To cap off a 2020 season that has required the AFL to take on one change after another in order to stage a shortened season in stop-start fashion and pull off a grand final at the Gabba in Brisbane on Saturday night, Geelong has maintained a consistent set of tactics to reach the title game.
Question remains: if the Cats are to beat Richmond to win its first AFL Premiership since 2011, will coach Chris Scott alter those tactics to beat a Tigers side that was won two flags of their own in the previous three years?
If any team has shown itself to be a model of consistency in finals series in recent years, Richmond coach Damian Hardwick holds a modern patent on that, with the Tigers winning the 2017 and 2019 flags.
At the risk of being overly simplistic – and why not, because it is an alchemy that has worked since the lead-up to that 2017 premiership – the Hardwick formula has consisted around tenets of creating a sense of chaos in the minds of an opponent, winning the contested footy, and getting the ball into the hands of influential ballhawks such as Dustin Martin, Trent Cochin and Dion Prestia, in order to kick long to key forwards (which, in the last couple of years, has been the likes of Jack Riewoldt and Tom Lynch).
And with the high rates of success Richmond and Hardwick have had with this equation, it’s a safe wager that they won’t be making any changes to it for the match against the Cats.
As Scott and his veteran-laden Cats team know what’s coming, neither should they change what has been working for them, either.
Send numbers into the contests to win the footy, exploit matchups to play quick and direct – preferably into space – and continue to exploit those matchups to get the ball inside the forward 50, where the 2020 Coleman Medal winner Tom Hawkins will be waiting to take marks on the lead to kick the goals from set shots, unless he plays on for other players in better positions. That is Geelong’s recipe for success.
On that last point, and seeing that Hawkins is impossible for any lone defender to beat one-on-one, if Hawkins kicks or leads to a run of Geelong early goals, and Hardwick slides another defender over to help an overwhelmed Dylan Grimes, an argument exists that Richmond’s back six will be under siege even more.
Even short of a shock inclusion of Esava Ratugolea, Scott has options to help Hawkins out in flooding the forward 50. A second tall option in Rhys Stanley or Mark Bliclavs can help out, as well as sending Patrick Dangerfield or Gary Ablett to take marks and get into positions to get the crumbs.
And perhaps throwing the tactics aside, Geelong already have Gary Rohan and Gryan Miers as support for Hawkins, and they should get their share of the goals.
By this logic, Cam Guthrie, Sam Menegola, and Sam Simpson, in addition to Dangerfield and Ablett, should have no shortage of opportunities to get their hands on the footy, at any time which Geelong can control the flow of play.
Additionally, the Cats also possess no shortage of emotional, intangible motivations to win this match:
Ablett’s final game of a glittering 19-year career, his teammates would want to send him off on the ultimate high point
A milestone for Joel Selwood, his 200th game as Geelong’s captain, an ongoing club record, so his teammates would want to mark this with a proper distinction
Dangerfield, with a premiership being the only active player honour to have eluded him, to win one on his first trip to the big stage
And Scott, who won a premiership in 2011 with what was essentially Mark Thompson’s team, proving that he can win one on his own with a team that he built aside from a set of veterans
And speaking of those veterans, is it the last hurrah and one more taste to ultimate glory for the likes of – in addition to the retiring Ablett – Selwood, Hawkins, Harry Taylor, Mitch Duncan, and Guthrie (who was listed as an emergency on that 2011 premiership team), as a group?
Moreover, when one harkens back to the Tigers’ Round 17 26-point win over the Cats, barring any late scratches ahead of the grand final, Geelong gains 965 games of experience – with inclusions of Ablett, Selwood, Rohan, Simpson and Stanley – in place of Ratugolea, Ben Jarvis, Lachie Fogarty, Tom Atkins and Brad Close, that latter group amassing a mere 107 games of experience between them.
That may exist as Scott’s largest intangible for the Cats to benefit from.
On the tangible edges, the key matchups will certainly have Jake Kolodjashnij on Martin, anyone among Luke Dahlhaus, Mark O’Connor and/or Selwood on Cochin and Prestia – with applying a tag always an option – and playing Taylor on Lynch and either Bliclavs or Lachie Henderson on Riewoldt.
“It’s easier said than done,” Kolodjashnij said about the potential matchup on Tigers talisman Martin.
“I personally think it's got to be a team effort and I’ve got some really good teammates back there to give me a hand and chop out if need be,” he added.
Meanwhile, Dahlhaus, Miers and/or the speedy Rohan will also draw the unenviable duties of preventing Bachar Houli from building the Tigers’ counter-