The Geelong machine rolled on, but not without a few bumps along the road. Without their captain, who was out/in/out of the side before the game finally missing the game, the Cats handed the keys to second year star, Tim Kelly, who put the foot down and powered the cats to their sixth win of the season.
Geelong remains atop the AFL ladder and are well-poised to make a deep run into September this season. As a neutral supporter watching this game, it was painful to see that the Cats’ win was as much due to North’s inability to capitalise on their time with the ball as it was Geelong’s power running.
There was one distinct difference between these two teams – Tim Kelly. If you have him swap jumpers, I reckon the results may have been reversed.
We’ll talk a heap more about him as we delve into The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly of Geelong v North Melbourne.
He was the difference in this game, and easily the best player on the park.
Shall we have a little run down of his game? He had 21 contested disposals out of his 36 touches. He had ten score involvements, three direct goal assists, 11 clearances and seven tackles. He was everywhere, and all the while both Geelong and the Western Australian clubs would’ve been recalculating just how much they’d have to loosen those purse strings to gain his signature for next year.
It was one of those “good in theory” moments when Jack Ziebell went to Kelly in the first quarter. The North Melbourne captain had done a wonderful job on Patrick Cripps last week, and it sent a strong message to his group – he was out to put a stop to their poor season. I’m sure he had similar thoughts this week, but Kelly is a different beast to Cripps.
Where Cripps farms out handballs to others to do the power running, Kelly does it himself. He bursts from packs and uses those silky skills to cut you to ribbons. I’m pretty sure I am preaching to the choir here, but in a midfield that last year boasted three of the biggest names in the game, Kelly has emerged as perhaps the most important player on Geelong’s list.
Having the ball in his hands was akin to giving the forwards a birthday present. Their eyes were lighting up, and Kelly was delivering. He set up Ablett with a great little handball in the last quarter that effectively iced the game, and though many rushed to Ablett to celebrate his beautiful snap from the boundary, Kelly’s work to extract and distribute was sublime.
Controversially, he didn’t make the cut in our combined AA team, which was largely voted on after Round Six, but two games later, how could you possibly leave him out?
Kelly has had two mediocre games out of his eight this season. Those who feared he’d fall away his stellar 2018 should be well and truly at ease now. He is a star of the competition, and on a day when other stars shined, he shined brightest.
THE ALL-AUSTRALIAN FORWARD POCKET
As each week ticks past, Gary Ablett erases any doubts from those who thought he should‘ve hung up the boots after last season. With another four goals this afternoon, including the sealer from the boundary, Ablett put his indelible stamp on another game with a virtuoso forward pocket performance.
Inexplicably left alone at times, Ablett worked through the middle of the ground and deep inside 50 to further strengthen his claims for an All-Australian berth, which would be his ninth. He had eight score involvements, and looked dangerous for most of the game, a quiet third quarter bringing him back to the pack in terms of impact.
If there was one thing I could be critical of, it was that Gaz looked pretty disinterested in any form of defensive running. Now this may be a genuine tactic by Chris Scott to preserve the old fella’s legs, but there were very few repeated efforts from Gaz this afternoon, and it was the case so many times that even my untrained eye was noticing it more and more.
Gaz is now at a stage where he makes every touch hurt. You want to run off him? Well, you’d better be quick getting back, because if he gets his hands on the turnover, you’re in trouble.
I’ll touch on his flying forearm a bit later on, and though I don’t think it is worth a suspension at all, it was a pretty dumb thing to do on the heels of last week’s controversy.
THE BIG FORWARD PURPLE PATCH
In a ten minute period in the third quarter, Ben Brown went from a full forward being pummelled by Mark Blicavs to the early 2018 version of himself, getting out on the lead and receiving silver service from his midfield.
Brown kicked three successive goals for the quarter and it looked as though his team was about to take control of the game.
Enter Tom Hawkins.
After seemingly injuring his hip/groin earlier in the game, Hawkins looked like a man not wanting contact. He was hanging out the back a little too much for my liking, but the rich vein of form from Brown seemed to sting Hawkins into action.
Gary Ablett flew to make a contest and Gary Rohan was able to feed Hawkins by hand to goal. Moments later the long ball from Mitch Duncan found Hawkins and he goaled to match Brown with his third for the quarter. It was the kind of footy those who changed the rules in the off-season threatened us with.
