It was billed as one of the games of the year, and though in terms of the spectacle, it fell quite short, the Cats made a big statement in knocking over the reigning premiers and vanquishing their demons… in more ways than one.
It was not that long ago – about ten months, or so – that we saw the Cats hold a handy lead over the Dees, only to see Melbourne come storming back to run over the top and claim a famous victory.
Melbourne may have felt there was a chance to do it again in the last quarter of this one, as they started to gain some ascendancy, but the Cats learnt their 2021 lesson and applied it to this game, knuckling down, matching the intensity of their opponents, and beating them at their own game.
The Cats were better at stoppages over the course of the game, they tackled better, and when you consider the wasted opportunities in front of goal, should have won by a fair bit more. Again, you wouldn’t whack this one in your DVD library as an example of the great skills of Aussie Rules Football, but if you want to witness a quality side beat a fellow contender by nullifying their strengths and capitalising on their weaknesses, this could very well be the game that demonstrates that best.
Let’s jump into The Mongrel’s Talking Points.
BEATING THE BIG THREE
So much has been written about the exploits of the Melbourne midfield, and rightly so. The combination of Clayton Oliver, Christian Petracca, and Jack Viney have crafted a combination that has elevated the entire Melbourne team above their opponents dozens of times over the last couple of seasons. They play a style of footy that could be called “bully ball” and are happy to bash and crash their way forward, irrespective of who stands in their way.
Matching them in this area is a key to beating the Dees, but panning for it and doing it are two very different kettles of fish.
Not only did Geelong match them; they surpassed their aggression and applied the type of heat that resulted in a significant advantage in two key areas.
Firstly, the Cats were +8 in tackles for the game. When the opportunity to drag down an opponent presented, those wearing hoops relished it and attacked the body with purpose. Of their 66 tackles, nine were rewarded with holding the ball free kicks – seven of them in the first half.
That amounts to a success rate of 13.6% – way above the AFL average, which hovers around a 5.5% success rate.
In contrast, the Dees laid 59 tackles and were successful in extracting a free kick just three times. A success rate of just 5.08%.
When you combine the fact the Cats were dominating the tackling stats with their +18 advantage in clearances, you can plainly see that this Geelong team was physically dominant in the areas that mattered. Yes, Melbourne had more contested touches for the game (+11) but in the clinches was where this game was won, and the Cats were far and away better in that aspect.
SO, IF THE CATS WERE SO MUCH BETTER, WHO WAS RESPONSIBLE?
As poorly as he kicked for goal, Patrick Dangerfield was quite powerful at stoppages, racking up nine clearances, himself. A couple of his bursts from the middle looked like Danger of old…. but his kicking looked like Danger who is old, sadly. We’ll put it down to rust.
Clayton Oliver led all players with ten, but after him, you had Tom Atkins, with nine, Joel Selwood with seven (and a heap of time on the bench) and both Cam Guthrie and Rhys Stanley with six apiece.
In terms of the tackling, Atkins was once again setting the standard, with nine tackles for the game and two holding the ball wins. Cam Guthrie and Brad Close also chimed in with seven apiece.
For the Dees, Jack Viney had seven tackles, but probably should have been pinged more often for taking the tackler on and getting caught. At one stage he was given an eternity to dispose of the footy and a teammate actually took it out of his hands as he lay on the ground, which should have been penalised.
So, when you look at both categories, if you want to pat someone on the back for their work in both winning the footy and bringing the heat without it, that man would be Tom Atkins. Whilst one particular Geelong supporter would like me to state that he’s my favourite Cat, I can’t quite do it – I still hold Joel Selwood in the highest esteem.
The other player of note in this game would be Cam Guthrie, who continues to be a workhorse for this Geelong team, picking up great numbers and doing as much defensively as he does with the footy in his hands.
AN UNSUNG HERO… OR TWO
Last week, I watched as Ed Langdon worked his way back into great form, ripping the game apart against the Crows as he bolted up and down the wing at Adelaide Oval. It felt like the kickstart he needed after being down for a few weeks.
