What I Noticed – Fremantle v Geelong

Over the last decade, there have been some close matches and some blowouts between the Cats and the Dockers – especially down the highway in Geelong. Coming into today’s game, Freo were sitting second on the ladder and have been the biggest surprise this year since Steven Bradbury won gold for Australia. Okay, maybe not that extreme, but they have taken a monumental leap in 2022.

Geelong have been hot and cold, but down their record in Geelong is well documented so the scene was set for an absolute cracker. Could the Cats win and have Chris Scott join Reg Hickey with the most wins as the Geelong coach, or would the Dockers drop anchor in the top four with a big win away from home? What transpired? Keep reading to find out.

 

Midfield Battle

This was going to be a big part of shaping the game. And in many ways, we saw the impact of stoppage dominance influence the result. While the overall clearance numbers were similar (FREO 43, GEEL 38), and Geelong won the centre clearance battle (12-11), they got very few clean clearances. Fremantle spread the game around stoppage. Geelong may have had the inside bulls, but Fremantle were able to get the runners and the speed on the outside which allowed them, for most of the game, to control the territory battle and put pressure on the Cats when they had the ball.

Geelong looked good when they were able to leave the front of the stoppage and surge forward – by hand or by foot – but that didn’t occur anywhere near as much as it as Chris Scott would have liked. The pressure and positioning of the Fremantle midfielders gave their defenders the chance to set up, or only have to deal with a rushed kick.

I mentioned last week how the Roos’ mids were able to push Geelong under the ball at stoppages, and then spread. Hawthorn did it the week before, and much of the time the same happened today. The Geelong mids were contest-side and flat-footed, meaning that they could not spread effectively and had no one to hand the ball off to, thus nullifying the win at the contest.

Coming into today, Andrew Brayshaw was averaging just over 30 disposals per game and has been the key link in the chain for Fremantle scores. Surely, knowing this, the expectation would be that the human clamp, Mark O’Connor would go to him? Not if you’re in the Cats Coaches’ Box. Both Parfitt and Cam Guthrie spent time on Brayshaw. While Parfitt only won 19 disposals, his bodywork and tackling pressure was great, while the other two were among the top half-a-dozen ball winners on the ground (Guthrie 35, Brayshaw 28). Both had moments, but not a lot of overall influence on the game. Guthrie tried to be a link player for the Cats through the middle, but his errant kicking didn’t capitalise on this, while Brayshaw won the ball at the coal face, but was often forced wide or backwards. Geelong would have no doubt taken this pre-game but the reality is, their walking frames prevented them from having any speed or spread at the contest, so Brayshaw was able to find teammates who could surge them forward.

 

Ball Movement

Much has been stated about the sluggishness of the Cats’ game style in recent seasons. This year they have made a concerted effort to move the ball with more speed and efficiency. Part of their success has been the rebounding of Isaac Smith and Zach Tuohy. Today, they had no space. Fremantle clearly identified that they were two players who significantly impact the way in which the Cats play, and so they prevented them from running to receive handballs and therefore propelling the Cats forward.

Hats off to Justin Longmuir and his coaching staff for sacrificing a little in terms of the offensive output of some of their small forwards, even some midfielders, in order to gain through stifling Geelong’s ability to forward handball and move forward with speed.

So good was Fremantle’s defensive pressure and structural positioning, Geelong couldn’t find fluency and for much of the second and third habits, they reverted to their uninspiring, slow plays which then resulted in turnovers, and Fremantle hitting the scoreboard – an area in which they lead the competition in.

For the Dockers, they have been somewhat methodical from defence, and then speed up going forward. Early in the game, the Cats’ pressure was forcing Fremantle to move away from this possession game in their defensive half, and just kick down the line. Geelong would intercept, and then slingshot forward. Like the dichotomy of Jekyll & Hyde, the Cats then lost their way after quarter time, as Fremantle went all Dr Evil and stole the Cats mojo, which wasn’t returned until the last quarter when the game was basically done.