“The big forwards will love it,” they said, and in the third quarter, that was indeed the case. Hawkins and Brown had a brilliant run, and as the Kangaroos challenged on the back of Ben Brown’s attack, Geelong rallied around the efforts of Hawkins to hit back.
NO FUSS – MITCH DUNCAN
This is the second time this season I’ve highlighted Duncan, so why not make it a stretch, huh?
Any NBA fans reading? I’ve been watching for about 30 years, and whilst in no way would I compare Mitch Duncan to his all-time great namesake, the way Mitch carries himself reminds me of Tim Duncan.
As I said, in terms of the players they were/are, there is no comparison, but in terms of quietly going about your business and getting the job done, these Duncan fellas… they do it so well.
Mitch Duncan had 29 disposals and 12 marks to go with his eight tackles and five clearances. He is the quiet achiever of the Geelong midfield, and with Selwood out, and Ablett in his new role, opportunities opened up again for Duncan this season. Whilst not back to his 2017 levels, the signs have been really positive for him in the last couple of weeks.
As a third or fourth midfielder, Duncan is an absolute killer. At just a tick over 24 touches per game, he is the ideal support to Kelly and Dangerfield in the Geelong midfield.
TAKE YOUR PICK
Okay, so here’s one for you.
As I was watching the game unfold, the exploits of two young stars in the making really started to leap out. Jordan Clark moved his speed and long kicking to the wing this afternoon, and it reaped immediate rewards. He was the owner of two booming long goals for the afternoon as part of his 17 disposals, and he added four tackles to his day’s work as well.
And then there was Tarryn Thomas, who racked up 17 touches of his own and kicked one goal, whilst having a direct assist on another. Both were tremendously impressive this afternoon, and it got me thinking – who would you rather on your team right now?
Clark has a head of steam when he hits the ball, and loves to take the game on. Thomas is silky, rarely loses his balance, and looks like he will be deadly in front of and around goals as the season progresses.
There is no question both teams would be extremely happy with their picks, but if you had one pick, and had these two guys to choose from, which one would you take? For me, at Hawthorn, I take Thomas. You often hear about players with x-factor, and Thomas strikes me a players that at some stage in 2019 will leave fans sitting there thinking “wow, he’s good!”
It may have already happened for some. Clark is a wonderful kid, but I want a bit of sizzle on my steak, and Thomas provides that. Gimme what you’ve got in regard to your preference.
NO STEWART, NO CATS?
I don’t think it was a coincidence that when Tom Stewart departed the area due to a head knock, North Melbourne made their move. He is a great intercept defender, and whilst many have lauded the efforts of Blicavs at full back,. I think we saw that a full back can be made to look only as good as the defenders around him.
Blicavs has done a great job this season, but without Stewart filling the hole, Brown was able to get off the chain against him.
Stewart spent a large chunk of time on the pine in the third quarter, looking as though his neck was hurt after a head clash, but as he returned, so too did a sense of normalcy in the Geelong backline.
He finished with 23 disposals and nine rebounds from defensive 50. When he gets the ball in the backline, he is as deadly as they come, setting the Cats off and running at every opportunity.
There will be a few teams watching how the Geelong defence operated without Stewart there, and I’m half expecting teams to start playing a tight, defensive forward on Stewart in the near future. If he is forced to give his opponent a little more of his time, perhaps that’s how you crack the Geelong defensive egg?
SHAUN HIGGINS HACKING IT
This was brought up in the broadcast, and I was a little dirty on it, because I’d been thinking it for a little while now – Higgins misses too many targets.
And he doesn’t just miss them; he misses them to the extent that they are completely out of the contest and the opposition gets the chance to rebound easily. Not just kicks, either. Two handballs in the second quarter missed the mark so badly that they changed the immediate momentum of the game. One of them in particular, a seven metre handball dropped and bounced to his teammate, placing him under pressure as a result. In another instance in the third quarter, his handball to Shaun Atley completely set his teammate up to be tackled. That one would probably have counted as effective, but I am pretty sure Atley would have thought it was pretty bloody ineffective.
Higgins has the reputation of being a Rolls Royce on the field, but even finely tuned vehicles require some maintenance at times. Higgins’ disposal is starting to become a worry. He had 31 touches for the game, but he travelled at 58% disposal efficiency for the afternoon. For a star of the game, whose team needed him to hit targets this arvo, he let them, and himself down.
SAM DURDIN HUNG, DRAWN AND QUARTERED
What else was the bloke supposed to do?