So, as a result, there was a huge job for Max Holmes on the wing to curtail the Melbourne running man in this game.
And though he did not do it by himself, his work to prevent those searching Langdon runs and the potent inside 50 deliveries went a long way to forcing the Dees into a stop-start style of play that worked to Geelong’s advantage.
Sam Menegola was the other who played a largely selfless role in ensuring Langdon did not get off the chain. When Holmes was not running with Langdon, you could be sure that Menegola was not far away. Between them, they picked up 37 touches and a goal, and whilst Langdon’s 21 touches are nothing at all to sneeze at, I found that Holmes really made Langdon have to work defensively more than he would have enjoyed.
In the first quarter, in particular, Holmes was able to stamp some authority on the contest, setting up teammates and working hard to provide a marking option. Some of his defensive work was also top-notch.
The Cats had winners all over the park in this one, but Holmes and Menegola’s roles in limiting the effectiveness of Langdon should not be overlooked. When Langdon fires, the Dees are difficult to stop. So, what do you do?
You stop Langdon. And the Cats did just that.
THE MILESTONE MAN
If there was one player out there you could accurately predict the stats for, I reckon Isaac Smith would be the one. Over the last nine years (and I will always disregard the 2020 season, as that was not full games), Isaac Smith has averaged between 21.6 disposals and 23.2 disposals.
Every year, you know exactly what you’re gonna get from him in the role he plays.
This week, despite not being deployed on the wing at all, Smith did exactly what Smith does – 22 touches and a goal – like bloody clockwork!
He was chaired off the ground after the game, with both sides giving him an avenue of honour as he did so, and when the Cats really put their mark on the game in the third quarter, it was Smith playing his best footy. He had nine touches and registered his goal in that period in a 250th contest befitting his status in the game.
And next week, he will roll out and have somewhere in the vicinity of 21-23 touches again, because that is just what he does.
After checking the respective heatmaps for this game, it came as no surprise that Geelong played most of their footy in the front half, boxing the Dees into their back half for long stretches of time and resulting in multiple forward fifty entries.
The Cats ended up +20 in inside fifties for the game, but the longer they were able to keep the footy there, the more apparent it became just how disciplined this team is.
Ask yourself – how many times do you see a team with the ball inside their own attacking half. They push, and push, and when they don’t score, the opposition get out, run the length of the ground and kick a goal to break their hearts?
Part of me was waiting for that to occur in this game as the Cats launched multiple shots at goal and kept bloody missing! But even without a defensive general like Tom Stewart in the side, they were able to prevent any run and carry from the Dees and rendered their rebound work pretty stagnant as they looked for a way through the wall the Cats built.
Sam De Koning was strong in the air in the second half, after Ben Brown looked as though he may have been capable of playing the “Get out of Jail” role for the Dees in the first half. Brown took three GooJ marks before halftime before De Koning settled in and restricted Brown to just four touches and no marks from that point.
Zach Tuohy floated between wing and defence, often floating across to disrupt Melbourne’s efforts, and both Jack Henry and Max Holmes did their part in the structure, refusing to allow passage through the middle.
TAKING GAWN OUT
I’m not sure what he fancies… maybe a nice steak, a drop of red… some sparkling conversation.
This will be hailed as a coaching masterpiece from Chris Scott, and it’s difficult to dispute the way the Cats moved the footy around the ground, giving Max Gawn very little opportunity to take intercept marks.
As much as Scott can be lauded, a lot of respect has to also be afforded to Rhys Stanley for his contested work in the air. It’s one thing to prevent Gawn from intercepting your own team’s kicks, but the Dees genuinely look for Big Max as their “Get out of Jail” target down the line. Before he was injured, Gawn was leading the league in taking those types of marks, and he was expected to pick up where he left off in this one.
Stanley, with a decent chop out from both Mark Blicavs and Jack Henry, hammered Gawn every time he was targeted down the line, leading to Big Max ending the game without a single mark to his name. Yep, a big, fat goose egg. The last time that happened was Round 10, 2018.
