the Geelong side, top to bottom, it is difficult to pick fault with anything in terms of output, and with the team combining this well and ensuring everyone is involved, the Cats are going about things the right way.
If you’re a basketball fan from back in the 90s, you may remember those Chicago Bulls docos they’d release after every championship, detailing how the team got to the playoffs, and detailing their run to the title. In one of them, with a particular focus on Michael Jordan, the narrative was that MJ had to learn to trust those around him during the season, and to celebrate the things they did that contributed to the win. Yes, he might score forty, but it was the big three hit by Steve Kerr, or the contested rebound dragged down by Horace Grant that was being missed. Once Phil Jackson got Jordan and his team doing that, success flowed.
Now, I am not sure who you liken to Jordan in this Geelong team, but the premise remains the same – it is often the little things, when combined, that turn into something big. And in this game, Geelong had a team full of players doing the little things that made a difference.
If you were to pick one game to be a fly on the wall for during the review, I reckon this would be the one. It may be the most positive review these Geelong boys have ever had.
MEN V BOYS
For a moment, I want you to picture the following Geelong medium defenders.
Tom Stewart, Jed Bews, Mark O’Connor (yes, he played defence in this one), Tom Atkins, Zach Tuohy… what do you notice about these blokes?
They’re bloody men! They’re not some skinny little runts (not a typo) trying to pick up the loose footy and get cheap touches – they defend, they are capable of crashing into an opponent and making them pay, and they don’t shy away from physical contact.
The Geelong defence is such a powerful beast that when you throw Mark Blicavs and Jack Henry into the mix as your key defenders, they walk so much taller knowing that they have the type of players around them that are prepared to put their bodies on the line and have the capacity to impact the contest physically.
Did you see Tom Stewart bumping Rory Lobb over the boundary line in this one? Just the nice legal hip and shoulder… everyone move on, nothing to see here. How about there being absolutely no one-on-one marking contests inside Fremantle’s forward fifty? These blokes simply did not allow it.
In contrast, at the other end, you had James Aish looking like a schoolboy in comparison, Nathan Wilson unable to generate any run, and Darcy Tucker, who is a midfielder. This is how Tom Hawkins and Patrick Dangerfield were able to take ten marks inside fifty between them.
It was all left to Luke Ryan and Alex Pearce to defend, and they simply couldn’t do it. Where the Cats would angle back to create a two-on-one, the Dockers failed miserably, always a day late and a buck short when it came to helping out.
Geelong play a methodical brand of footy at times, and it is vitally important for them to be confident that should they turn it over, they have a structure in place behind the footy to cover them, and with the blokes I named above, plus defensive on-ballers (in this case Brandan Parfitt) getting back to help out, Chris Scott would be pretty pleased with just how well this defensive unit worked together in this one.
NO CAMERON? NO ROHAN? NO WORRIES
The Cats came into this game with two of their three-headed monster missing. This should have allowed Luke Ryan to zone off and crash into every Tom Hawkins contest inside 50.
And yet, that was not the case.
The reason for that was a midfielder that has proven he can go forward and hit the scoreboard meaningfully, and that’s exactly what he did in this one.
Patrick Dangerfield became the perfect second option for the dominant Hawkins, drawing the fire of Luke Ryan to allow Hawkins a clean run at several contests. The big man delivered, notching four goals for the game, and Danger was not far behind, with three.
Dangerfield forward is a bit of a sore point for some supporters, with memories of the third quarter against the Tigers, booth in the 2020 decider and the 2019 Preliminary Final still a little raw, but as much as Cats fans lament the sight of Danger plonked in a forward pocket as Richmond took control, there is a method to the Chris Scott madness. In times of trouble, Danger can provide the path to safety.
With the return of Cameron and Rohan, the expectation in 2021 will be that Dangerfield plays where he is best-suited, and that is in the guts. However, if there comes a time, and Chris Scott is looking for something a little more potent from his forwards, could he pull the trigger and throw his champion inside forward fifty in the finals again?
And if the Cats make the big dance, will he have the guts to do it again on the biggest stage?
ONE SOUR POINT
I hate staging.
Hate it with a passion. Below, if you choose to read on, I’ll outline how it has impacted the way Michael Walters is perceived by both supporters and umpires, but in terms of the Cats, there is one moment that Shaun Higgins would like to have back.
In an age where we’re taking head injuries seriously and the AFL is cracking down on all forms of head trauma, to try to milk a free kick for a dangerous tackle that wasn’t dangerous is a pretty low act. You’re putting the heat on the umpire, and possibly even setting up the opposition player for a report.
In the second quarter, Higgins was caught by Luke Ryan and whipped to the ground. Yes, it was a hard tackle (tee hee), but Ryan did everything he could to prevent Higgins from being injured. So, what did Higgins do?
