Cats slip and slide to beat Dockers in W.A.’s wet

Geelong enhanced their reputation as wet weather footy specialists in a 32-point win over Fremantle at Optus Stadium on Monday night, as Tom Hawkins’ three goals combined with determined efforts from its tougher players all over the ground led the Cats to a 6.12 (48) to 2.4 (16) win.

The win vaulted Geelong six places up the ladder from ninth spot to third, and now lead a pack of five teams on 20 points via an edge on percentage, on a night where heavy rain for prolonged stretches of the match impacted how the game was played.

While Hawkins provided the ultimate heroics, the game will be best remembered for the dirty work Mitch Duncan, Cam Guthrie and Zach Tuohy provided in their possessions and toughness, even when Geelong enjoyed long intervals of possession dominating in the attacking half.

“It was hard work for both teams, as the match wasn’t much of a spectacle,” Cats coach Chris Scott said afterwards.

“Our players did a great job tonight to hang in there, contest after contest.

“We had a bit of luck, which on nights like these is what you need. Finding a way to win was very important,” Scott added.

Scott – in making six changes necessitated by injuries, most notably to captain Joel Selwood, Luke Dalhaus and lead ruckman Darcy Fort, as well as Gary Ablett’s recent need to return to Victoria for a family emergency – welcomed back key defenders Tom Stewart and Lachie Henderson, as well as Duncan from a hamstring injury.

Scott also handed a debut to mature-aged rookie Brad Close, as well as recalling on-ballers Charlie Constable and Lachie Fogarty from prolonged first-team absences.

“All these guys who came in did really well in trying conditions,” said Duncan, fresh off his best-on-ground efforts with 26 possessions, seven tackles, and one opportunistic goal.

“It’s very important to get these guys to keep playing, and playing well,” Duncan added, referring to the Cats’ hectic run of upcoming games.

If the half-dozen changes showed to be a test of Scott’s squad-system scheme over the coming weeks, then they paid immediate dividends, with first-gamer Close kicking his first goal in senior footy in the game’s opening minute, after taking a mark on the lead from a Gary Rohan kick that just made the distance.

After that dream start, the Cats did little to pad that advantage. Close’s debut goal, for the remarkable talking point that it was, was the only major kicked for the opening term, and another 40 minutes elapsed before another goal was kicked.

While overall Dockers opportunities were few and far between, Geelong was given a let-off when the Dockers’ Brandon Matera – after winning a free kick following a neck-high takedown from Duncan – missed his set shot wide right.

That was as close as Fremantle got to kicking a goal in the first half before Michael Frederick missed his set shot to the right from close range minutes before halftime.

Nonetheless, Geelong were the better team when it came to contested play. Their pursuit to the footy was just as good as their possession of it, with Duncan, Guthrie and Sam Menegola hardest at it, and Tuohy’s past experience in Gaelic football coming to the forefront.

In the second term, the Cats squandered chances to extend the lead and justify their advantage in the attacking half with both Close missing a pair of opportunities.

But the Cats’ forward pressure eventually paid off when Duncan kept a cool head to double Geelong’s goals tally four minutes before the main break. With Hawkins gesticulating for a free kick after one entry inside 50, Duncan found himself playing on and half-volleying his effort off the ground through the big sticks to give Geelong a valuable three-goal advantage in the wet conditions, while heading into the warm and dry change rooms.

The third term started just as the first half ended, with the Cats maintaining dominance in the attacking half early on. Hawkins may have scored the easiest goal in his 14 years of AFL footy with the Cats, providing one touch from less than a metre out from Duncan’s centering ball which evaded Docker defender Luke Ryan.

With Geelong having done 90 percent of the scoring deep into the third term – 27 points to three – Matt Taberner ended the Dockers’ goal drought with three minutes to play from a set shot. The Cats’ lead at three-quarter time was back at three straight kicks, just as it was at halftime, but the difference being Fremantle’s confidence and time in their attacking 50 increasing as the rain was steadying.

As the final term began, and with the radar predicting more heavy rain, the match resembled the previous three quarters as low-scoring games in bad weather often do – a turf war for possession, but with Perth’s local Bureau of Meteorology’s forecaster bearing a resemblance to the Cats’ 23rd man.

Hawkins would put the game beyond doubt with two more goals – one being a checkside kick from the boundary early in the quarter, and the other consisting of a soccer off the ground from very close range – with Menegola adding the last major, finishing stylishly on the run from 40 out as the Cats’ exclamation point.

The consolation for Fremantle was that with a little over a minute to play, Caleb Sarong booted a goal which allowed the Dockers to avoid their lowest score ever.

Geelong now embarks upon being one of 18 guinea pigs involved in the AFL’s great experiment of cramming four full rounds of matches over a 20-day span. The Cats’ fixtures, meanwhile, are even more intensely congested, with their four games occurring within 14 days, being separated by four- and five-day breaks after having the relative luxury of a six-day break before taking on West Coast their Round 9 match next Saturday.

“We have a quick turnaround with a lot of heavy legs after tonight, so coming away with no injuries was a bonus to us,” Scott observed.