The Cats moved into yet another Preliminary Final after dispatching the Giants in a game that saw Geelong gain the ascendancy but never quite put the game away until halfway through the last quarter.

With the Giants mounting a final challenge, it was the Cats’ main man, and the bloke that has consistently put his hand up as one of the best key forwards of his generation, Tom Hawkins, that steadied the ship to see his team go on to win by 35-points and make a date with the Demons next Friday.

Let’s be honest – this game was not a great spectacle, with the first half failing to ascend to the heights we’d hoped, but there were definite moments. Bobby Hill was electrifying as he slotted a wonderful goal in the third quarter and created another for Connor Stone, Zach Tuohy gave everyone a reminder of just what a weapon Geelong possesses off half-back, and we saw a revival of the Matt de Boer v Patrick Dangerfield battle.

There is a ton to get through in this one, including the celebration of one of my favourite players, Joel Selwood, breaking the club record and cementing himself as a club legend… as if he wasn’t already rated as one.

Let’s jump into The Mongrel’s Big Questions

 

WHY WAS STEPHEN CONIGLIO PLAYING?

I have no damn idea.

He looks so underdone, tentative and timid in the contest that it surely cannot be to add to the team’s performance.

So, was it leadership?

Where was he when the team needed someone to stand up and make a statement? As a matter of fact, where was he for the entire second half?

You know, I was a real supporter of Toby Greene replacing Cogs as the captain of the Giants for 2022, but recent events probably make that impossible. I mean, Greene’s absence hurt the Giants infinitely more than Coniglio’s presence did in this game, but at least Cogs was there, right?

Right!?!?

Maybe it would have been better if he wasn’t. GWS fans – you want to throw at me his eight tackles as proof that he was effective? I’ll throw you his 50% efficiency from 14 touches and state that he laid eight tackles because he was second to the footy time and time again. This season has been a complete disaster for Coniglio. He was shown up when Greene took over the leadership in his absence – the team started playing for a captain instead of whatever they were doing with Cogs prior. And in his return, he has demonstrated nowhere near the ability to lift he displayed back in 2019.

Looking at the state of the GWS list, I reckon he was probably lucky to get a run in this team. He was obviously nowhere near fit or strong enough, and it is only the injuries to others that he became a viable option. Needs a massive preseason to get himself right, or that big contract extension he signed last year (or was it the year before?) might come back to bit the Giants right on the backside.

 

IS ONE OF THE ZACH TUOHY/TOM STEWART DUO ENOUGH TO TAKE THE CATS TO THE FLAG?

What a difference having someone in the team that backs himself, trusts his kicking and is willing to take the game on.

Last week, the Cats looked flat. They were hemmed into the back half and were unable to move the ball freely. Missing both Tom Stewart and Zach Tuohy – two of their most potent rebounding defenders, Geelong were too easily stifled, prompting many to speculate on whether this stagnant style of play would stand up over the course of finals.

People really need to do their homework.

Not only were the Cats doing what they normally do – drop a Qualifying Final – they were going to welcome back one of the most underrated half backs in the caper this week. Yes, Tom Stewart may be a way off, and probably won’t get back this year even if Geelong make the Grand Final, but Zach Tuohy was, and he proceeded to rip GWS a new one in the first quarter.

At points in this article, you’ll read parts where questions around Leon Cameron’s coaching and set-up are questioned, but this one is probably the largest error of them all – how can you leave the best rebounder and most potent runner from half back on the Geelong team wide open to start the game? That was bush-league stuff, and Tuohy treated it that way, picking up 11 disposals and running forward to set up scoring opportunities.

Who was on him?

Bloody no one! The Giants were consistently sucked into the contest, leaving Tuohy free as a bird to do as he pleased. Chris Scott must have thought it was his birthday, because this was an absolute gift!

Tuohy finished with 31 touches and was probably second only to Tom Hawkins in terms of the best on ground. The Dees would be wise to take note of what GWS did and do the complete opposite next week.

 

WHO WON THE DANGER/DE BOER WAR?

Before we get into this, we must make a point to acknowledge that Danger was playing with an injured hand. Some may argue that it doesn’t make a difference, but I beg to differ – any injury of significance makes a difference in a one-on-one contest.

Anyway, all things being fair, you’d give the nod to de Boer in this one. The tag was applied at its tightest during the first half, resulting in just nine disposals for Danger, whilst de Boer had ten of his own. If you offered that to Leon Cameron, he’d take it every single time.

Danger did have seven clearances for the game as he battled hard at the coalface, but for the most part, de Boer was highly effective in restricting him.

 

DID HAWKINS DRAG GEELONG OVER THE LINE?

No, it was a combination of things, but he certainly anchored the team and gave them their “get out of jail” target when they needed it down the stretch. Make no mistake, GWS were coming in the last quarter. After giving up the first goal of the last quarter, the Giants kicked the next three, and those with memories a bit more expansive than a goldfish may have started to cast their mind back to the Round 23 loss that saw Melbourne come back from 44 points down to pinch a win at the death.