 

Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime?

Remember that?

It was a motto tied closely to the 2013 Dockers, whose pressure and manic attack on the footy translated well to any ground in the league. Whether you followed Freo or not, you simply had to be impressed with how they did not take a backward step at all when confronted with an intimidating challenge.

And it took them to the precipice of greatness.

Though that team fell short against the Hawks, there is a lot of that mantra about this Freo team, and you cannot help be impressed. Heading down to Geelong, not many people gave them a chance to make this a close game. When the Cats got a fast start, they would have felt vindicated – the Cats were going to strangle these Dockers, right?

Wrong.

Freo rallied and did it on the back of hard, tough work. They walked into Kardinia Park ready for the fight and walked out with the four points.

I wonder whether this “anyone, anywhere, anytime” thing will carry through to Round 11.

It’s at the MCG.

It’s against the Dees.

It could be massive.

 

Cats Twin Towers Crash

Much has been made of the Cats’ tall forwards in recent weeks and how they have dominated opponents. At quarter time today, it looked likely to continue, as Tom Hawkins threatened to rip the game apart in the first quarter with two early goals and some great contested marking. And that was about the extent of the impact that either he or Jeremy Cameron would have on the game.

Hawkins – who is still in contention for the Jetta award after today – was bettered by Alex Pearce who found better positions after quarter-time. Hawkins took the marks on offer late in the game, but couldn’t add to his two early goals. Cameron, on the other hand was relatively unsighted. Griffin Logue, who is attracting interest from Victorian clubs (perhaps even the one he played against today, who could do with a second, solid tall defender), completely blanketed Cameron and then got involved in moving the footy forward for the Dockers. Jezza has all the skill in the world, but I wonder if Katy Perry wrote the song Hot N Cold was written about Jez … because too often he goes from match winner, to no impact. Can the Cats find ways to keep him involved? Is it a motivation thing for Cameron himself? Or is he too reliant on kicks over the top, allowing him to run back that he has become predictable?

It’s amazing to think that Logue was battling for a place in the Dockers’ side as little as a couple of weeks ago. Between him, Pearce, and Brennan Cox, they collected 21 intercepts and were able to shut down the main avenues to goal for Geelong from quarter-time onwards.

When people look at where the Dockers are winning this season, much credit has to go to the stellar defence this side has built over the last few years. Injuries have forced them to be adaptable and now, it is all coming together for this team.

 

Tom Stewart – Most Important/Valuable in the Game?

Every club will have a player that they deem as the MVP – both for club, and maybe in a given position on the ground. For Cats fans, while some might suggest Tom Hawkins, many would say Tom Stewart – just look at how they shook more than a straw hut in a cyclone in last year’s finals without him.

The headbanded hero amassed a lazy 40 possessions today and, at times, seemed destined to be the one who would get Geelong over the line. Try as he might – whether on the wing where he started the game, or his more customary half-back position – he wasn’t able to drag the Cats to victory. Structurally, Stewart is vital for Geelong. He intercepts, he attacks, and then he launches forward with great efficiency. Today was no different. When the game was on the line late in the fourth, it was Stewart who repeatedly was in the right spot, repelled the Dockers, and moved the Cats forwards.

It is a shame that too few of his mates joined him in the effort stakes, but also a testament to his competitive instincts to keep going. Is he the MVP of the whole competition? Maybe not, but in regards to his impact on his club, absolutely.

 

More Purple Heroes

Had it not been for Tom Stewart, Blake Acres would have taken the three Brownlow votes today. He ran hard all day, and supported his defence, while also impacting the game in the front half. His 27 disposals and one goal showed reward for his effort. He is turning into a really valuable cog in the Fremantle machine and is now looking completely at home on the wing for the Dockers. When you consider who he was opposed to, the form of Acres became vital for the Dockers. His run and carry gave them an outlet and enabled them to counter-attack quickly and (for the most part) effectively.

