On paper, this game read as a potential horror movie event for the home side, but when you factor in the Cats were useless post-bye and have never beaten the Eagles since their move to Optus Stadium, this was not be as clear cut. With players returning from injury for both sides, and a top-four spot on the line for the Cats as the rain set in, there was plenty to dissect. Here are the things of note.

 

Personnel or System?

Injuries and player availability always have an impact. Many people talk about systems and incoming individuals playing their role for the team. But the fact remains that having your best players available more often than not leads to better results. We saw that today. While the Eagles losing streak continues (and is now a club-record nine consecutive losses) the average losing margin of 70+ points was nowhere to be seen.

Adding the likes of McGovern, Redden, Sheed, Rioli into the side will always make a team better. Not only is it the experience, but the skill level, the intensity, and the ability to bring the best out of their teammates. Unfortunately, McGovern ended up at hospital for scans after a collision with Jeremy Cameron, but Sheed (20 disposals, 4 I50’s) in the middle and Yeo (21 disposals, 6 intercepts, and game-high 512 metres gained) playing predominantly off half-back contributed significantly to the Eagles’ ball movement and field position. Rioli threatened early, even with a few silly moments – one that cost his team a goal – his leg speed, evasiveness, and decision-making kept the Cats defenders on their toes – and defensive ground balls have been one of the Cats’ biggest struggles and deficiencies for an extended period.

While system is important, and the ability to bring players in to cover certain positions is vital, the reality is that certain players missing impact the side and when they come back, the side will always be better. As players come back for the Eagles, I expect we’ll see more of an effort reflective of today – and seeing the kids walk taller and play better as there is more experienced support around them.

 

Hoodoo

Coming into today’s game, Geelong had two major hoodoos to overcome. Since the beginning of 2012, Geelong held a 4-13 ledger in games following a bye. Much is made of this and today wasn’t all that convincing either, which doesn’t change the narrative considerably around Geelong after the bye either.

The other hoodoo was never beating West Coast at Optus Stadium. There have been some thrillers in recent seasons over to the Western side of this country, but never had the hoops come away with the win. There were patches where it looked like these two hoodoos may continue, but Geelong did enough in the end to shake some of the scars of years past away.

 

Midfield Battle

Much is made of midfielders and their numbers. Stats can be padded to make a game seem better than what it is; it’s the influence of the player and the influence of the possessions that are important.

Jack Redden shouldered the burden in the middle today. His contribution (23 disposals, 13 contested, 6 clearances, and 7 tackles) covered the late loss of Tim Kelly. Combined with Luke Shuey, Andrew Gaff, and Dom Sheed (even with some last-quarter turnovers), the Eagles’ mids competed well all day, and found some great success, especially in the second quarter, with scores from clearances – primarily centre bounces.

The Cats lost Brandan Parfitt, an underrated member of their engine room. He’s like the third Hemsworth brother that no one really knows in terms of how he floats under the radar. My wondering was whether the Cats could cover his defensive output. Cam Guthrie stepped up with 13 tackles to go with his 24 disposals, 10 contested, and 5 I50’s. He was assisted by Tom Atkins (23 disposals, 10 contested, 5 tackles, 7 score involvements) as he continues his transition into full-time midfielder, and skipper Joel Selwood with 23 disposals, team-high 11 contested, and 6 clearances.

When momentum was at play, the midfields had some say in what was going on. Neither was at full strength, but it allowed for others to shine. The Eagles can hopefully start to find some synergy and consistently with midfield troops returning.

 

Coleman Contenders

Geelong’s dynamic duo has been prevalent in discussions about the Cats in 2022. Coming into today’s game some may have expected them to hit double figures between them – maybe even each as I read somewhere. These so-called experts clearly haven’t heard of Jeremy McGovern or Tom Barrass before.

Barrass and Hawkins had a great contest all day. While Hawkins finished with 3.2 (season tally to 36, 3rd overall), he wasn’t dominant and the points should go to the Eagle. McGovern’s day finished early, and even then, Cameron only ended with one goal for the game (39, and one behind leader Charlie Curnow) – he sprayed plenty, even if his field kicking was clinical. Cameron and Hawkins also sit 2nd & 3rd respectively for score involvements for the season.

