Geelong and Adelaide met at GMHBA Stadium today to continue the festivities of the Sir Doug Nicholls fortnight of football and, as in nature, it was the Cats who came out victorious over the Crows.

For the first time since their victory over the Lions in round four, the Cats have now strung two wins together as they continue to build towards a potential top-four berth and yet another September campaign. The loss for the Crows, meanwhile, marks their fifth on the trot, continuing a concerning drop off in form over the last five weeks that has seen their offence resigned to being the second-worst in the league, while their defence has conceded an average of more than 100 points per game over the same period.

As anyone who’s been part of a struggling team (or even just a team that has accumulated a few losses in a row) would tell you, one of the keys to turning that form around is simplifying your focus and concentrating on just a handful of deliverables. For the Crows today, it looked like one of those areas of focus was the start of the game – their pressure and intensity were up as they enjoyed dominance around stoppages, ensuring the ball stayed in their forward half for just about the entire first ten minutes of the game. There was only one problem – they couldn’t kick straight. As always, bad kicking is bad football, and the Crows’ quarter-time score of six behinds all but sealed their fate.

The Cats, on the other hand, coming off a period of six weeks that has seen losses immediately follow wins, would be breathing a sigh of relief that their slow start didn’t cost them anything more than a few points. When they finally did get going, the experienced Cats made light work of the Crows (aside from a ten-minute period in the third quarter), with Tom Stewart and youngster Sam De Koning providing their teammates upfield with a virtually unshakeable defensive structure, while the important forward trio of Tom Hawkins, Jeremy Cameron and Tyson Stengle combined for nine of the Cats 15 goals.

Those are the broad strokes of the game, but let’s get into the nitty-gritty with my three points.

 

  1. The Beast with Three Heads

 

As mentioned briefly above, the Cats’ forward trio of Hawkins, Cameron and Stengle were vitally important for their team’s win today, kicking nine goals between them and continuing a trend that has seen them be responsible for 60% of the Cats’ goals for season 2022. Hawkins and Cameron are both projecting to kick more than 60 goals for the season, while Stengle is on track to nearly bring up the half-century.

The key to their success as a trio doesn’t appear to be any great secret – they just compliment each other beautifully. Hawkins is a big brute of a man who is deceptively agile and as team-oriented as any top forward in the history of the game, Cameron is perfectly suited to the role of number two tall as he uses his fitness and athleticism to work over taller opponents while using his aerial prowess and strength to dominate smaller opponents, and Stengle looks like the kind of player you’d get if you merged the abilities of Eddie Betts and Stephen Milne – speed, canniness and a preternatural goal sense.

During the call I noticed the commentators talking about great forward line trios – Franklin, Roughead and Rioli chief among them – and it got me thinking that this Cats trio probably is the best in the comp at the moment. Brisbane have a better and more rounded offence, Melbourne derives most of their strength from their midfield and defence, and other comparable teams – Carlton, Fremantle, Sydney, St Kilda etc. – have good (and perhaps even better) single or dual forward options, but not a trio as important to their teams fortunes as the Cats.

In their losses so far this season, Hawkins Cameron and Stengle have combined for an average of six goals per outing, while in their wins the trio average more than nine goals. While this would be a point of concern for most teams, the Cats seem to embrace it, as if telling the opposition ‘this is the way we’re going to score – try and stop us’. Of course, this won’t stop the Cats in their pursuit of more avenues to goal. In fact, it’s true that today’s game saw a performance out of Gryan Miers that contained all the hallmarks of a player wanting to establish himself as a key part of the Cats forward line, turning this threesome into a foursome. It would also be true, however, to say that Miers has shown an ability to hint at greatness in the past, but has struggled to back it up with consistency. In fact, coming into todays game, Miers had only kicked one goal for the season, and coming off a 15-game, 12-goal campaign in 2021, it remains to be seen if he can cement a spot forward of the ball.

 

  1. A Sign of the Future?

 

Looking at the Crows line-up for the game today, my eyes were immediately drawn towards the key forward posts and the two men named in them – Riley Thilthorpe and Darcy Fogarty. Missing their forward line General, Taylor Walker, through Health and Safety protocols (a term growing in familiarity with each passing day), today’s game presented itself as an opportunity for Crows fans to get a glimpse of what their forward line may look like once Walker is no longer a part of it. It must be said that this was a Cats defence that, at least on paper, looked like it could be exploited, but unfortunately for Crows fans, the two Adelaide talls weren’t up to it.