He pretended to be hurt so he could win a free kick.
Guys, this is as bad as anything Joe Daniher has been smashed for doing. Higgins is a veteran of the game and should know better, particularly given how he actually copped a pretty significant blow to the head a couple of years back – remember that one? It was nasty.
We want to see a game where players tackle hard but fair, and that’s what Luke Ryan did. To see Higgins clutch at his head in a weak attempt to draw a free kick… I screwed up my nose at that action. It is completely against everything our game stands for, or should stand for. It was weak, it was underhanded, and really, it is below a player the standing of Higgins.
I am not one to wish punishment on a player, but if they’re going to ping players for staging in one aspect of the game, they should ping Higgins for this one. It was crap.
Righto, let’s not bullshit one another – there were no positives coming out of this game. None at all.
The midfield was smashed, the forwards blanketed, and the defence looked in disarray, continually caught out and unable to provide support poor bloody Alex Pearce who needed a third man to come in and help as he wrestled Tom Hawkins.
That said, there were some things that stood out more than others. And as weird as my suggestions may sound, screw it – they can’t result in anything worse than what we saw in this game. Let’s try to be a little creative with it and hopefully you get something to think about rather than just doom and gloom.
But there’ll still be doom and gloom – fair warning.
NAT FYFE AS A HALF BACK?
And here’s where I lose you, right? Gimme a chance.
This season alone, we have seen two club captains forego their preferred roles to “take one for the team” in a sense.
At North Melbourne, Jack Ziebell moved from the forward role he played over the last couple of seasons to defence, and after a rocky start, attempting to hold up North Melbourne defence that was falling apart, he has emerged as a quality intercept/rebound player in the second half of 2021.
At Essendon, Dyson Heppell moved from the midfield to a half back flank and has quietly gone about compiling an excellent season. Now, I hear what you’re thinking – Fyfe is several cuts above these guys in terms of what he offers in his current role.
And you’re right.
When he is fully fit, Fyfe is one of the best players in the competition. However, he looks wounded to the point he is starting to be ineffective, and when there is a wounded contested beast in the middle, the hungry predators on the other team smell blood, and they start to circle.
Fyfe was like a one-armed bandit out there in this one, and whenever engaged in a physical contest, looked to favour his injured shoulder. In addition, he flew for marks one-handed or, when opposed to Patrick Dangerfield, didn’t fly at all.
That is unlike the Fyfe that Freo fans have come to know and love.
He is obviously playing through some pretty significant pain, so why not ease the burden on him somewhat? Why not give him the chance to pick up a few possessions behind the footy and use his creativity to spark his team? Hell, could it be any worse than the predictable kick down the line that Freo employed all game without success in this one?
The thing Fyfe possesses that both Ziebell and Heppell do not is his ability to take a great overhead mark, and if the Dockers can manufacture matchups that permit Fyfe to zone off and become more of an attacking weapon, they could start to look a little more composed both in defending the aerial contests, and moving the ball outside 50.
Ask yourself this – how many times were Freo able to create a switch and hit the fat side in this game? Successfully, I mean? I counted one – halfway through the last quarter. Their ball use was, pardon the bluntness – absolutely pathetic. And whilst Fyfe has been criticised for his use of the footy this season, so was Heppell last year, and Ziebell throughout his entire career.
It may sound stupid at the moment, as Fremantle are still going to push for a finals spot, but in the bigger picture, playing Fyfe in a role like this as opposed to having him continually bash and crash his way into packs, could add a couple of years to his career.
And in terms of moving him forward late in his career… you may want to check his results when he has played up there. He’s drifted forward a bit this season, right? Six goals. That’s what he has returned. He has a career high of four. He doesn’t work that well as a forward target – why not try something a little bit left of centre?
AISH AND WILSON SHOULD BE PLAYING WING
I’m starting with James Aish, if you don’t mind.
He is not a defender. You can play him there all you like, but he looks like a child compared to the men around him. The AFL website has him listed at 80 kilograms, but he looks so slight that a stiff breeze could knock him over. In the first quarter, he was responsible for the young Geelong forward, Brad Close.
By my reckoning, Close was just about the best player on the ground in the opening quarter. Aish was cruising around, paying scant attention to Close, who picked up six touches, four marks and a goal. He tightened up in the second quarter, and eventually handed over to Brandon Walker when he came on for Rory Lobb. And that was like addition by subtraction given the way Lobb was performing.
Aish has been playing AFL footy for eight seasons and still looks like he has the body of a particularly weedy teenager. He flat out refused to take possession of the footy in the second quarter when he knew contact was going to come his way, opting for a pissy little tap on to a man under more pressure than him.
