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Match of the Day: Cats’ support cast answer the call

Harry Taylor gets the better of Alex Rance again. The veteran Cat was the best forward on the ground with four goals. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Match of the Day: Cats’ support cast answer the call

When Geelong has disappointed in recent times, almost inevitably the discussion has centred around the Cats’ dependence on their very best players and the failure of too many teammates to offer sufficient support.

What better test of the support cast then, than to remove those players from the equation?

For Geelong, coming off an ordinary performance, and up against a Richmond outfit having leapfrogged it on the ladder, the absence on Saturday of the names Selwood, Hawkins and Duncan was certainly a challenge, for many a seemingly insurmountable one.

Importantly, though, not in the minds of the Cats themselves. Their gritty 14-point win, even at the fortress Simonds Stadium has so often proved, has not only restored that third spot on the ladder, but might just have offered, on the eve of another finals campaign, a very important shot of self-belief.

This was a day when the Cats who needed to lift without two of their three best on-ballers and their key forward target did just that.

In midfield, it was the likes of Sam Menegola and Cam Guthrie. In the ruck and around the ground, Zac Smith. In defence, Zac Tuohy and Jake Kolodjashnij. And up forward, Harry Taylor continued to justify his change of role.

But more than just individuals, collectively it was a day Geelong as a 22 stood up to a fierce challenge, even after things didn’t start well. And again, much later in the piece, after being held goalless in the third quarter.

Those were times it seemed more than likely Richmond would actually end their run of 12 straight defeats at the hands of the Cats, winning just their second game at the Cattery in the last 25 years. But even then, Geelong as a team found the resolve as a group to effectively say: “Not on my watch”.

That was after Richmond had brought the greater intensity early, underrated on-baller Kane Lambert leading the way. Lambert had a big hand in the first two goals of the game, winning a free kick for holding the ball which ended with Josh Caddy snapping over his shoulder, then delivering to Jack Riewoldt, who duly converted.

If that hadn’t seen enough of a tone, Lambert then backed courageously into a pack to fist the ball 30 metres in his team’s direction. The Tigers were up on the scoreboard, had dominated possession and had seven forward entries to just one.

But Geelong hit back quickly and emphatically with three goals in three minutes. Rhys Stanley had the first. Taylor, pitted against Alex Rance, got in front of his man for the first of several occasions for another, and when Cam Guthrie swooped on a loose ball on 50 and slammed it through, suddenly the Cats had a seven-point lead.

By now, Richmond had not only lost the lead, but was one man down, Caddy having limped off with a hamstring injury just before quarter-time.

It was also losing what was shaping as the pivotal duel of the match, Taylor getting right on top of Rance for two second-quarter goals as Geelong slammed on another five to just one in reply.

Dan Butler had the first for the Tigers in under two minutes, but that would be it for the quarter.

Taylor’s second saw him outmark Rance again in an end-to-end movement begun with a fierce Tom Lonergan tackle on Shane Edwards. He had a third after a bad bounce eluded Richmond’s All-Australian defender and Taylor pounced on the loose bouncing ball.

In between, he’d set up Sam Simpson for another goal, Richmond now losing in the clinches and having its attacks continually repelled by a hard-working and well-connected Geelong defence.

Tuohy was in superb nick as a linkman, ably assisted by Kolodjashnij, Lachie Henderson and Lonergan had Riewoldt covered, and while Dion Prestia was winning plenty of the ball for the Tigers, Dustin Martin had failed to have his usual influence.

Dan Menzel had the fourth of the term for Geelong after a dodgy-looking free kick. And the home fans at a Simonds Stadium packed to breaking point were up out of their seats when veteran Andrew Mackie charged downfield to get on the end of a handball and slam one home from the 50-metre arc.

Against the odds, the Cats were now out to a four-goal lead, had more than a sniff of what would be an inspiring win given the absentee list, and it was going to take something pretty special for Richmond to turn that momentum around.

The Tigers gave it a pretty decent crack for a while, too. It was they who now took control, a temporary stalemate broken when Daniel Rioli capitalised on a turnover from Stanley.

A couple more chances were fluffed. But Bachar Houli, at his second opportunity, reduced the gap further still. And when Trent Cotchin seized on a ball final squeezed out of a goalfront scramble, it was back to seven points, Richmond with all the momentum.

A slice of history seemingly beckoned. More temptingly still once Stanley had limped off and tracksuited up for the Cats with a calf injury leaving Taylor as the sole tall presence up forward.

But the Cats had been here before, nursing injured bodies yet still managing to outlast a fired up Fremantle back in round 14. And given the stakes and the quality of the opponent on Saturday, this last quarter will stand even prouder as a motivational tool.

More than 10 minutes of arm wrestle ensued. But when the critical moments came, it was Geelong who seized them.

Steven Motlop, frequently criticised for going missing in those moments, certainly answered the call when it counted this time, his penetrating pace even more valuable among some tired bodies. It was he who got on the end of a complex handball chain to give the Cats some breathing space.

Only two minutes later, another loose ball spilled out the back, and after James Parsons failed to connect cleanly with his boot, Menzel did, the resultant 20-point lead given the scrap this game had turned into now looking close to insurmountable.

And so it proved. Martin, now permanently anchored near goal, burst clear on his left to make it 14 points, but even with seven minutes still left on the clock, you felt Geelong were going to last the distance. And when, fittingly, Taylor again positioned himself perfectly for a mark and goal number four, that really was that.

These were four critical match points for Geelong. And in the longer term, the Cats’ proving their capacity to get the job done despite the hand that had been dealt might prove even more valuable.

GEELONG 3.2 8.5 8.9 11.14 (80)
RICHMOND 3.4 4.5 7.9 9.12 (66)

GOALS – Geelong: Taylor 4, Menzel 2, Motlop, Stanley, C Guthrie, Mackie, Simpson. Richmond: Martin 2, Riewoldt, Houli, Butler, Caddy, Cotchin, Rioli, Edwards

BEST – Geelong: Taylor, Dangerfield, Menegola, C Guthrie, Kolodjashnij, Tuohy, Motlop, Smith. Richmond: Lambert, Prestia, Vlastuin, Martin, Cotchin, Grimes

INJURIES – Geelong: Stanley (calf). Richmond: Caddy (hamstring).

Umpires: Stevic, Meredith, Mitchell

Crowd: 32,266

  1. Whoop de whoop.

    I have to confess I was one of the doubters, but it made the game much more enjoyable.

  2. Good summation of the game Rohan. I doubted we could overcome the missing personel so was very happy with that team effort/performance….

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