Time to get to the Premiers.
I’ve dragged my feet long enough and allowed the Cats to bask in the glory of their 2022 flag. After years of being considered the bridesmaids… and not even the matron of honour in many cases, the Cats finally got to stand at the altar as the main attraction in September.
And despite 17 other clubs begging to differ, it was greatly deserved.
Geelong did things their way. They have not gone heavily into the draft, other than to recruit kids who had a connection to the club. They have not thrown the baby out with the bathwater to rebuild a list. And they have not adhered to the standard of other teams – incorrect standards as it turns out.
No, this Geelong team have danced to the beat of their own drum for years, and finally have the silverware to prove they were right all along. Losses to Richmond in tight finals, Prelim losses piling up… all is now forgiven, as this team gave Sydney an absolute hiding to capture the club’s tenth flag.
Okay, are we done with the ass-kissing now? Can I put on some chapstick and maybe take a breath mint?
We enter the 2023 season with a Geelong team that was supposed to be another year older and more brittle, but something strange happened following the premiership. Geelong also won the trade period.
Acquiring Ollie Henry, Jack Bowes, and Tanner Bruhn, and picking up the coveted pick seven (it fell to pick eight) in the National Draft, the Cats restocked their collection of young stars without giving up too much of anything. Everyone except for Geelong supporters absolutely hated seeing it, but it happened, and the Cats somehow got stronger.
What does 2023 hold for this club? That’s what I am here to cover.
It’s that time of year, already.
As we head toward February, it is time to get serious. The holidays are a distant memory for AFL players, and the hard stuff is well underway. Yes, the teams had been training for well over a month prior to Christmas, but as we head further into 2023, the ante is upped and the intensity increases.
This is where premierships are won and lost. This is where improvements are made and lists come together. This is where the culture is set. New faces, new colours, old heads with renewed passion… so much feeds into the making of a contender. And as the days tick down toward to the intra-club clashes, practice games, and eventually the real stuff, questions are raised about each team and how they’re going to perform in 2023.
We don’t do things by halves here, at The Mongrel. When we do a season preview, we go all out to make sure it is the best, most comprehensive coverage you’ll receive. We pride ourselves on it. If you are going to read one season preview for your team, or any team, this series provides it.
The way it works is as follows.
Each club has a minimum of 15 questions asked about their 2023 season, their coaches, their players, and their expectations. The answers are not glossed over. We dive deep on each and every one – some singular answers would normally be long enough for an entire column. The first five questions/answers are free for you to consume. The next 10-14 for each club are for our members, including a special appearance from Mrs Mongrel to throw her two cents in the mix.
You will not read a deeper season preview than this – I guarantee it.
And with that, let’s jump into The Big Questions relating to the Cats in 2023.
HOW DOES A TEAM WITHOUT JOEL SELWOOD LOOK, ACT, AND FEEL?
Well, how do you assess leadership and what it means to a club?
Geelong have leaders – sure – but do they have a leader like Joel Selwood? Come to think of it, does any team?
Readers of my work on this site will know of my love for the way Joel Selwood went about his football. He was more than just a player, more than even just a captain – he was an inspiration. He compelled those around him to hold themselves to a higher standard, simply because he refused to lower his own. If there was a loose ball to win, Selwood had his name on it. If there was a contest to be made, you could be damn sure Selwood would make it. Whilst I have no doubt he walked away at the right time – how often do you get to go out on your own terms after reaching the highest of highs – he leaves a chasm in his wake.
You simply cannot replace the irreplaceable.
I’m a bit old to have a hero. Hell, quite a few of mine are dead, but I am not too old to admire a player for being the standard by which others are, and should be measured.
When Joel Selwood was on the park, Geelong walked taller. When he cracked in and won the hard footy, the Cats lifted as a whole. When he retired… well, I am not sure there is one person, or even a cohort of people that can fill that type of void.
At the time of writing, the Cats are yet to name a skipper – how do you follow Selwood’s act – and may well opt to share the load until another comes along with the culture-setting values that Selwood possessed. I read with interest that his number 14 guernsey will not be allocated this season, and rightly so. To wear that number is an honour. To bestow it on anyone… it just should not happen.
How does a team compensate for the loss of a leader like Joel Selwood?
