Bloody hell, where do I begin here?

Firstly, my tips are ruined again after this one – to be honest I gave up weeks ago so I can’t go too hard on that one, but this was a contest that had all signs pointing towards another Geelong victory at Kardinia Park.

I’ve had my issues with Geelong all throughout this year. Yes, they somehow manage the results, but they have a style of ball movement that I can only classify as conservative and boring, only scoring when they need to and they’re a side that prides itself on possession footy and defensive prowess. But, hey, they’re getting the results – they had won 11 of the last 12 games, including the past five matches.

With the Giants, they continue to perplex and frustrate me with their results over the past month: losses to the likes of Hawthorn and the Gold Coast but wins against Melbourne and Essendon. It becomes a broken record when I say that there is a bit more of their 2020 season in this one – it’s so damn inconsistent.

In conjunction with their rollercoaster form, the Giants have also got a compounding injury list: Phil Davis, Jacob Hopper, Stephen Coniglio, Tom Green, Jeremy Finlayson and Jesse Hogan all didn’t play and are sure-fire best 22. Also missing were players that have featured a fair bit this season: Matt Flynn, Daniel Lloyd, Sam Reid and Bobby Hill.

Everything pointed to an easy Geelong win, but it was anything but as the Giants turned in one of the best performances since just prior to the 2019 Grand Final, and that is not a hyperbole. Understrength already and with the loss of Josh Kelly pre-game, it certainly didn’t make things any easier.

It was gutsy and determined, and it managed to keep them alive in the Finals race. The win keeps the GWS’ finals hopes alive with two winnable games to come (Yes, Richmond is absolutely gettable).

On the flipside for the Cats, this loss not only invites the Western Bulldogs to go a game clear on top of the ladder when they play on Sunday, but it gives Melbourne a chance to leapfrog them into the top two when they take on a very vulnerable West Coast side on Monday night.

But enough about that, there’s plenty to unfold as we crack into another autopsy on what was a Friday night shocker.

 

The Slammin’ Sam Taylor

When was the last time you saw Tom Hawkins absolutely outplayed and outmatched in a one-on-one so comprehensively and consistently?

I can’t think of a game in modern times where Hawkins has been a complete non-factor from start to end, but in this one Sam Taylor showed exactly where he stands in the pecking order for key defenders, holding Hawkins to just one goal from ten disposals.

Phil Davis may not have much longevity left in his playing career, but if Taylor can keep himself fit and healthy down the track, then I can’t see the defence being much of an issue, especially when you consider that they’ve got quality kids coming through the system such as Connor Idun and Jack Buckley.

Before the fourth quarter I was quietly mulling over who gets the best on votes and Taylor’s influence up to that point had him in consideration, but it was his efforts in the fourth that got him top votes. The Cats were rapidly pressing and charging towards making an unlikely comeback in this match as they were 38 points down midway through the third term.

Geelong can get very Hawkins-centric when they deliver the ball inside 50 and Taylor must’ve been doing his homework during the week, because on at least two occasions alone in the last quarter, he was leading Hawkins to the footy as though he was the forward on the lead. He read exactly where the ball was heading and he got there before Hawkins did – yes I reckon Taylor is a much quicker player too.

His last quarter was huge, but all up, it was a monster defensive game – 17 intercept possessions and eight intercept marks: both of which are career-highs: just one intercept possession short of the season record, which is held by Darcy Moore back in round two this year. He also had ten rebound 50s from his 12 marks and 21 disposals.

We know he missed so much time last year, but I can’t stress how much I’ve missed watching him play football. He’s just a terrific, hard-working defender and as this game proved, his best can beat any key forward in the league.

 

The Good And Bad Of Toby Greene

This is exactly what I mean when I say that Toby Greene is a bloody frustrating player to watch, because he was so good again in this one… he needed to be, because the Giants didn’t have many other scoring options going for them. However, it came with that damn caveat that he had to be a real shit head and hurt someone when it could’ve been easily avoided.

Okay, let’s get the bad out of the way – because this was somewhat of a decisive moment in the match. Toby Greene goes to pick up the footy in the first quarter and elects to stick his elbow up and it collects Patrick Dangerfield in the chin/throat area. Thankfully, no concussion, but Dangerfield was consequently subbed out of the game and then taken to hospital for further assessment.

My initial reaction was that it felt similar to when Dangerfield gave Nick Vlastuin one in the Grand Final, only to be correctly pointed out by The Slugger that Dangerfield had quickly palmed the ball of just as he made contact with the Richmond defender. Another comparison is the Bayley Fritsch fend off against North Melbourne earlier and that should’ve got a week at the very worst – it was very stupid and uncalled for.

