Geelong show they have plenty going for them in chase for flag

Geelong's Rhys Stanley is tackled by Ben McEvoy of the Hawks during the round 2 AFL match at GMHBA Stadium last Friday night. Stanley had a huge game for the Cats. Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images
Geelong's Rhys Stanley is tackled by Ben McEvoy of the Hawks during the round 2 AFL match at GMHBA Stadium last Friday night. Stanley had a huge game for the Cats. Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

There were some impressive team performances in the resumption of the AFL season.

St Kilda looked slick in dismantling the Western Bulldogs, North Melbourne were tough in their defeat of GWS, and Gold Coast were undoubtedly the biggest surprise packet in beating West Coast.

But arguably the most complete display of round two was delivered on Friday night by Geelong in a 10-goal dismantling of Hawthorn at GMHBA Stadium.

Curiously, it was also the victory which seemed to attract the least fanfare.

It's understandable.

The Cats have over the past decade been perennials in any discussion about the upper end of the AFL ladder, solid in all departments, almost invincible at home, a "monty" to finish in the top eight.

Yet their continued failure to convert those solid foundations into premiership success has had them also subconsciously dismissed as good but not good enough when it comes to flag discussions.

The football world is used to drooling over premiership teams and their greatness.

It also likes bright and shiny new objects of affection, like the Western Bulldogs were in 2016, Richmond the following year and, to an extent, what the Giants were in September last season.

But there's precious little novelty left about Geelong, who have now played finals in 12 of the last 13 seasons.

When finals roll around again this season, the two most-repeated lines about Geelong will inevitably involve numbers.

One will be 4-11, the Cats' win-loss tally in finals since their last flag in 2011.

The other, should they get that far, will be the 0-4 record in preliminary finals over the same journey.

Clearly, given that amount of near-misses, only a premiership will now suffice to raise any critical eyebrows.

But it's not as though there is an inherent weakness about Geelong which prevents them taking the final step.

What deficiencies have come to the fore have been studiously addressed by coach Chris Scott and his team.

And there was more compelling evidence in the beating up of the Hawks that the answers are there.

Geelong's ruck issues have been well documented.

They have flip-flopped on their choice of No.1 ruckman countless times over recent seasons, most tellingly in last year's qualifying final, when Rhys Stanley was a late omission; Collingwood's Brodie Grundy dominant in the Pies' upset of the team which had finished on top of the ladder.

While Stanley was immediately recalled, that defeat sentenced the Cats to a preliminary final against Richmond, one they lost by just 19 points after having led by 21 points at half-time.

Stanley was brilliant against the Hawks last Friday night.

He had a hand in the Cats' first three goals, kicked two of his own and finished with a game-high nine score involvements.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who revisited that qualifying final again, wondering whether his presence that night might have been enough to bridge the 10-point gap to the Pies, putting Geelong on the more favourable side of the finals draw.

Leg speed and a little extra spark has been a bit of a sore point, too, for Geelong. Brandan Parfitt's performance against the Hawks certainly covered off those areas.

The dynamic little man offers real pace and brilliance, and no small amount of defensive pressure as well, his 10 tackles easily the most landed by any player on the ground, and his eight clearances equal most.

Fellow young speedster Quinton Narkle had some fine moments as well. And the presence of he and Parfitt's like in midfield of course offers more scope for the star quality of Patrick Dangerfield and Gary Ablett to get forward and do some serious damage.

The ominous part of Geelong's on-ball stocks these days is just how many options there are, and how many of those Cats are also capable of hitting the scoreboard hard as pressure small forwards.

Indeed, 15 of Geelong's 17 goals last Friday came from smaller mids or forwards, the roll call Gryan Miers, Ablett, Tom Atkins, Sam Menegola, Luke Dahlhaus, Joel Selwood, Dangerfield, Mitch Duncan and Gary Rohan.

That's some collection.

It's set to be added to this week, with star recruit Jack Steven likely to make his Geelong debut, while another explosive talent in Nakia Cockatoo is reportedly getting closer to full fitness.

The Cats were second for points scored last year.

And defensively, they were in a league of their own, their average per game conceded just 66.5 points, the lowest figure football had seen since 1968.

That defence was impressive again against the Hawks, whose miserable 47-point tally was their equal lowest since 2012.

The armoury is most definitely there.

And it's worth pointing out that already pronounced home ground advantage the Cats enjoy - far more about the odd-shaped dimensions than the surrounds or parochial fans - will remain an even bigger plus than usual this season whilst crowds are kept away from other traditionally intimidating venues.

I'm not sure Geelong could have any more currently going for it in its attempt to finally go a step further in 2020.

Yet the Cats remain a bit of an afterthought in footy discussions, and a distant fifth in AFL premiership betting, even after that stitching up of Hawthorn last week.

Curious indeed. What's that line again about familiarity breeding contempt?

This story Are the Cats the real deal and flying under the radar? first appeared on The Canberra Times.