With Gary Rohan applying pressure to his teammate running out of the backline, Sam Durdin took the only option the AFL rulebook allows him – he laid a shepherd. He and Rohan met shoulder to shoulder, and unfortunately for Rohan, they also met head to head, resulting in Rohan crashing to the turf where he required help from trainers to leave the field.
It’s strange that this incident happened today – last night I wrote about the Showdown game, and how Port needed someone to step up and make a physical statement to shake things up. They were falling behind badly and if someone had just put their hand up, run into a couple of players and said with actions that they were refusing to go quietly into the night, it may have made a difference.
Today, it wasn’t Durdin intentionally running around looking for someone to pick off; his actions were simply to protect his teammate from being tackled by the speedy Rohan. He laid a shepherd, and due to an accidental head clash, those on the Fox Footy special comments team decided that he was to be suspended for his actions.
What a load of shit. What was the other option? Allow his teammate to get tackled?
I’ll tell you this much – if anyone should be suspended for an action today, it should be Gary Ablett. What he did – launch at a running player with a forearm/elbow (again) to block his run is more dangerous than what Durdin did. Gaz went with an outstretched arm to make contact, and did it after the ball left the area. That is kind of action that should be punished – not an in-play bump designed to free up a teammate.
Do I think Gaz should go? Hell no, but in our game there will always be accidental head knocks, and while Durdin’s was accidental, Gaz’s effort was not. Players are running around at breakneck speeds and with pressure coming from all angles, collisions are inevitable. It’s not as though Durdin lined Rohan up and launched at him with his head. It was an accident!
And it should be assessed as such.
Really loved the pressure Gary Rohan was applying early in the game. While other players were happy to put subtle pressure on their opponents, Rohan looked like a maniac when chasing the player with the ball. He gave away a free kick for being a little bit late at one stage – completely worth it.
Shaun Atley started really well on Gary Ablett, and then, as he does, forgot he has to… you know, play defence as a defender. Kayne Turner moved onto Gaz and immediately started giving him four or five metres space at stoppages. How the hell was Ablett allowed so much room?
There is still a fair amount of learning to come for Esava Ratugolea. When Tim Kelly runs past demanding the handball 60 metres out from goal, you give it! Instead, he decided to kick it himself… straight to three defenders on Tom Hawkins.
Jared Polec looks a little lost at the moment. Has he lost confidence? It appears so.
Teams will surely have to wake up to the fact that Tom Hawkins likes to take the ball out of the ruck in forward 50 stoppages soon, won’t they? He is making a mockery of the efforts of makeshift ruckmen when the number one opposition ruck doesn’t make his way into the Cats’ 50.
I’m liking what I see from Nick Larkey more and more. His ability to win contests where he is outnumbered is becoming a highlight of his game… as it would be for anyone. I don’t think we can expect him to be a legitimate second option to Brown on a regular basis, but if he can combine with Zurhaar to bob up here and there and hit the scoreboard, Brad Scott would be thrilled.
It was a gutsy effort from Jamie Macmillan on the wing, keeping his eyes on the ball and winning the contest as Cats closed in all around. After he got the ball out to Ben Cunnington, Gerard Healy decided to give all the credit for the courageous act to Cunnington. Now, Cunnington is one bloke who doesn’t need to pinch someone else’s plaudits when it comes to courage – he has plenty of moments where he doesn’t flinch, but poor old Macmillan… does something great and Healy snubs him!
Geez North wasted some chances in the last quarter, but none so glaring as Ben Brown’s “Mr Bean” moment over the back and running into an open goal. If you watch, you can see Ben Cunnington realising that Brown is a complete unco at ground level in the background. It was a monumental error at a time when North were still, amazingly in with a chance. Never has a man looked more awkward.
You reckon Charlie Constable will be popular tonight? It’s the last couple of minutes, Gaz with three goals… why not pop it up out in front of the Little Master and let him go to work? The result - a mark and goal to Ablett, allowing the crowd, players and even the commentators to celebrate. Great sense of occasion from Constable.
So does this mean Brad Scott is under the pump again? He had a reprieve last week as his team belted Carlton, but… hmmm, maybe because this was Geelong, he gets a pass.
Next week the Cats get the Western Bulldogs at Kardinia Park, and I have a bit of a feeling about this game. The Roos have a battle against the Swans, with the loser surely doomed to spend the remainder of the season in the bottom third of the ladder.
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