We have the game covered.

RoCo’s Wrap: A case to reconsider the Cats and Tigers


Sam Menegola and Dustin Martin in action for Geelong and Richmond in round 23. Two midfield keys to the finals. Photos: GETTY IMAGES/AFL MEDIA

RoCo’s Wrap: A case to reconsider the Cats and Tigers

Rohan Connolly    

So after six months of hard slog, and arguably the tightest AFL season in history, fittingly it came down to the final minute or so of the last of 198 home and away matches.

Sometimes clichés are apt. And the one about making your own luck seemed to fit the bill after West Coast scraped into eighth spot at Melbourne’s expense by just 0.49 per cent.

After 11 years without finals, the Demons will be devastated. But the real damage was done not by two late Eagles goals to Lewis Jetta and Jack Darling against Adelaide, but Melbourne’s insipid opening to Saturday’s game against Collingwood.

The Demons’ best this season was intoxicating, but their slip-ups remained most untimely, not just against the Pies, but in losses to Fremantle (at home), a Hawthorn travelling badly indeed, and North Melbourne not once but twice.

West Coast? It’s fair to say there’s probably less regard for the Eagles as a potential flag threat than any finalist in recent times. Nine of their 12 wins came at home, and they routinely gave up winning positions.

Yet when it came to the crunch, they did manage to knock off the top team to get there. And heading into a qualifying final against Port Adelaide, they also have the confidence-instilling history of a win over the Power at the same Adelaide Oval venue this season.

That said, even with the benefit of a week’s R&R, I still give just one team in the bottom half of the eight much chance of doing something substantial this September. Indeed, in Sydney, it’s far more than just a chance.

The Swans go into a home elimination final against Essendon clearly the form team of the remaining eight, after Saturday night’s clobbering of Carlton now with 14 wins from their past 16 games, and the two losses by just a goal apiece.

It’s phenomenal consistency, and after 16 years with no premier coming from the lower half of the eight under the current finals system, we might well end up with two in two seasons.

I wrote in this column two weeks ago that I saw only three potential premiers, the Swans, Adelaide or GWS. Has that changed? Sort of. Given their positions of finals strength now, only a fool would unequivocally argue either Geelong or Richmond definitely can’t win this year’s flag.

I still have both behind the other trio in order of probability, but there’s certainly reason enough not to be anywhere near as dismissive as a few rounds ago.

Geelong? The Cats have dug in admirably since their heaviest defeat of the season against Sydney in round 20, so well that they now have a double chance and the confidence that comes with having played and beaten their qualifying final opponent only a fortnight ago.

In hindsight, that loss to the Swans might end up proving the flashpoint of Geelong’s season. That evening, the Cats were already without Patrick Dangerfield. But while he’d return the following week, they’d then be without Joel Selwood, Mitch Duncan and Tom Hawkins, the former injured the latter pair suspended.

Suddenly, the seemingly perennial debating point about the dependence on “Dangerwood” became about a lot more, whether Geelong could still function without two of their three best midfielders and their best key forward.

They did so brilliantly against Richmond the following week, outlasted Collingwood with only Duncan back of that trio, and with two of the three back in the mix on Saturday night, given the opponent and the stakes, turned on arguably their best performance of the season.

That was enough to secure second spot, and the hard work has been rewarded. While it won’t be at Simonds Stadium, Geelong’s qualifying finals pits the Cats against a team they’ve beaten 13 times in a row, and to whom they haven’t lost since 2006.

Geelong has won its last eight meetings with Richmond at the MCG, too, their last defeat all the way back in 1999.

Cats’ coach Chris Scott was playing down that history for all it was worth on Saturday night, but not the more even contribution he’s had across the board the past three games, particularly in midfield.

Sam Menegola has been good most of this season for Geelong, but seems to have risen to another level over the past three weeks, not only winning plenty of the ball but hitting the scoreboard.

Cam Guthrie has been the biggest improver during the same period. He’s had an ordinary season overall, and in five games leading up to and including the Sydney belting, averaged a measly 14 disposals.

In the wins over Richmond, Collingwood and GWS, that average has skyrocketed to more than 22, and Guthrie’s run out of traffic has proved important to a team that at times this season has looked a little stodgy. Both he and Menegola have been among Geelong’s best handful in each of the three victories.