When Darcy Fogarty burst onto the AFL scene with a five-goal display against West Coast in late 2019, I thought we were seeing the emergence of a better, more powerful version of Jack Darling. Watching on TV, it appeared to me that he had a great burst of pace, sure hands, a penetrating kick, and the type of attack on the football that leaves defenders second-guessing. Fogarty had, and still has, all of the necessary accoutrements to become an elite AFL player, but seems to be forever battling against a lack of confidence and killer instinct that the best players have. We saw it on display again today in patches, where he at times seemed more concerned with his opponent – the increasingly impressive 11-gamer De Koning – than with trying to run and mark the ball. When we did get to see him in full-flight, we saw what we have always known is there; an impressive leap with vice-like hands and a steady, if still uncertain, kick at goal.

Players like Fogarty are eternally frustrating for fans, and admittedly are probably judged harshly by uneducated nuffies like me. And I get that players like Fogarty must hate it. We fans see brief hints of what they are capable of and immediately expect to see it week after week. Then when we don’t see this level of performance, we weaponise this expectation and wield against players like Fogarty for the rest of their careers. We see the one great performance and think ‘why can’t he do this every week’ rather than savouring the brilliance we just witnessed. But even this realisation doesn’t make it any less frustrating when all we see are brief flashes of brilliance.

And it is true that there were brief flashes of brilliance in Fogarty’s game today – in particular, a mark and goal in the shadows of half-time that meant the door was ajar ever so slightly at the long break. And looking at his stats – three goals from 11 touches, five marks, one contested mark and seven score involvements – one could even mount a case that he was one of the Crows’ better players. But these people didn’t watch the game as you and I did. They didn’t see that this was a game that Fogarty could have torn apart, that this was a game that could have been etched into the folklore of the Adelaide Football Club, that this was a game that could have finally announced the emergence of another great number 32 for the Crows. Alas, it was just another game of football, and I increasingly get the impression that the more games like this Fogarty has, the less opportunities he’ll get in the tri-colours.

As Fogarty’s partner in crime for the day, Thilthorpe would have been wanting to have had a greater impact than he eventually did. 12 touches, six marks and three hitouts are ok for a second ruck/second tall forward, but not hitting the scoreboard combined with not impacting the ruck indicates that Thilthorpe still has some maturing to do as a footballer. And this is fair enough – he is in his second season, is only 19 years old and has played less than 20 games so he shouldn’t be the finished product. But I reckon Adelaide fans are justified in being disappointed with Thilthorpe’s game today.

I spend a lot of my time thinking about football, and really all aspects of the game. Is this because I have no friends? What are you, my therapist? Back off. Anyway, one of the things I think about is what you want to see from a young player. No one expects a young player to come in and be the best in his team from day one – even Chris Judd and Joel Selwood weren’t the best that quickly. For the first 20 or so games of a player’s career, I reckon all you should expect are moments. Moments that you, as a fan, can point to and say ‘that’s what the recruiters saw in him, and that’s the player we can expect this guy to be’. As he approaches 20 games experience, Crows fans have probably seen enough to feel comfortable in saying what type of player they can expect Thilthorpe to be. The only problem for guys like Thilthorpe – you know, those blessed with height above 200 cm and the agility of someone a foot shorter – is that football clubs can get cute with their development. Should they develop him as a ruckman who can roll forward, a tall forward who can pinch-hit in the ruck or *gasp* a tall wingman who can go into defence or offence depending on the need? I’m happy that the Crows seem committed to developing him as a tall forward who can ruck and who knows, with another 12 months development, we could be seeing South Australia’s version of Harry McKay?

 

  1. The Ageing Cats

 

Admit it, Cats supporters, you knew this was coming. Let me get the stupid jokes out of the way first – this Cats team is so old, Jurassic Park bought back memories… this Cats team is so old, they grew up with The Flintstones… this Cats team is so old… and on and on it goes. We all laugh as opposition supporters, but deep down, we’re envious. We’re envious that despite retirements, despite injuries, despite role changes and rule changes, there is one constant in the AFL – Geelong will make the finals. How the hell does your team do it? Seriously, at this point, I’m convinced that I’ll be watching footy in 2040 as Selwood walks his zimmer-frame out of the middle of the ground, stops and kicks a ball inside 50 to Tom Hawkins who marks in front of his defender, on a mobility scooter. The saddest part about that joke is that I’m only half-joking!

Levity aside, the Cats are an older group with an average playing age consistently over 27 years old. Compared to the premiers of last year, Melbourne, whose average age in round ten was just 25 years old, we can agree that the biological clock is ticking a bit louder for the Cats. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, it’s been the Cats ability to fold their youth into this team that I found particularly impressive today.

