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The Good, Bad and Ugly - Geelong v West Coast

 

The Geelong Football Club put to rest a few first quarter demons as they powered home over the reigning premiers.

After being up by five goals, the Cats surrendered the lead in the third quarter as the West Coast Eagles made their move. Behind by four points at three quarter time, the Cats were the team ready to take the game on in the last as the Eagles ran out of legs, managing just one point in the last stanza.

Joel Selwood turned the clock back, Dangerfield ruled the skies, Cam Guthrie put his hand up and remind people that the Geelong midfield is a little more diverse than the coverage of the media would have you believe, and Jack Henry did a wonderful job deep in defence to cut the Eagles’ forwards off at the legs.

Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.

 

 

THE GOOD

 

CAPTAIN COURAGEOUS

There’s something a little heart-warming about seeing Joel Selwood bleeding and bandaged up. It’s familiar. It’s comforting. It speaks volumes about the role Selwood is playing for the Cats.

If you’re a Geelong fan, you probably want to see that vision of Selwood with blood trickling down his face, head bandaged and Selwood grimacing as it means your captain is in there at the bottom of packs, or throwing himself into contests with a reckless abandon.

I could write about Selwood all night long. He never, ever takes a backward step. He never, ever fails to answer the call when Chris Scott calls his number, and he never, ever ceases to amaze me in terms of the example he sets for his teammates. How could you not be happy to follow him into war?

The role he has played this season has moved him out of the middle a little too often for my liking, but may be playing a role in preserving for games such as this. Playing the wing position for the majority of the year, Selwood’s numbers have fallen away, but with the Cats finishing on top of the ladder, you can’t really question that decision. We’ve seen Mitch Duncan return to form and Tim Kelly make the All-Australian team in the current set up. However, when Mitch Duncan went down injured last week, Chris Scott went to the man he must have complete and utter trust in.

He called Joel Selwood’s number and the captain responded as only he can.

He had his head over the ball. He had his head almost torn off, and he had a huge impact on the contest. It was the first time he had 25+ disposals since Round 15, and just the fifth time this season he’s hit that mark. The Cats are 5-0 when he does so.

I know others have been awarded the ‘Best Captain’ award from the AFLPA in recent years. Others have also been awarded the ‘Most Courageous’ award, but in future there would be cause to rename either of those awards the Joel Selwood Medal, as no player has led as well, or been more courageous over his career than the Geelong captain.

Some may argue his best football is behind him, and that’s fine. With 294 games under his belt, not many get better from that point, but what he provides the Cats cannot be assessed on stats alone. Joel Selwood makes his teammates walk taller. If I were to choose one player in the league I would follow based purely on the way he conducts himself on the field, I’d choose Joel Selwood, and as a Hawthorn supporter, I feel pangs of guilt in writing that.

He is the sort of leader you’d walk over broken glass for, but he’s also the sort of leader that’d do it first, to show you it was okay… and because that’s what leaders do.

 

THE OTHER CAPTAIN COURAGEOUS

Shannon Hurn is a different kind of captain and I reckon it is safe to say that without his presence in the first and second quarters, the Eagles may never have been in the position to launch a challenge.

With Tom Barrass and Jeremy McGovern rendered ineffective in the air, Hurn stepped up as he did earlier this season and just became a huge hindrance to the Cats going forward. Hurn took seven intercept marks, including six in the first half.

At points where the West Coast defence looked disjointed and uncharacteristically messy, Hurn’s solidity was one of the genuine highlights.

There’ll be no premiership this season to stick it right up the backsides of the All-Australian selectors, but Shannon Hurn lost no fans with his performance here tonight. He was steadfast and reliable. In a defence under siege due to some poor disposal inside defensive 50, Hurn was resolute and in my book, demonstrated exactly why he should have been named captain of the team of the year.

Maybe third time lucky next season?

 

CAM GUTHRIE

I’ve had people telling me throughout this season that Cam Guthrie had made the step this season to become a really good midfielder. I admit… I thought they were full of it, as being Geelong supporters, I reckon you could throw a three-toed sloth out there and they’d be telling me that though the sloth lacks pace, there are several other attributes that the sloth possesses to counter it.