The way that the Eagles’ defenders supported one another when the ball came in gave them a great chance at winning the ball back and slingshotting forward. This, I believe, also kept them in the game for the majority of the contest.

It must be said that the defensive pressure of their forwards was good too. In the same vein that body positioning disrupted the Cats’ forwards, the same can be said of how West Coast, as a team, went to work on Tom Stewart and Sam de Koning – Geelong’s two aerial threats in their defensive fifty. Keeping Stewart to four disposals in the first half was an unbelievable effort.

 

Field Position

WCE 39 I50’s (43% scores per I50) v Cats 57 I50’s (47% scores per I50)

WCE 8 MI50 v Cats 14 MI50

The above were season averages coming into today’s contest. There were patches where both teams had momentum and failed to capitalise – Geelong in the second quarter, and the Eagles in the last. Field position is incredibly important for setting up your defensive structure and keeping the pressure on. West Coast had 40 I50’s for the day. While it isn’t a huge number, they generated 18 scores. They created opportunities, but at times lacked composure. When they went fast from defence, however, they caused the Cats considerable challenges.

On the other hand, the Cats had 51 entries and 21 scores. They had 29 shots, with a number missing everything. The Cats lacked polish going forward for most of the day and this is primarily to do with the fantastic pressure applied up the field by the Eagles players.

 

Ladder Position Means Little

In a round of upsets, we have been reminded that where teams are on the ladder means little week by week. Some Geelong supporters, maybe even some West Coast supporters and neutrals alike, may have suggested Geelong had two successive bye weeks in coming into this game. But like the previously winless District Nine that became the Mighty Ducks, the Eagles showed today, even in a loss, that belief, and effort go a long way.

With the Cats competing for a top-four spot, and West Coast sitting in 18th, the expectation was for a Geelong blowout. However, the effort the Eagles showed in the light of the 1992 Premiership reunion celebrations – also against Geelong – kept them within a few goals for the majority of the game. There were patches where it looked like Geelong might kick away, and moments where it looked like the Eagles might beat Ned Kelly at his own game.

Eagles fans shouldn’t be too disappointed. If they play the way they played today for the rest of the season, they will beat teams. Their tackle pressure, and general pressure, forced Geelong players into errors and generated many opportunities to score. It doesn’t matter where a team sits on the ladder, when you bring consistent effort and pressure in a game, anything can happen.

 

Short Takes

Jake Waterman had one of the best games I’ve seen him play. One of our Mongrel Team, who supports the Eagles, emphasised this, too. 2 goals, 16 disposals, and equal game-high 8 score involvements were a great showing from him in front of his dad – celebrating the ’92 flag.

Tom Hawkins became the 26th player in V/AFL history to kick 700 career goals today. Regardless of what you think of the Tomahawk, this is a major achievement. The only Cats players to kick more goals are Doug Wade and Gary Ablett Snr. Hawkins also sits third all-time for goal assists emphasising his team-first play.

Jamaine Jones impressed off half-back against his former side. If he can find some consistency in-game, he could be an incredible weapon for the Eagles with his run & carry, speed, and potent left foot.

Tyson Stengle continues to press his case for recruit of the year. He was in everything today – particularly in the first half – and finished with three goals, taking his total to 26 for the year. He found the right positions, competed, and really should have had at least four goals today.

Congratulations must also go to Rhett Bazzo for his debut. He found himself on Hawkins at times, and while he drifted in and out of the game, showed some very promising signs going forward for the Eagles. He has sticky hands and they say he can play at either end. A great find for the Eagles.

Welcome back Sam! Sam Menegola played his first game at the top level for 2022 after battling knee issues and a concussion. While he only had 13 disposals, he did finish with 2.1 and will only get better for the run.

 

That’s all from me today. The Eagles were brave and aren’t far away from a win. Perhaps even as soon as next week, under Friday night lights against the Bombers in Perth. The Cats meanwhile, resume their hostilities with the Tigers in the twilight slot of next Saturday, in the hopes of solidifying their place in the top four.

 

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