Firstly, let’s start down back with one of the stars (and hopefully the round 11 Rising Star) Sam De Koning. It’s rare that a player, let alone a key defender, will come into a side and look as at home as De Koning has, but I get the impression that he is not a normal young man. Over 200cm’s tall, with great endurance, a good turn of speed, great hands and impressive composure, he has settled into the Cats backline as naturally as if he were a member of the family. With more than a little in common with teammate Tom Stewart, De Koning appears to have his eye on the Cats full-back role, and the way he is going, no-one will stop him.

In the midfield, the Cats have almost seamlessly added Cooper Stephens to the mix and the #16 pick of the 2019 National Draft looks like he is starting to pay back their patience. The Cats midfield has been a very tough one to get into over the last few years, as players with surnames like Selwood, Dangerfield and Ablett have rolled through, but now at 21 years of age, Stephens has found his spot and won’t be giving it up easily. I had some interest in Stephens getting 20 or more disposals today, and while it was frustrating he didn’t get there – he finished on 15 – he certainly had enough opportunity. I think Stephens’ problem today was one that many players have felt before – they want to perform so badly that they start thinking of their next move before they have the ball. This leads to fumbling which, without going back and checking, I would suggest Stephens did about a dozen times. The good news is that playing in wins builds confidence, and the longer he is at Geelong, the more confident he will get.

Now we move forward, and to the most interesting player in the game today – Shannon Neale. Reader, I must apologise, but I have to admit something – I am an Eagles supporter. I only say this because I wanted, and I mean desperately wanted, West Coast to draft Shannon Neale in 2020. Now, of course, West Coast couldn’t do this because of some trade that happened 12 months earlier, but since then I have been very interested to see how he would go and indeed if he would make it at all. Well, today the answer came, and Neale gave us all a little bit of everything. He nearly took mark of the year a few times, finally did clunk one then tried to kick goal of the year, almost made the distance, then Hawkins tried to find him with a pass and missed him… it was a liquorice-all-sorts kind of day. I hope the Cats continue to persevere with him, because at 20 years of age and as raw as he is, he could be anything.

 

Stray Thoughts

 

  • I was interested to see the Cats tackle numbers up as high as they were. I reckon that’s got a lot to do with the way the Crows played – they handballed in and around the coal face, inviting tackles, and don’t seem to have the player who can break away from stoppages – is that fair Crows fans?
  • I was also interested to see the role played by Jake Soligo today. He essentially played the ‘fat side winger’ role – he has to go where the ball isn’t and try and make the ground appear as wide as possible. It’s an interesting role that requires a player to do a lot of unrewarded running, something not fun at the best of times. As an aside, Soligo was number one for distance covered, running 16km for 11 touches and a goal.
  • The reason I bring that up is because of the way the Cats use their wingmen – Tuohy and Smith. Neither of them play a sacrificial role as both are expected to get back into defence, provide an outlet on the way into the forward line, and then deliver the ball deep into attack. I think if the Crows want to play Soligo as the fat-side winger, they need to play Dawson full-time on the wing – he didn’t today – as he is far more impactful than any other Crows player.
  • Was it just me, or were there a lot of players slipping and fumbling, particularly early in the game today? I live in the West, so am unsure, has it been raining in Geelong?
  • Today’s loss marks the twelfth straight loss for the Crows at Kardinya Park (GMHBA Stadium) for a record of 3 wins and 19 losses at the venue.
  • Jackson Hately kicked two behinds today, but I the timing of them was really important – the first shot on goal of the game, and then one more late in the third that would have cut the margin back to about two goals. The rest of his game was good, but say it with me now people – bad kicking is bad football.
  • It was interesting that Dawson only moved onto the wing after midway through the second quarter. Perhaps Matthew Nicks was trying to get a little cute playing Dawson across half-forward.
  • Has anyone looked at the goal-kicking accuracy at the left end (when watching on TV) this year compared to last year? With the vacant stand, I’d be interested to see if there’s any notable difference.
  • Let’s just take a moment before I finish to say that Reilly O’Brien should never be dropped again. His performance today was magnificent and exactly what the Crows coaching staff would have been looking for.

 

Next Steps

 

The Cats travel to Marvel Stadium to take on the Western Bulldogs on Friday Night in a match-up that looks sure to shape the eight come September, while the Crows host West Coast on Saturday afternoon in a match-up that looks sure to shape up the National Draft come November.

 

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