So I watched Guthrie intently tonight, and I probably chose a really good night to do, didn’t I?

A couple of those same Geelong people opted to texted me after the game to gloat about their expertise. They also picked a good time to do so, didn’t they?

Guthrie has had more touches in a game of footy just once in his career. He racked up 33 touches as he made up for the lack of early impact from Dangerfield and the fact that Tim Kelly tapered off when Elliot Yeo went to him after a blistering first quarter.

He was probably very unlucky not to be awarded a free kick in the second quarter when he was tackled without it in front of goal, but if we start to pick nits about umpiring decisions, this review will be 5K words long.

Guthrie used the ball well as he had a very good inside/outside game. When a player hits the 30+ touches at 80+% you know they’ve had a big game. Throw in eight clearances and five tackles, and we may have just seen the best overall game of Guthrie’s career.

I expect a few more texts in the morning.

 

JACK HENRY

This guy will have flown under the radar for many in this game, but his performance in both one-on-one contests against Josh Kennedy, and in zoning off to collect intercepts was incredibly valuable to the Cats.

People tend to forget that Henry is still a baby in AFL terms. At 21 years old and with less than 50 games under his belt, Henry demonstrates the kind of composure normally reserved for players with 100 more games to their name. When he wasn’t intercepting, he was spiking the ball in packs to kill contests.

I’ll get to the forward tag on Tom Stewart in a little while, but all this did was allow Henry to emerge as the defender that would come off his opponent and impact contests – a role that Stewart has been excellent in all season.

When you look at the Geelong back six, Henry is not the first one to jump out at you as a star, but the makings are there. He is confident in marking contests, has great timing when it comes time to fly and bring the ball to ground, and when caught in a one-on-one duel, he holds his own every single time.

I don’t think anyone will be calling Jack Henry a star player this season, but if tonight is any indication, it won’t be too long until he is mentioned often when people start discussing who the best defenders in the game are.

 

PLAYING A RUCKMAN ACTUALLY… WORKS?

Chris Scott and Geelong were widely criticised for leaving Rhys Stanley out of the game against Collingwood last week, and rightfully so.

Brodie Grundy is arguably the most complete big man in the game, and he was on against the Cats, all but torturing the combination of Esava Ratugolea and Mark Blicavs. Well, it turns out that Chris Scott learnt his lesson, and Rhys Stanley was picked this week to battle the behemoth known as Nic Naitanui.

Throw in the fact that Naitanui has a pretty handy backup named Tom Hickey, and Stanley definitely had his work cut out for him.

He responded well, working hard around the ground and competing well in the air.

Stanley’s biggest attribute was the ability to prevent the easy hit out to the Eagles’ mids. Last week there were moments of pure ruck brilliance from Nic Nat as he rose above Tom Bellchambers to feed the Eagles’ midfield beasts. It was silver service. This week, however, whilst Naitanui still had 29 hit outs, they were simply not impactful.

Stanley’s efforts turned Nic Nat’s silver service into something more akin to bronze service. Or tin foil service.

I don’t think we’re going to see Rhys Stanley’s name in any votes, but breaking even with the ruck combination of Naitanui and Hickey was a huge win for the Cats.

 

DANGER OVERHEAD

Let’s be honest – Danger did not have a great game in this one, but when the Cats needed someone to stand up in the last quarter and take some contested grabs, it was Dangerfield coming to the fore.

Sometimes you can judge the performance of a player by the opposition he draws to him. In the last quarter tonight Patrick Dangerfield was flying for the ball with a pretty handy bloke trying to stop him. Danger was outmarking Elliot Yeo, who some have called the best player in the game this season, and he was doing it repeatedly.

I’m guessing the Geelong number 35 may have taken exception to the claims that Yeo was the best in the game, eh?

At three quarter time I was thinking of the narratives for the next day’s papers. How would the media view Dangerfield in the context of this game if the Cats fell over? Would his performance be placed under the microscope and criticised to within an inch of its life if he meandered through the remainder of the game?

Or would he rise to the occasion and make people forget about his inability to impact the contest in the first three quarters?

We got our answer in the last quarter as Dangerfield stopped the hunt on the ground, and started hunting the ball at its highest point.

And no one could stop him.