So was this, and so it should get a week right? Well, if there’s one thing that Match Review Officer, Michael Christian is known for is being consistent…. consistently SHIT in his findings. The guess of you readers is as good as mine – either he gets off, or he gets two weeks because it’s Toby.

Anyway, what about the good? Well, he kicked four goals which were absolutely invaluable in this contest, but also had eight score involvements with his 16 disposals. The Giants needed someone to kick somewhat of a bag in this one and Toby was willing and able to answer the call – Hogan and Finlayson weren’t playing, Himmelberg drifted in and out of the game, but did kick two important goals throughout the match and Brent Daniels did his hamstring in the third term.

The Giants have been very dependent on Greene to kick their goals this season: 41 goals in 16 games is quite testimonial to this. However, they cannot afford to lose him for even one week – because as the last few weeks have shown, the race for the last spot in the top eight is wide open for at least five teams, and that includes the Giants.

 

Cumming And Going

Yes, I went there. But it’s a warranted by-line considering that in a season where he has broken out and has firmed himself as a staple in the GWS defensive six.

Before this game, Isaac Cumming’s numbers had been quite substantial as a rebounding defender, but this was a real break-out game of his. There was a lot of Heath Shaw about his game in the way that he was running the ball up and was hitting teammates on the chest quite consistently, but he does it on top of gaining meterage, and he nearly clocked over 1000 metres gained – which is something I’d almost consider the perfect rebounding defender’s game.

Albeit he would’ve breathed the biggest sigh of relief when he turned over the ball to Jordan Clark late in the last quarter – all he had to do was rush the ball over the goal line – the pressure was there from the Geelong players. It should’ve been a three-point game, but Clark hitting the belly of the ball on the snap around the body took a fair amount of wind out of the sails of Geelong.

That aside, it was a brilliant display from Cumming. Before this game, he had not reached 30+ disposals at all in his short career and had only achieved ten rebound 50s or more once – that was in round two this year against Fremantle.

In his one he had 34 disposals, with 26 of these being kicks, going at 84% efficiency. On top of that, he had a staggering 18 rebound 50s, which equalled the season record/league record that was set by North Melbourne’s Jack Ziebell’s 18 that he had – ironically against Geelong back in April. Most importantly he had 984 metres gained – a little disappointing considering that directly after the match the AFL stats sheet had him logged in at 997.

Regardless of how this year pans out for the Giants, one glaring positive has been the revelation of Isaac Cumming as the primary running man out of the defensive half – he does look very good when he takes the game on.

 

Giants Around The Source

Don’t let the full-time stats fool you. In their first three quarters, I thought for all bar the first ten minutes of the match and possibly small patches elsewhere, Geelong were second at the footy and were well beaten for contested possession. Geelong only clawed back the clearance count in their favour in the last quarter, winning the count by six.

In terms of the contested possession count, GWS were on top from basically start to end and there are a few men that played key to the success around the source – they were +18 in contested possessions by full time. Even more impressive considering that the uncontested possession count was +2 in favour of Geelong and the marks tally was +29 in favour of Geelong.

I have been critical of Tim Taranto in a few GWS reviews this year for his use of the ball by foot, but this was a pure game of extraction for him and this is exactly what he should be doing – maybe it’s a bit easier with the likes of Green and Hopper not playing, hey?

Nonetheless, only 12 of his 34 disposals were kicks and he was kicking them at 50%, which is good for an inside midfielder – come on, you can’t expect high efficiency numbers from an inside midfielder. He also kicked two massive goals from seemingly very little and led all Giants for contested possessions with 13 for the game and was equal-leading Giant on the ground with nine tackles.

The other Giant? Kieran Briggs, who I thought showed a lot in this game, looked like he could be the ideal successor to Shane Mumford… you know, without the added cheap shots and thuggery.

It’s hard to really say who had the better in the ruck duel, Rhys Stanley did his part for Geelong and I thought he played well, but Briggs was equally quite impressive, considering that he has played far fewer AFL games than his counterpart. He had 20 hitouts, with six to advantage in comparison to Stanley’s 31 and 11. However, it was work at ground level that I quite liked. As well as the nine tackles, he also had five clearances, with three of them directly coming from centre bounces.

The other player that should get a mention is Callan Ward. He might be getting on in age, but he is still working hard and providing gut-busting runs to get to the next contest and is willing to put his body on line to keep the ball from Geelong’s hands – seven clearances led all Giants in the statistic, but also had 11 contested possessions in a strong game.

 

So… Let’s Talk Geelong

Was there anything good about the Cats?

Danger was lost in the first quarter, Gary Rohan’s body looked cooked in the second term, Zach Tuohy had ice on his hamstring in the last quarter – it looked as if nothing went right.