But Tom Hawkins was having none of that. He was a colossus in the last quarter, snagging three goals to take him to five for the game in an effort that was the clear difference between the two teams.

I must stress, I rate this performance so highly, bit just because of the timing of his goals, or the way he made the footy talk, but due to the calibre of his opponent as well. Sam Taylor is the best young defender in the game at the moment, and is developing into the player GWS will build their defence around for the next seven or eight seasons. To see Hawkins beat him in one-on-one clashes was spectacular, and whilst I know that Taylor was trying his guts out – he always does – Hawkins was just better, and he deserves the utmost credit for his efforts in steadying the Geelong ship.

After answering those three GWS goals with one of his own, Harry Himmelberg slotted one to give the Giants another sniff. Guess who righted the ship again? Yep… Tomahawk, with his fourth goal at the 14 and a half minute mark. Then, just for good measure, and to stamp out any potential GWS rally, he slotted his fifth four minutes later to ice the game.

GWS fans may well lament some early umpiring decisions. They should definitely blame a couple of terrible turnovers coming out of half-back in the last quarter. And they could possibly blame a couple of baffling coaching decisions, but Tom Hawkins became THE difference in this game, and he did it at a point where he absolutely broke the hearts of the Giants supporters.

Because that’s what professionals do.

 

HOW MUCH BETTER DOES THE CATS DEFENCE LOOK WITH MARK BLICAVS BACK THERE?

A lot of the focus in the aftermath of this game will revolve around Jesse Hogan being pulled from the lineup pretty late in the piece, however, with Mark Blicavs moving back into defence in this game, I am not sure it would have made much of a difference.

What a luxury it must be for Chris Scott to have this bloke able to slot in anywhere on the ground, but when you really need someone to shut down the opposition’s best key forward – in this case, Harry Himmelberg – you know you can just call his number, send him to full back and rest easy that the job is going to be done.

Blicavs had 13 one-percenters in this game – easily his highest output of the season, and well and truly did the job on Himmelberg. The defence would be that Himmelberg is not the first option as a full forward… but really, Blicavs couldn’t give two shits about who is the first, second or third option – he was there to do a job and he did it without fuss. Himmelberg got free for a couple of late goals, but with just eight touches to his name, was far from putting his stamp on the game.

After two best and fairest awards with the Cats, Blicavs has gone from a project player to one of the most reliable one-on-one defenders in the game, and if there is no designated match up for him, he has the aerobic capacity to run around all day from the wing and take back half ruck contests. Underrated as you can get, even with those two B&F wins, Blicavs versus Ben Brown looms as a pivotal battle in the prelim.

 

WAS LACHIE ASH THE PICK OF THE YOUNG BLOKES OUT THERE IN THIS ONE?

I loved watching him go about it – looked calm and collected, took his time even when the game was relatively hot (it was never red hot, was it?) and made the effort to find teammates in better spots. He did about all you can ask from a 20 year old in a losing side.

He is a hard runner and looks like he genuinely wants the ball at all times. That may sound dumb, but when you watch a lot of footy, you will see blokes out there playing their roles, dragging an opponent to a spot on the ground where they know the likelihood of them receiving the footy is remote – Ash doesn’t do that.

He consistently puts himself in spots where he can receive and do damage with the footy, and though I have heard some people criticise him for this, I genuinely like the fact that he is visibly frustrated at times when he is not used, or his hard run is ignored. It shows that he cares, and there is a little of Nathan Buckley in him in that regard – not as in the way Buckley played in the first couple of season (he was a ready-made star), but in terms of his mindset.

Ash could be anything at AFL level – a brilliant half back, a potent wingman, or a genuine mid… I know that’s not everything, but you get what I mean. With the consistent midfield squeeze at GWS, it may take some time for him to truly find his feet. Once he does, he could be a top 20 player in the league. Bookmark me and come back to this in about four years.

 

WERE THE INSIDE 50 DELIVERIES THE DIFFERENCE IN THE TEAMS?

If not THE difference, they were certainly a big difference.

There was a bit of chatter amongst my fellow Mongrels about the arm chop free kicks in the first half. The Cats picked up a few of them, and whilst I thought one was definitely there, a couple were… well, “iffy” is a word that leaps to mind.

However, that is not the aspect I want to drill down on in this section. You see, whether or not the Cats get those free kicks or not is inconsequential – they missed the shots at goal except for Jeremy Cameron’s opener – I am more concerned with how the ball came to those forwards, giving them every chance to mark, and forcing the umpire to make a decision regarding the marking attempt. Hawkins, Cameron, Rohan, and Ratugolea hit up at the ball carrier and those Geelong mids and half backs (a big hell to Zach Tuohy) honoured their leads. If they marked it – great, if they didn’t it was more due to having their arms chopped and the umpire was prompted to make the call.

Head up the other end, and you had the Giants employing the tied and true tactic of bombing the ball long to ten metres out and hoping like hell that someone would fly in and clunk a mark.