Geelong fan… West Coast fan… neutral fan… no one can dispute the influence Dangerfield had on the last quarter. He may not have been the commanding presence of the first three quarters, but as we turned for home, he put his hand up and made sure people knew that when the game was on the line, he was Geelong’s go-to guy.

 

THE RAT

Before the finals started, I flagged this guy in an article for Patrons as someone who could really make a mark on September.

Well, he may have had a false start last week, but he made up for it this week. 12 disposals does not sound like the sort of game that made a huge difference, but I don’t think Ratugolea was beaten in the air all night. I cannot remember an intercept mark being taken against him.

In contrast, Esava pulled in four contested grabs of his own, and kicked a career-high three goals in the biggest game of his life to this point. He probably could have had quite a few more. The mount of times he got both hands to the pill in the contest was impressive. If a few more of those stick, we could have been witnessing a break out performance.

As it stands, Ratugolea more than proved his worth as a key forward in this game, and what a time to do it. Playing alongside Tom Hawkins, the pair worked very well to stay out of each other’s way and work over the West Coast defenders.

 

JACKSON NELSON

Here’s another unsung defender who did a wonderful job in curtailing a superstar.

Jackson Nelson wore Gary Ablett like a glove in this game, and refused to allow the Little Master the room to move at forward stoppages. Ablett complained at a couple of stages about the tactics of Nelson - holding him and preventing him from a) getting a run at the ball, and b) preventing him from flying for marks, and you know what? He was right!

Nelson was holding him, but Gaz was one of three or four players being held at times, an as the umpire explained to him, he can’t pluck one free kick out when players are holding each other all over the shop. As the umpire explained it, you could see Gaz’s frustration, as he knew the umpire was correct.

The Cats attempted to set blocks for Gaz, but Nelson’s commitment to the task was evident. He was successful in basically making Ablett a non-contributor in the Geelong win. The Little Master finished with 14 touches, but playing deep, had just four score involvements and his only scoreboard impact was in the form of one behind. It was a very solid outing for Nelson on one of the best the game has ever seen.

 

JED BEWS

It seems I’ve been writing about this bloke a bit lately, and for good reason. You see, Jed Bews is the small forward shut down specialist. He’s put the clamps on Eddie Betts, Charlie Cameron, and tonight he beat the hell out of Liam Ryan for three quarters.

As I’ll cover below, Ryan got off the chain in the second quarter and started the Eagles’ engine running, but in the other three quarters, Bews restricted Ryan to just two touches. Yep – the most dangerous small forward on the ground was completely nullified.

Bews operates without fanfare. You rarely hear his name mentioned when the AFL media lauds good defenders, and he strikes me as the sort of player that fact sits just fine with. As part of the Geelong back six, he is very important to their structure and the fact he is sneaking forward to kick the occasional goal in recent weeks is something opposition teams should be taking heed of.

Looking forward, his potential match up next week could be Daniel Rioli? Or Jason Castagna? Whoever finds themselves with Bews’ attention on them is in for a tough night.

 

THE BAD

 

THE FORWARD TAG

Eagles fans who’ve read this site for a while know that I am a Mark Hutchings fan, but playing a role of nullifying Tom Stewart, whilst understandable, didn’t exactly play to his strengths.

When I’ve seen Hutch kick goals in the past they have tended to be on the end of handball chains as he runs off his direct opponent, gets out the back or loses them in traffic resulting in a ‘Joe the goose’ over the top for an easy goal.

He did that once tonight, and fed Jack Darling for an easy goal. However his lack of composure with the ball in hand was something that really stood out to me as an area the Eagles fell over in this one. Whether it was a wild snap, inability to hit targets at pace, or missing a chance to give the instinctive handball, it became obvious that Hutchings is not a natural forward.

But he wasn't really there to be an influence on the scoreboard, was he? He was there to nullify the influence of All-Australian, Tom Stewart. In the first quarter, he was getting the job done.

As the game progressed, Stewart went from three touches in the first quarter to pick up 21 over the next three. He started to run off and hurt the Eagles with his delivery from half back, and broke the Hutchings tag a little too easily. I have to ask – would he have broken that tag so easily last season? Hutchings has had an injury-interrupted season and looked as though he has not had his legs under him completely this year.

