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Match of the Day: Geelong grinds out a win full of grit

Geelong’s Zach Tuohy gets away from former teammate Steven Motlop. Tuohy was part of a defence which held up all night. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Match of the Day: Geelong grinds out a win full of grit

Rohan Connolly    

At three-quarter time at Adelaide Oval on Saturday night, Geelong led Port Adelaide by just 11 points with anything seemingly possible.

Even then, though, you sensed the Cats were going to prevail, despite a long injury list, despite having lost key forward Tom Hawkins literally minutes before the game, and important midfielder Scott Selwood for the night before half-time.

Geelong had a couple of very handy pieces of history on their side which suggested as much. One, the Cats had lost to Port just once in their past 14 meetings since that famous 2007 grand final smashing. Secondly, they’d lost just one game they’d led at the final change in the past four years.

Sure enough, they clocked up another victory. But not simply as an extension of some sort of psychological hold over their opponent. But as a just reward for a very determined effort, not spectacular by any means, but full of grit, and crucially, efficiency when chances hard won had to be turned into scoreboard returns.

This was a very physical affair from the outset, in fact even before it started, two casualties even before the first bounce.

For Port, Todd Marshall didn’t make it to the starting line, failing to come up after a heavy knock last week and replaced by Lindsay Thomas, making his debut for his second AFL club.

Then came arguably a much bigger blow for the Cats, Tom Hawkins tweaking his back during the warm-up and replaced at very short notice by George Horlin-Smith.

Geelong hardly seemed thrown by the late change of plan, though, indeed quite the contrary as the Cats booted three goals to one in the first term, on top in the ruck, where two part-timers in Esava Ratugolea and Dougal Howard were doing battle, and their forward set-up going smaller by necessity but prospering.

Horlin-Smith, the late “in”, had the first on the board after a goalless first quarter of an hour, but Patrick Dangerfield the second barely a minute later, Joel Selwood the common denominator with two seamless passes to both men.

Jake Neade had the sole response for the Power, who were well held when they did venture forward, Geelong defenders like Tom Stewart and Mark Blicavs, on Charlie Dixon, doing a fine job.

The physical tone continued in the second term, an accidental head clash between Dangerfield and Hamish Hartlett seeing the Port player stretchered from the ground.

The next call for medical assistance would be in far more controversial circumstances, however, Thomas running past the ball to bump Geelong’s Scott Selwood, in an incident which, while not necessarily malicious, crossed enough lines to have Thomas likely to be sitting on the sidelines again.

This was Port’s term, though, at least once young Cat Lachie Fogarty made it three goals the difference early on.

From there, the Power started to break even in the midfield clinches, and now at least capitalise on their scoring opportunities, three goals in a row to Neade (his second), Thomas (a pearler from the boundary line) and Robbie Gray cutting the deficit for the home side to just three points.

That trend would continue early in the second half, too. Ollie Wines, whose bullocking powers had helped Port start to get on top, pounced on a goal square stoppage for another goal within two minutes of the restart.

A series of quick handballs ended with Sam Gray balking and popping through another from the square. By now, Port had booted five of the last six goals, Gray’s giving them the lead for the first time all night.

You don’t often see the Cats surrender meekly after having worked so hard to establish their superiority, though. And it wasn’t about to happen here, either.

As has become increasingly the case for Geelong, some unheralded types chipped in at big moments.

James Parsons would kick the game’s next two goals, dribbling one through after a clever tap from Brandon Parfitt, then 10 minutes later latching on to a beautiful pass from Dan Menzel and calmly converting.

Karl Amon got Port back within a kick. But Jordan Murdoch answered it as the three-quarter time siren rang, the Cats still 11 points to the good for all the Power’s efforts. And with the confidence that whatever was thrown their way, their backline would get the job done.

This certainly was a night for defences, and Geelong’s was superb, blanketing not only the Power’s tall options, but their array of medium-sized or small forwards and midfielders thrown closer to goal, a gambit which had already paid off handsomely for coach Ken Hinkley more than once this season.

Not this time, though. Nothing Port threw at the Cats’ defensive squad made a difference, Stewart, Jake Koldjashnij, Zach Tuohy, Blicavs and Jed Bews constantly turning the tide.

Even when goals seemed inevitable, the Cats somehow staved them off, like early in the final term when, with Port still a big chance, Jack Watts went to squeeze one through from not far beyond the goal square, only to see Bews launch himself goalkeeper-style to get hands to what looked for all the world like a goal.

And in the end, with Port’s spirit all but broken, the Cats bounced. Mitch Duncan took the last ounce of pressure out of the Power’s tyres with a goal less than two minutes into the last term.
Horlin-Smith made sure of it, and Tim Kelly and Menzel hammered the final nails in the coffin, the Power held to just three behinds in response.

The Cats will have bigger wins this year. Perhaps better. And certainly victories more replete with highlights. But as a reminder that Geelong, for all the focus on its biggest stars, is also capable of being a very workmanlike, disciplined team, this night will be right up there.

PORT ADELAIDE 1.2 4.4 7.5 7.8 (50)
GEELONG 3.2 5.7 8.10 12.12 (84)
GOALS – Geelong: Parsons 2, Horlin-Smith 2, Dangerfield, Menegola, Fogarty, Ratugolea, Murdoch, Duncan, Kelly, Menzel. Port Adelaide: Neade 2, Thomas, R.Gray, Wines, S. Gray, Amon.
BEST – Geelong: J. Selwood, Dangerfield, Horlin-Smith, Stewart, Bews, Menegola. Port Adelaide: R. Gray, Wines, Ebert, Polec, Hartlett, Westhoff.

  1. Thoughts from a long-time Geelong supporter:
    1> Hawkins out? Fine by me.
    2> The kids are alright.
    3> Motlop is still Motlop, Watts is still Watts.

    Geelong has a veritable glut of emerging midfield talent. The challenge for the coach is to not let the superstars circumvent their development.

  2. Very fair call on a defence that many have been fairly sceptical about but Cats attack showed a willingness to go ballistic when they got the chance

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