The answer is such a Geelong answer – collectively.
Every player must pick up a piece of what Selwood left behind for them. His heart, his soul, his determination, his courage – he gave these as a gift to the Geelong Football Club for 16 years. He gave of himself and sacrificed so much to make this club a great one. To continue on being great, keeping a part of the former captain with them, and what he held dear, is not the worst idea.
WAS THIS THE BEST OFF-SEASON IN YEARS… FROM ANY CLUB?
I have to admit, I sat back and watched the Cats win the flag and wondered whether they’d feel some type of “mission accomplished” feeling, Not the players – but the club.
They were in sight of the precipice for so long, but kept losing their footing in September. Having finally reached the summit, part of me wondered whether there’d now be a lull and the old fellas would wander off into the sunset.
Evidently, one flag is nowhere near enough.
The way Geelong conducted themselves over the trade period in 2022 spoke volumes about how this team operates. With a couple of former Geelong Falcons wanting out of their respective clubs, the Cats swooped in to bring Ollie Henry and Tanner Bruhn “home”. In the process, they added two high-quality talents in their AFL adolescence, who can learn and grow whilst sitting at the feet of legends.
And then, as though that wasn’t enough, they not only had a word in Jack Bowes’ ear to get him to nominate them as his preferred destination, but they picked up pick seven as part of the deal, making an absolute mockery of the trade period in the process. Not that they did anything bad…far from it – they were just so damn good that it made everyone else look… well, it made everyone else look shit!
It’s funny – as I wrote this I smiled and shook my head again – I still cannot believe a team could surge to a flag and then win the trade period by the proverbial country mile. It’s absurd.
In Henry, Bowes, and Bruhn, the Cats have added a 25-year-old who can slot into the back half and two 20-year-olds with their best footy ahead of them.
And here comes the Demtel pitch – “but wait… there’s more”.
Pick Seven (bumped to pick eight) was used on Jhye Clark. Guess where he originates from? Yep, the Falcons – another with ties to the club who’ll likely be staying put.
It pains me to write this – it really does – but this is as impressive an off-season as I can remember from a club, particularly after winning a flag. They say the rich get richer and the poor get the picture… and it rings true when it comes to the Cats. They completed owned the finals and the off-season… and though I am programmed to hate it, I cannot help but respect it.
AND WHAT SHOULD WE EXPECT FROM THE NEWCOMERS?
The Geelong back six are a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. The way Jack Henry feeds off Jake Kolodjashnij’s tough defence, the way Sam De Koning floats in over the top and marks, only to hand off to Jed Bews… this defence is watertight.
So, how does a bloke like Jack Bowes come in and make a name for himself?
Sorry, Jack – there is only one way to do that at Geelong, and that is via hard work. Joining a premiership team is a bit of a double-edged sword. The challenge is aid out before you – it is right there waiting, but being challenged to break into the team and actually overcoming that challenge can be two very different things.
Last season, Bowes was limited to just five games with Gold Coast. And the Suns are definitely no Geelong. Maybe there was a clash of personalities or preferences with the coach, or maybe Bowes just didn’t fit with what the Suns were wanting to do, but five games is hardly the preparation you want when you are heading to one of, or arguably THE best defence in the league.
The injury to Tom Hawkins will likely open a door for Ollie Henry to play the third marking target at some stage. He was really impressive early in the season last year before falling out of favour at Collingwood. With the benefit of hindsight, you can see how it may have become common knowledge he wanted to head back to Geelong, huh? He was a fixture until Round 17, when he had a quiet one, and then was the unused sub twice, but never saw game-time again.
Henry has great hands and will likely relish using Jeremy Cameron as a foil.
As for Tanner Bruhn, I anticipate Chris Scott giving him every chance to have a run through the midfield as part of the rotation. Bruhn cracked the GWS midfield lineup last season, which, despite their lowly position on the ladder, still contained high-level talent. He had moments, but we’re not talking Sam Walsh here, in terms of impact. He was mre a pinch-hitter in there, and will likely be afforded the same opportunities at Geelong…
… until he forces his way in.
Will he do that in 2023? Probably not on a permanent basis, given the wealth of talent in the Geelong midfield, but he could definitely start making inroads and play a relief role to the heavy hitters in there.