He has played wing for this club and I thought he played it quite well last season before Blake Acres returned from his hamstring injury to go about his business… whatever that is… and I’ll get to what that is, believe me.
The other bloke is Nathan Wilson, who is a liability on defence as well.
If he has time and space, he can be an absolute weapon, but the issue when playing good teams is that you simply do not get time and space. You get shut down and forced to defend.
And Nathan doesn’t particularly like that aspect of the game.
When you look at the way some teams work to free up their best kickers (Richmond with Jayden Short, Brisbane with Daniel Rich, West Coast with Shannon Hurn) you have to wonder what the hell Freo are doing with Wilson. If he is not getting the footy in spots where he can use his run and carry, and bang the footy on his boot to gain distance, what good is he?
The current wing set up for the Dockers is terrible. It requires an overhaul, with players who can use their run and carry, as well as their foot skills to better serve the team. As it stands right now, that is not happening. Adam Cerra, Blake Acres, Travis Colyer, and even Andrew Brayshaw have rotated through there this season. When was the last time you saw one of them really impact a game from that role?
Cerra can, but he has been at his best when he plays on-ball, not out wide. With him eyeing the door, it is time the Dockers stopped coddling him out there. If he is a mid, play him in there and see if he is worth the big money some clubs are going to offer him. He’s been given an armchair ride by the Dockers to this point, and he’s going to walk!
Freo are still in contention for that finals spot, but should they fall, they need to take on the persona of a good lover – a bit of experimentation, and the willingness to try something new could be the ticket to unlocking the potential of both these players, because right now they’re not showing me anywhere near enough.
AND WHAT OF BLAKE ACRES?
Any wrestling fans reading?
Do you remember the Ultimate Warrior? Looked great, huh? Was all muscle, facepaint and clotheslines. My favourite description of him came from Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura, when he described him as having “a million-dollar body and a ten-cent brain”.
Now, I am not here to state Blake Acres is stupid in any way, shape or form, but when he was recruited, it was thought that his run and long kicking to position were going to be just the ticket to replace the departing Brad Hill.
Oh yes… I have a memory.
What the Dockers have received is a bloke who misses targets like he is at an MCG urinal. Under pressure or not, he hacks at the footy and just six of his 13 disposals for this game hit the mark. He has played 15 games this season and had 20+ disposals in just five of them. He has not had over 20 effective disposals at all this season.
As far as that “run and carry” goes, he has had over 400 metres gained just once in 2021. So… why is he playing on the wing? And what else could the Dockers do with him?
Acres is a player that has untapped potential. When he gets the footy, the Dockers play well. They are 4-1 in those games where he has 20+ disposals, but I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know when I state that he simply does not do it enough.
DID MICHAEL WALTERS GET THE SHORT END OF THE STICK IN THIS GAME?
Is this a situation of his own making?
Absolutely, it is.
Walters has a reputation now as a player who plays for free kicks. We all know it. The problem is, the umpires also know it, so when there is a 50/50 situation in real time, like the one that saw Sam Menegola knock him on his backside in the third quarter, the umpire is really wary about paying him a free kick because he doesn’t want to look like goose when the replay comes on the big screen and we see Walters exaggerating the contact.
Now, our resident Freo tragic, Matt Passmore claims you could hear the smack of the contact when Walters copped that bump, and I have no reason to doubt him at all, however, when you have a track record like Walters, even something like that is looked at with caution, and I cannot really blame the umpires for reacting that way.
Walters was paid an in the back free kick in the last quarter against Tom Stewart, and though the Geelong defender protested loudly and claimed that Walters “should get a medal” I reckon that was Stewart testing just how far he could push to see whether Walters’ reputation would work against him. In this case, it did not, and that is fine, but in terms of winning the confidence back of the umpiring fraternity, I reckon Walters has a heap of work to do.
At 30 years of age, I am not sure he has time on his side in that pursuit.
WAS THERE ANYTHING I LIKED?
Yep, Josh Treacy making his opponent pay in the first quarter when he dropped into the hole in front of him.
Sure, he got reported, but that was the warning shot over the bow for AFL defenders. This kid isn’t going to let you off the hook. He crashed into Jed Bews like he meant it, and I reckon small forwards all over the league will be willing to chip in to pay his fine, as Bews has caused all of them some nightmares at one time or another.
So, there we go – that was a comprehensive win. Geelong may now firm in the premiership market. Hitting the road and winning in WA is always impressive, and this team looks as though they are a unit that know who they are and what they stand for.
Conversely, Fremantle look like a team still trying to figure out who they are, and in this game, I reckon they discovered exactly the team they do NOT want to be. Let’s hope they learn from it.