A lot of players were very poor. Nathan Krueger got out bodied way too easily. Jordan Clark looks a kid bereft of confidence, despite what that mullet may be telling you. Quinton Narkle answered all your questions as to why he wasn’t getting a game with a quiet one. Esava Ratugolea got held well by Jake Stein for about 90% of the game, Brad Close was a non-factor offensively and Brandan Parfitt was kicking them horribly.

Tom Stewart had a bit of attention all night from Matt Buntine, but he worked hard in parts to shake the defensive attention. I think the world of Tom Stewart, but this game proved that he too, is human and if you can isolate him or anyone else of his defensive cohorts inside 50, they are quite a vulnerable proposition, and the Giants did a good job in the opening three quarters to isolate defenders one-on-one or at worst, keep the ball low to deny blokes like Stewart a fair run at the footy.

But, there were some good things to take out of it.

Jack Henry up forward in the second half was promising. Something had to be done up forward, after the Cats only kicked three goals in the first half and Henry provided a good option and bobbed up with two important goals in the second half to keep the Cats within some striking distance. Given Geelong’s strength down back, is this a string that could be pulled more often by Scott? We’ve seen it a couple of times, but will you get more out of him as a forward than you do Ratugolea?

The fourth quarter saved Joel Selwood, because I thought he was quite ordinary in this one up until three quarter time, especially with his hit on Taylor in the third quarter – should be suspended in that one if we’re being honest. But in fairness, Selwood’s – in tandem with Rhys Stanley – work in the stoppages helped spark the Cats run a fair bit – even in his veteran years, he can still manage in a strong stint: three of his nine clearances came in the last quarter.

Sam Menegola was another player that I thought put in a very strong shift in this one: 22 disposals, 18 kicks at 55% efficiency, as well as 509 metres gained, five tackles and three clearances. Felt like he didn’t stop working hard, despite the average kicking.

Oh, I almost forgot about Jed Bews as well. I thought he looked as if he was one of the rare Cats players that looked as if he wanted to keep the ball moving directly and swiftly as possible: 493 metres gained from 17 kicks at over 76% efficiency and also led all Cats for intercept possessions with 11 for the match

 

Other Observations

I really liked Max Holmes’ start to the game – showed pretty slick, precision kicking and some really strong tackling pressure, but the influence in this game dropped off horribly after halftime. But I think there’s a bit for Chris Scott to work with down the track.

Haven’t managed to get around Lachie Whitfield’s game yet, but he was absolutely outstanding in this one, his speed with the ball in his hand and his precision kicking absolutely sliced up Geelong’s zone defence on more than one occasion: 726 metres gained from 34 disposals, 23 kicks at 61 percent efficiency and also had eight rebound 50s, seven intercept possessions and five score involvements.

I was quite happy for Jake Kolodjashnij to kick his first goal in league footy after 127 games stuck in defensive roles at the Cattery. I thought he was pretty good in a Cats’ defence that was under siege a fair bit in this one, too. Was he the right matchup for Greene?

My good friend and colleague from the A3 Footy Podcast, Alex Miller said it was a must to mention both Zach Sproule and Xavier O’Halloran in this one – neither of them would be in anyone’s best 22, but both played very strong roles in the Giants’ win.

Let’s start with Sproule. He was the back-up ruck to Briggs, but brought a lot of presence and pressure for a big – seven tackles, four marks, 19 pressure acts and managed to get on the end of one goal for his trouble.

As for O’Halloran, I loved watching him run and try to take the game on with every chance he could – he had 15 disposals, eight kicks for 337 metres gained. Was far from the best Giant on the ground, but I liked his dash and dare with the ball on the wing.

Cam Guthrie’s nine tackles were a positive, but he left me wanting a fair bit with his 24 disposals – couldn’t even crack into 100 metres gained, which tells me that he was doing a lot of backwards and sideways kicking.

Lastly, Callum Brown’s two goals were both on the back of staying on the ground as a pack flew up to attempt to mark the footy, very clever player. Hey, did you guys know he was Irish? If you didn’t, then the chaps from Seven did their darndest to make sure you knew by the end of it.

And on that note, it’s time to put the full stop to another autopsy.

This was a massive win for the Giants and one that can install belief back into their system. They’ll need it, because they have games against Richmond and Carlton to come and both of them are also in contention for that last spot in the top eight. I’m not even going to begin to predict a winner in either game – because all three are sporadic in terms of bringing their best and their worst footy.

As for the Cats, I’m a strong believer of the top sides needing these sorts of losses to happen and with St Kilda next week, you’d expect them to do the Saints in comfortably next week on the rebound. To close out the year, they’ve got Melbourne in a match that could easily decide who gets the home final as well as the double chance, assuming the Bulldogs don’t capitulate themselves.

But as this result has shown – expect the unexpected, because you just can’t predict or script games in football anymore.

 

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