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Different difficulties, but Cats and Dees still short of mark


Geelong’s Gary Ablett heads goalward in the Cats’ thrilling round 18 win over Melbourne at GMHBA Stadium. Photo: AFL MEDIA.

Different difficulties, but Cats and Dees still short of mark

Rohan Connolly    

I’m no betting man, but there’s something about the latest markets for the AFL premiership which strike me as particularly odd.

Richmond is now a red-hot flag favourite at $2.25, with West Coast, Greater Western Sydney and Collingwood paying anything from $7 to $9, all fair enough in my book. But what seems strange about the prices I consulted are among the next few lines of betting, Hawthorn bracketed with Melbourne at $11, Sydney and Geelong at $17.

The Hawks might be a shade long, so too the Swans given their capacity to consistently rise to a high level at the pointy end of the season. But those prices for the Demons and Cats have really got me scratching my head.

Geelong, of course, still has to fight its way into the eight and then rely primarily on Melbourne or Port Adelaide dropping at least one of their remaining two games.

But the Cats have got Fremantle and Gold Coast, both on their own turf, two “soft kills” if ever there were. The Demons, meanwhile, have to take on West Coast in Perth then GWS, while the Power faces Collingwood on the MCG then Essendon, also still a finals chance.

You’d think Geelong is going to get there. And $17 as opposed Melbourne’s $11? Are the Cats really 35-odd per cent less chance of winning a flag than a team they have already beaten twice?

To be frank, I don’t think either team can win it. But what’s perhaps most frustrating for fans of either club is that the Cats and Demons, not with personnel, but merely just a little of the other’s DNA, could arguably give it a pretty decent shake.

In short, Melbourne’s best is better. But it’s also not nearly as reliable. The Demons are becoming specialists at beating up on weak opposition and consistently falling short of the mark against the best. The Cats, meanwhile, routinely give the top dogs a run for their money and even win their share of those clashes.

Clashes, incidentally, they’ve had to face almost twice as often as the Demons, a team they’ve beaten twice this season, albeit both times very narrowly and only right on siren time.

Geelong has played a dozen times already against teams currently inside the top eight, and was in the black until Saturday’s loss to Hawthorn made it 6-6. Aside from the two wins over Melbourne, it has beaten Port Adelaide, Greater Western Sydney, Collingwood and Sydney.

But even the losses haven’t been far away. In two defeats against both the Hawks and Richmond, and losses to West Coast (in Perth) and Sydney, not once has the margin exceeded 18 points, two of the losses by less than a goal.

Geelong is solid. Disturbingly, though, its superstar trio of Patrick Dangerfield, Gary Ablett and Joel Selwood continues to churn out top-flight performances and it’s still not enough to take the Cats any further.

The bottom few in the 22 still under-perform when the heat is on. They rank fifth for fewest points conceded, but just ninth for points scored. And they’re not strong enough defensively around the contest, ranked mid-table for stoppage wins and a dismal 16th on the tackle differentials.

Melbourne has more statistical hallmarks of a prospective strong finals campaigner. It leads the AFL for contested possession, inside 50 entries and marks inside 50. And it’s by some margin the most potent attacking team, ranked No.1 for scores.

The problem is, nearly all that damage has been inflicted on the bottom teams. The Demons have topped the 100-point mark in 12 games this season. But every single one of those occasions has been against an opponent outside the eight.

Melbourne is ranked only ninth for fewest points conceded. It works hard to prevent entries into its defensive zone, ranked second only to Hawthorn, but when the ball does get in there, opponents score easily, the Demons conceding goals from nearly 25 per cent of opposition attacks, a figure worse than anyone bar three teams all in the bottom five on the ladder.

Geelong and Melbourne have lost their share of close games this season. In the case of the Cats, it’s seven losses by 18 points or less, for the Demons, it’s five defeats by 10 points or less.

More of Geelong’s though, seem to have been when the Cats had given up early ground and made a fighting comeback. Melbourne has more often played more enterprising football to establish a hard-earned lead, then been overrun, seemingly powerless to halt the momentum.

It goes without saying, given the amount of talent in either line-up, that a combination of the Cats and Demons would be very hard even for Richmond to stop.

But even with their existing lists, imagine a Geelong team with Melbourne’s appetite to get on the front foot and pile on the goals with slick ball movement and multiple goalkicking options? And, for that matter, imagine the Demons with just a little of the Cats’ capacity to dig in and find something when things aren’t going well?

Should both end up contesting finals, I’d fancy Geelong’s chances of lasting longer. But funnily enough, if it could find a little more heart, I’d reckon it was Melbourne with more capacity to deliver a premiership performance.

Which means, for different reasons, I think both are going to end up short of the mark.

*This article first appeared at SPORTING NEWS.

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