Usually, when Gawn has a bit of a down day, Luke Jackson elevates his performance to help the Dees, but Geelong employed the same tactics against Jackson when he was in the ruck, leading to him taking just one grab, himself.
When you have the two big men on the opposition combining for just one grab for the game, that, my friends, is a strategy that worked a treat. Sure, it’s not as though Stanley dominated or anything, but really, did he have to? As long as he did his part and ensured that the Melbourne big men couldn’t wield an influence, he deserves a big pat on the back.
I know a lot of people would look at the numbers from Clayton Oliver and Jack Viney – it’s hard not to with their stats, but I really liked the efforts of James Harmes.
He has become a bit of a Mongrel favourite over the last few years on the basis that when there is a loose footy available, he just seems to want it more than anyone else. Several times he threw himself at the contest with little regard for his own wellbeing. Sure, he got caught on occasion, but he was making the play, and it was something a few of his teammates were not doing.
Both Steven May and Harrison Petty did excellent work inside 50 to keep Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron quiet. Petty, in particular, seemed to win most of his contests inside the arc, and has really matured into a solid defender. Without those two, the Dees may have been in awful trouble. Their work allowed Jake Lever to do what he does best and fly in to intercept. Lever seemed to be matched up with Tyson Stengle a bit of the time and there was no way the little fella was going to stop him in the air.
Viney, as mentioned above, found the footy all over the place. His 35 touches were a game-high, and his combative nature was one of the few things making life difficult for Geelong’s mids. Clayton Oliver was in a similar boat, but with disposal efficiency of just 63% and 65% respectively, they didn’t hurt as much as they could have.
Then there were Petracca’s three goals and 21 touches. The snags make that stat-line look great, but I was not really impressed with his work at stoppages this week.
Noticed that Tom Hawkins was unable to body the Melbourne rucks in contests inside 50 the way he usually does. His goal in the last quarter did come from a stoppage, but it was more follow up and making a second effort that got him over the line on that occasion.
Just the one goal from Tyson Stengle this week, but he did look likely for the majority of the game. His rundown tackle was fantastic, but I also enjoyed his work further up the ground as he pushed up hard t become part of the Geelong defensive set.
The stats say that Gary Rohan had a pretty quiet one, but a couple of goals and some incredible pressure acts indicate that he can still play a huge role on any given day. His closing speed over that last five metres is as good as anyone in the league.
Kysaiah Pickett came alive in the last quarter, but what a job from Jed Bews up until that point. He has continually taken on some of the best small forwards in the game over the past however-many years but never gets credit for the success he has. Chalk up another win for him.
It wasn’t just Pickett failing to fire – the Dees got bugger all from their small forwards, with Charlie Spargo and Toby Bedford hardly sighted for the whole game.
I didn’t mind the move of having Mark Blicavs go to Christian Petracca at stoppages. With Trac having just two clearances for the game, the Dees really missed his power bursting from the centre. The one time they did get it, he slammed through a goal from 50. I suppose you could look at it as a changing of the guard in a way, as at the other end at the very next centre clearance, Patrick Dangerfield had the chance to do exactly the same and botched the running shot.
Not sure which guernsey was worse in this one – I’m not a fan of collars on footy jumpers… I am pretty sure they made me wear one of those when I played Under 11s at one stage. However, I am less of a fan of the Melbourne Xmas Tree guernsey. Yes, I know it is NAIDOC week and all that, but it’s still a hideous-looking jumper. It’s like someone had about 11 ideas as to how to decorate it and couldn’t decide which one to go with, so they went with all of them at once!
I’ll take the collars.
And that might do me.
Massive win for the Cats and now they sit at the top of the ladder, which will be important because they’ll get home finals… at the MCG. Ouch.
They get the Blues next week in a massive game, particularly given we don’t know how Carlton will go over in the wet just yet this week. The Dees lick their wounds and can finish off Port Adelaide at the MCG