Once the tag was broken, the role of Hutchings as a pressure forward was rather redundant. Seven touches, two score involvements, and damningly, just one tackle to his name. This experiment failed, and if Hutchings is not successfully tagging, he becomes a bit of a liability.

 

CHEAP SHOT BY HAWKINS

This was the one real dark spot on what should have been a triumphant night for the Cats.

In the third quarter, Hawkins appeared to swing a right arm into the unprotected head of Will Schofield as the two headed back toward the goal square.

Hawkins looked genuinely concerned for Schofield after the incident in one of those moments where he realised he may have hit him a little harder than he actually intended. Schofield got to his feet after a moment or two but did not look happy at the treatment he received by the big Cat.

Will Hawkins be cited for his actions? It was round arm that made contact to the head away from the ball – I don’t see how he won’t have a charge to answer. Will it result in a suspension? Ummmmm, who the hell knows?

I’ve been at a little bit of a loss with the MRO lately. For all the furore about Toby Greene getting off, I thought Nic Naitanui’s choke slam on Zach Merrett was worse and he got a fine $6.5K lighter.

Will Hawkins play next week in the prelim? My gut says he should – I think he’ll end up with a fine for his actions… somehow. How can we predict what the MRO will offer. They have criteria they follow, apparently. If you guys can explain it to me and put it in context with some similar instances, AND prove that there’s some consistency with those decisions, I’ll happily take your comments on board.

 

ONE QUARTER FROM LIAM RYAN

What a tease.

How good did the West Coast Eagles looks when Liam Ryan got involved in the game? His skills and ability to make things happen changed the game in the second term and allowed the Eagles back into the game. With seven touches in the second quarter, Ryan was the catalyst for the Eagles’ resurgence.

And then he just went away.

Again.

Ryan is an enigmatic player – a game changer, but outside of that second quarter blast, he had two possessions for the remainder of the game, and his most significant impact outside that second quarter was when he decided to compete in the air against Josh Kennedy, taking both JK and himself out of the contest and allowing the Cats to clear.

So, what do you do with Liam Ryan, who has the potential to be in the top three small forwards in the game? Do you offer protection and start targeting the player assigned to him? It might be an option, as Jed Bews has a solid history of playing well on quality small forwards. Too often these blokes are left to their own devices to break a lockdown role in the forward half, and too often they can’t do it – not alone, anyway. The Eagles needed someone to crash into Jed Bews – a few people, actually – and they needed to assist Liam Ryan to get off the chain.

Having him collect two touches in three quarters of footy at this time of year sounded the death knell for their season. I don’t want to blame Ryan here – he had plenty of mates who weren’t at their best, but West Coast needed him to provide something, and outside of the second quarter, he provided nothing.

 

THE UGLY

 

THE MISSING MAN

You all know what I’m talking about, right?

Somewhere in the Tiwi islands, Willie Rioli would have been watching this game and wondering what sort of difference he could’ve made. He and Liam Ryan are a brilliant one-two punch, but taking the Eagles without Rioli were like a fighter throwing punches with one hand tied behind his back.

We just covered Ryan’s impact, or lack thereof, in the section above, but how does Rioli’s presence change that?

It adds a dimension the Eagles badly required in this contest. His clean hands and creativity act as a conduit for the other forwards, and as good as Jamie Cripps, Ryan, Kennedy and Darling are, Rioli is the spark that lights the flame. Without him, the Eagles go from being unpredictable in the forward half to being a run-of-the-mill forward line, particularly if Josh Kennedy is not getting near it.

Look, I hope there is only a minimal suspension for Rioli – it does sound as though there will be some sort of suspension, doesn’t it? If he gets four years, the sport is worse off for it. He is a prodigious talent who was just starting to show what he was capable of. When I heard the news that he was embroiled in this saga, I felt a profound sense of sadness, and I’m not even an Eagles supporter. I felt that because as a fan of the game, I knew what we were going to miss.

Without Willie Rioli, the Eagles were that little bit more stagnant, and without Willie Rioli, circumstances aside, the league is a little less exciting.

 

THE KICKING IN

Lewis Jetta seemed to have one of those games in this one. He continued to trust that boot of his, but it just wouldn’t cooperate with him.