Overall, of the three acquisitions, I see Henry as having the bulk of the opportunity early, with the other two adding valuable depth to both defence and the midfield.
IS THERE A BETTER “MONGREL” PLAYER THAN TOM ATKINS IN THE LEAGUE?
If there is, I’d like to meet him.
I’d want other people around, just to be safe – I should be clear about that, but I reckon it is Atkins who can mix it up with any player in the league, give as good as he gets, and leave his opponent wondering what the hell hit him after the game.
This bloke can play anywhere.
Need someone to step in across half-back in either a lockdown role, or provide some rebound? No probs… just give Tommy a yell.
How about some grunt in the midfield? You really need to stick some tackles and bottle things up to prevent the opposition from getting on a run, right? Tommy’ll do it.
And what’s that; you’re in need of a pressure forward that will lay tackles inside forward fifty and make a defensive sweeper’s life very uncomfortable? Do I have someone in mind for you!
Taken in the Rookie Draft (pick 11), the local boy has once again proven that the immediate area around Geelong is one of the more fertile areas for developing AFL players – almost as good as dairy farms! Atkins’ no-bullshit style keeps the Cats grounded. He barged his way into this team in 2019 and has not looked back, continuing to give Geelong a player that can create avenues for others just by using pressure and physicality.
But to label Atkins as a mongrel player who gets by on ruthless aggression alone would be a huge disservice to the man – there is far more to him than that. He hits career-highs in disposals (18.1), tackles (6.3), and clearances (3.1) as his tenacity was rewarded with more midfield time in 2022. Can we expect more f that in 2023?
The Cats would be crazy not to give him the chance.
In many ways, Atkins typifies this Geelong team. He is not spectacular. Nor does he look or care for aesthetics on the field. He is a throwback to an age where players were tough and never, ever took a backwards step. Yes, he is the best mongrel player in the competition, but as he has become comfortable in his role(s) within the Geelong structure, he has become a vital part of a team that is the best in the land.
Not bad for a late bloomer.
WHERE DOES THE IMPROVEMENT COME FROM IN THE ENGINE ROOM?
As mentioned in my love letter to Joel Selwood, above, the Cats are now looking at a midfield group that has plenty of age about it. No, I am not making jokes here – the numbers don’t lie.
Danger will turn 33 in April, Duncan will be 32 in June, and even Cam Guthrie will be 31 in August (that one snuck up on ya, didn’t it). You’ve also got Isaac Smith who just turned 34, Sam Menegola turning 31 in March and Mark Blicavs turning 32 around the same time.
Whilst you could argue, and argue quite successfully, that all these blokes could run around in 2023 without an issue, even the most optimistic of supporters would have to be a little concerned that the age bubble will finally pop. and with it the calves and hamstrings of a few players. Yeah, they could go through unscathed, but the Cats need to balance the ageing stars with burgeoning talent as well. As great as those blokes are, and have been, this Geelong team is not planning on going anywhere for a while. As such, they need to blood some others.
The key here may lie with players like Mark O’Connor and Brandan Parfitt.
O’Connor has just turned 26, whilst Parfitt turns 25 in April. Maintaining a balance across the age demographics will become more important as the season rolls on and we move into 2024. Guys like O’Connor, who was down on form in 2022, and Parfitt, who was lucky to get a few minutes of game time in the Grand Final, need to bridge the gap between the elder statesmen and players such as Max Holmes (20), Tanner Bruhn (20), and eventually Jhye Clark (18).
O’Connor made his name in 2019, as his tagging work gained him many admirers. His jobs on Lachie Neale, in particular, were worth the price of admission. As for Parfitt, he has looked like the next big thing at times, and at others, has fallen off the pace. A relentless tackler, his physicality and strength in the clinches will be increasingly valuable as the veterans move on.
Can either of these blokes make the move into the guts and go some way to replacing the influence of Joel Selwood? Massive shoes to fill, I know, but sometimes, all a bloke needs is an opportunity. Despite the pressure to perform, this is an opportunity for MOC or Parfitt to make something happen for themselves. You don’t get chances like this very often.
This ends the free component of the article. The next five or so thousand words are for our members. Want to join us?