That’s all well and good when you have big contested marking players down there, but the Giants had Harry Himmelberg and… that’s about it. Seriously, do not throw the name of Jack Sproule at me as a high-marking option. That would both be incredibly unfair to expect him to fill the void, and dumb if you were genuinely expecting him to.

The Giant collected one contested mark inside their forward fifty, and with defenders the likes of Blicavs, Henderson, Henry and Kolodjashnij standing in the way, it’s no bloody wonder.

It was a poor plan, it was poorly executed and it took way too long to be corrected. Geelong had the right idea from the outset and but for wayward kicking at goal, could have put this game on ice by quarter time. That’s what is possible when you lower your eyes and don’t just hope for the best.

 

GIVEN HIS TIME OVER, WOULD LEON CAMERON WASTE TIM TARANTO AT HALF FORWARD?

I reckon there’d be a few things Leon Cameron may want to have a “do-over” on.

But yes, Tim Taranto seems to have tricked people into thinking he is a capable forward. He is a midfielder, and a damn good one at that. At half time of this game, stranded at half-forward and finding it difficult to get into the game, Taranto had seven touches and just two of them were effective.

He was a fish out of water in an attempt to cover the loss of Toby Greene, as he had done earlier in the season when Greene was out and the 2019 best and fairest kicked four snags. It was a career-high for him, and I am sure Cameron thought he could replicate the feat.

He thought wrong.

Thrown into the middle at the start of the last quarter, Taranto genuinely made a difference. He had five clearance amongst his 11 touches and looked like a player that had finally been unleashed to play the role where he is able to excel. Of course, history will tell us it was way too late. It’s nice that Leon Cameron had faith in Taranto to turn things around up forward for three damn quarters, but what those three quarters delivered was a well below-par result.

Nine touches in three quarters of footy from a player with the upside of Taranto is borderline unforgivable. You may buy into the “if only Leon Cameron had all his players to use” line that was being bandied about by commentators… well, how about he actually uses the player he has at his disposal properly in the first place!

 

WHAT DOES THE INJURY TO PARFITT DO TO THE CATS?

I’d like to say it changes things, but I am not sure it does. They have the depth to cover him, although his tackling in the clinches will be missed.

So, who do you bring in?

Shaun Higgins is an option, but the way the Cats have managed him this season, it is as though they know something others do not about Higgins. Shall I enlighten you? Shhhh… don’t tell anyone, okay, but his kicking is not all that it’s cracked up to be. He doesn’t hurt with his disposal, and he is a little bit of a bruise-free player at this stage of his career. Medi-Sub, maybe… but I would be looking at someone more like Narkle in the inside/outside role, which would permit him to team with Mitch Duncan and switch on the half-forward line.

Or, a move of Tom Atkins into the middle for periods, if you’re feeling you need a little more grunt, could work. Ditto Zach Tuohy.

It’s nice to have options, I guess. The Cats have Danger, Selwood and Guthrie in the prime spots – what they now need is that fourth mid position, and there is no shortage of opportunities for the Geelong mids to step up.

 

WHAT COULD BOBBY HILL BE?

His footy smarts are off the charts.

Seriously, I don’t have a chart, so everyone’s footy smarts is off it. His goal in the third quarter was brilliant, and his tap back into play to set up Connor Stone was pretty damn impressive, as well. Whilst I don’t think we are looking at a generational talent or anything, his zippiness, ball control and instinct to find the ball at ground level is fantastic.

In an ideal world, he would have Jesse Hogan and Toby Green to feed off, but we do not live in a perfect world, so he did what he could with what he was presented with in this one. There was a massive amount of sizzle – the spectacular stuff was done impeccably well. Now, you just want to see some of the steaks as well – six touches are not enough.

 

ANYTHING ELSE, MONGREL?

Oh, a couple of bits…

The high fend off from Selwood on Josh Kelly late in the third quarter… not too far removed from the elbow to the throat from Toby Greene on Danger just a few weeks ago. Chances of Joel copping a week???

ZERO!

Maybe if Kelly had made the precautionary trip to the hospital…

Haynes and Cumming to the forward line to start the last quarter when the team was 38 points down? Too little, too late.

Domination on the wings from the Cats – Smith and Menegola are a brilliant one-two punch, and with Tuohy running through half-back and only pinch-hitting on the wing, it allowed Menegola to get off the chain a little.

A contender for the vacant Mongrel Midfield Championship Belt this weekend – Menegola 29 touches and two goals will be hard to top. Don’t know about the Midfield Championship Best? Your loss, baby.

Sad to see Shane Mumford hang them up, if, in fact, this is the case. The game needs more characters, and he is certainly one of them.

The stat sheet is not Esava Ratugolea’s friend, is it? Five touches and a goal, but his pack-crashing and competing was pretty damn good in this one. He’ll keep his spot, but I still get the feeling he will either win the Cats a game… or lose them one.

 

And that’ll do me. Massive thanks to our members, who make this possible. Thank you for your support. If you’re not a member, please support independent footy coverage. We work harder with less for you guys.

 

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