Do we give the Cats some credit here? I think we should. They would almost tempt Jetta to take the option up the middle. They’d sag off that target at half forward and dare Jetta to make the kick.

Usually it would be a poor option to do that sort of thing – Jetta normally hits targets, but when you miss one or two, that same little man that starts to sit on the shoulder of forwards and whisper in their ear as they line up for goal must have made a visit to defence and started having a chat with Jetta.

Whilst he hit a couple of beautiful diagonal kicks late in the game, when the heat was on, Jetta’s ability to slice teams to shreds by foot was non-existent. And it wasn't as though his kicks were atrocious or anything – they just seemed to hang in the air for a second longer than usual, allowing the Cats to close down the options.

I’m sure there are a couple of kicks that Jetta would like to have over again from this game. He’d hit them 99 times out of 100. Tonight, however, was the outlier, and the Cats seemed to know it.

 

QUICK BITS

Can someone please explain to Brice McAvaney that there is only one ‘N’ in Menegola? This bloke is supposed to be the best in the business, yet he continually pronounces his name as “Menengola”. Lift Bruce!

It became even funnier when Bruce called him Menegolea, when he obvious confused Menegola with Ratugolea… because they’re so like.

Tom Barrass looks like a player down on confidence. He had a wonderful finals series last season, but after spending time out of the game this season, he’s really struggled to find consistent form. No intercept marks for him in this one, and when you combine that with Jeremy McGovern taking just one, from memory, it really took away from the defensive structure that got the Eagles to the dance this year, and won them a flag last year. What the hell was he doing trying to pull down mark of the year in the last quarter with numbers on the ground around him waiting for the spoil… which is his job? He looks a little lost currently.

Gotta ask – have teams now worked out Adam Simpson’s defensive structure to the point it needs some adjustments in 2020?

Speaking of the defence, I was having a chat with a bloke I work with abut how teams have been using whomever McGovern plays on as a legitimate avenue to goal given how loose he wants to play. Lo and behold, the first two Geelong goals came directly from Gov’s direct opponent. First Hawkins, then Tom Atkins. I may have sent that person a text, gloating about it pretty quickly.

Will Tom Stewart have a case to answer for his high hit on Elliot Yeo? It was an interesting moment in the game as it set the Cats off and running, but I thought Yeo at the very least deserved a free kick for having his face introduced to Stewart’s hip.

I heard the commentators talking about the “funny old game” Jack Darling was playing in this one. It was an ‘almost’ game from him. Yes he kicked three goals, and given that, you’d think he did what was required, and with four contested grabs, he was obviously a force in the air, but was he as damaging as Ratugolea? I don’t think he was, and if you’d told me before the game that Ratugolea would have a bigger impact than Darling, I would have predicted a Cats victory based on that.

So we had 30 touches again from Andrew Gaff, and for the first time this season he really looked like a weapon running inside forward 50. I don’t think he feels comfortable in front of goal, but his two goals in as many minutes looked as though it may drive the Eagles home at one stage. The first of the two was quite spectacular, as he was the one delivering the ball inside 5. He followed up, kept running as only Gaff does, and got the return handball for the running snag. It was a ripper. They were on a tear at that stage, and matched up on Mark Blicavs, he clearly had the better of him.

I suppose what was most impressive for the Cats in this one was that they had several players who were quiet for the majority of the game. They can get a lot better than this. Parfitt, Narkle, Ablett, Menegola, Dahlhaus… they can all play a lot better than they demonstrated tonight. They’ll need to against the Tigers next week.

The 50 metre penalty against Menegola… look, I think the ump guessed at it, but it was a frustrated throw back to Hickey by the Cat, and it had a bit of sizzle to it. It was borderline and I don’t think we can hang the umpire on that one. I’m sure Menegola would like that effort over again.

So, where do we go from here? The Eagles go into Tim Kelly mode and start to move pieces to obtain him – I liked the way Elliot Yeo was able to contain him, by the way. They’ll need to secure some assets to trade for him and they’ll probably need a trade to do so.

The Cats head into a massive preliminary final against Richmond and will pack the MCG as they attempt to send the Tigers out for the second consecutive penultimate game.

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