Whilst Acres was the standout, much can be said for Will Brodie’s game, as well. While his effectiveness may have been down today, he still accrued 19 disposals and a few shots at goal. His big body in the midfield adds some extra grunt to the Freo on-ball department. He is building nicely into season 2022 at his new home and will no doubt be giving the lead in The Mongrel Punt Recruit of the Year Award a shake this week.

 

Pressure Factor

While the midfield battle and the way in which the ball was moved impacted the effectiveness of Geelong in particular, the pressure from both sides impacted the scoreboard at various periods. Geelong started at a frenetic pace and put pressure on Fremantle around the contest, however, as the game wore on, Fremantle’s hunt and desire for the contest got them in front in the game.

The Dockers pride themselves on a strong forward half game, squeezing their opponents to make turnovers, and it worked again today. Geelong made uncharacteristic errors leaving defensive 50, and turned the ball over far too often – a credit to the positioning of the Dockers players and their ability to have their structure stand up at a ground they’ve had limited success. This was evidenced in them doubling the Cats for I50 tackles (18-9) and forcing Geelong into 6 more errors for the game.

 

Inside 50 Efficiency

Coming into today’s game, Fremantle were scoring from 47% of I50’s, while only allowing a score against from 39%. This trend continued at the Cattery and was evident early. In the first quarter, Geelong dominated field position and I50’s yet weren’t able to hit the scoreboard with much fluency or frequency (five scores from 18 entries), whereas Fremantle were able to hit the scoreboard with ease, albeit inaccurately (six scores from 9 entries). Their ability to score I50 is reminiscent of Tyrion Lannister being able to always find wine to drink, while Geelong would have found it difficult to score in a brothel today.

Fremantle builds their game on uncontested possessions in the back half, building that control, and then attacking in the front half. As the game wore on, this came to the fore to see them dominate field position. Geelong had a flurry in the last quarter, but still couldn’t effectively and consistently breach fortress Fremantle, as they only generated 16 scores from 54 entries. This has been a pattern for Geelong, where they generate inside 50’s, but too often don’t kick to their teammates advantage or don’t have the support at the contest.

On the other hand, Fremantle were fantastic in their forward half, especially inside 50. With Lachie Schultz, Sam Switkowski, Michael Walters, Michael Frederick, and others at ground level, they have speed, toughness, and creativity. They read the ball well and move goal side at the contests. This was evidenced late in the last when Frederick kicked the sealer. Geelong pushed players up to a boundary throw-in, but Fremantle didn’t go with them, having some separation and being goal side. It lead to a 3-on-1 inside 50 for Freo, and they were able to goal.

Fremantle’s game style has shown that it can stand up under pressure, and they can do it anywhere, anytime, against anyone. To beat Fremantle, it isn’t going to be easy – you need to limit their effectiveness, and dismantle their defense – two things that won’t be easy to do consistently.

 

Other Things

Mark Blicavs did it all today. Ruck, full back, and running goals from 50. While Tom Stewart is the Cats most valuable and important player from an impact perspective, Blicavs is a close second. He offers flexibility and stability to the structure. He had some big moments late, along with Stewart, that kept them in the game.

When Rory Lobb is in the mood he was in in the first quarter, he is almost unstoppable. At his size, he is hard to stop when on the lead and in the contest. Can he consistently offer that across a whole game? And then a season? That’s the big question going forward.

Tom Atkins, while he does have moments where he turns the ball over, he is an unheralded member of the Cats side. He is tough, he gets to the right positions, and he impacts every contest he is in. If Geelong could clone him and Stewart – particularly the combativeness and mongrel in both of them – that would go a long way to them being more competitive.

 

The Dockers were too well-structured and too good at applying their brand today. They go to 6-1 and move on to facing North in Perth next Friday night, while the Cats drop to 4-3, having lost two of their last three, and now head to Canberra next week to take on the resurgent Giants.

 

Thanks for reading today and stay tuned for more reviews from The Mongrel.

 

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