Geelong finished second for contested ball on the differentials, a good September indicator. They were sixth for fewest points conceded, and fourth for points scored. That’s solid, without being spectacular, another reason the GWS win was a very positive sign.

They won the contested ball count by 24 against the Giants, who were ranked fourth in the same category. Their 15.13 (103) was their second 100-plus return in the past five games, featured 10 individual goalkickers, and was the most GWS have conceded since round seven.

I still think Steven Motlop and perhaps even the injured Nakia Cockatoo will have to not only be part of the mix but play well for Geelong to have enough dash and flair to take its finals campaign all the way. Not just for one flashy September effort, but across the course of three tough finals.

But the Cats are there. In a position of strength. Given 15.5 wins from 22 games, they deserve to be. And Saturday night’s performance suggested their best this season may still be in front of them. If it is, of course they have to be a chance.

No, we’re not going to forget Richmond, either. It was a measure how far the Tigers have come this season that the jibes even before Sunday’s efficient clean-up of St Kilda weren’t about “Ninthmond” but about potentially missing a double chance with a deft shooting of their own feet.

But even that possibility was put to rest very early in the piece at the MCG with nine of the first 10 goals of the game. Now the Tigers get to play “away” in a qualifying final on their home ground, and a return trip there in week two even if they lose it. Not bad at all.

Again, though, no less than their efforts this year have deserved. Richmond doesn’t rank particularly high in most key statistical categories.

The Tigers are, however, strong where it often counts in September, tackling and applying of pressure, and in refusing to allow scores, ranked third for fewest points conceded. They also, of course, have a couple of big midfield guns in Dustin Martin and Trent Cotchin.

And rarely are they anything but competitive. There were just two blowouts this season, at the hands of Adelaide and, surprisingly at the time, St Kilda. Their other five defeats were by a total of just 33 points.

Richmond will go into the finals ranked only eighth for scoring. But the Tigers have shown a remarkable capacity to graft enough scoreboard pressure to win more games than not, and after 11 goals in the past two games, may just have found another goalkicking option in Jacob Townsend.

With Josh Caddy ready to return by qualifying final time, there’s certainly a few options on the smaller goalkicker front.

Talls? That’s a different story. But it’s worth remembering last year’s premiership team ranked only 12th for points scored, shared the goalkicking duties around similarly, and of its top eight goalkickers for the year, just one, Jack Redpath, injured at the critical time anyway, was a genuine key position player.

Those sorts of reference points should offer some sort of reassurance for the flag contenders not the most popular fancies. But then, so should this season as a whole. Which brings us to another apt cliché, expect the unexpected. It’s been the story of 2017. Why not for another month?

2 Comments
  1. Did you notice, Rohan, Swans only finished 1&1/2 games shy of top place! After starting 6-nil! As you said, a very even season. It must be noted too, that last year’s premier, despite finishing 7th, was only two wins short of top place.

    If Swans – or Port who also finished 1&1/2 wins from top – do grab the flag, I hope we don’t just say it’s because of the pre-finals bye.

    The bye might help, but the gap between the top four and the next two or three is getting smaller every year.

    It’s no wonder teams outside the top four are now genuine chances.

    Furthermore, testament to the evenness of the competition, this is the highest percentage of the last placed team in forever.

    (Sorry if you got this twice!)

  2. Rohan, good article and I agree a revision was needed as both Geelong and Richmond have been impressive.

    However I really would enjoy reading an article that peered from the other side of the fence celebrating all the amazing upsets of modern AFL finals history by the unfancied underdogs.

    You could start it in 2000’s if you like and avoid ‘that’ prelim in ’99.

    It would provide a good reminder that anything can happen on the day and that occasionally formlines don’t always ring true.

    I remember in 2012 a stuttering Freo limped into the finals, came to Melbourne and knocked out Geelong who had won 3 of the last 5 flags and were clearly the most dominant side of that time.

    In 2017 who can say…maybe West Coast or Essendon hit their straps when they are least expected to.

    As a neutral supporter (for yet another finals series) I find myself aligning myself with whomever has been written off by the pundits the most.

    Hopefully there are some twists and turns still to come.

Leave a Reply

*