With Geelong missing the services of midfield and forward line stalwart Patrick Dangerfield until Round 5, thanks to a three-match ban courtesy of the AFL Tribunal for a dangerous head-on clash against Adelaide Jake Kelly last week, the challenge for Cats coach Chris Scott lies in how to replace everything that Dangerfield brings to the party.
Thankfully for Cats fans, and a pity for any opposition side, after hanging on for a narrow one-point win over Brisbane, 12.9 (81) to 11.14 (80), that answer consists of more than one player.
It was more like a group of players, in all of their togetherness.
Replacing the elements in Dangerfield’s skill set – as well as the marks of 26 disposals and six clearances he racked up in Round 1 against the Crows and averages of 28 disposals, six clearances and a goal per game in his five prior seasons with the Cats – was always going to be a sum-of-many-parts mentality for Scott.
Zach Tuohy spent more time running through the midfield and into attack than in his customary defensive role – not only was his pursuit on the opposition an essential duplication for that of Dangerfield’s, but he also kicked a pair of first-term goals and accounted for 27 possessions.
Cam Guthrie would up with a game-best 28 possessions, and captain Joel Selwood racking up 27 touches and seemingly doing more running with the ball than usual, so the attack on the ball was certainly being achieved by more than one player already.
Around the ball-up’s, Selwood was responsible for eight clearances and Charlie Constable made five of his own. These were among the best contributions to engineer the above attacks, as the Cats rode multiple goals apiece from Tuohy, Tom Hawkins and debutant Francis Evans for a 20-point lead at halftime.
But even as the Lions crept their way back into the affair, and even took a late three-point lead with the game on the line, the spirit of the Cats as a collective unit made sure they’d have the last say to win the game.
That, and the contributions of the club’s aggressive pursuit of match-winning veterans in the offseason played a part as well.
With ex-Hawthorn hero Isaac Smith providing a consistent hard-running work rate throughout the match and a match-winning goal in the last few minutes from the end, Shaun Higgins was also influential throughout the match – the recruit from North Melbourne contributed 20 possessions and five clearances and did his part in playing tight, contested footy when it was required.
Geelong’s golden age of being a premiership-winning team and finals combatant under Scott – and, hey, let’s be honest, under predecessor Mark Thompson as well – has been noted with a culture of an all-hands-on-deck mentality, that no one player is more important than the team.
Not even a former Brownlow Medal winner, with the first match of a three-week ban now out of the way.
Even hearing the likes of Selwood and Hawkins, for a couple of examples, talk over the years and spread around credit to their teammates and that their accomplishments as a unit is always of a greater priority than individual achievements, that is something that represents something more than just mere lip service.
And against the Lions, the Cats pulled together to eke out a win.
It won’t get any easier for Geelong, with the traditional Easter Monday MCG clash against Hawthorn and a meeting against Melbourne, also at “the peoples’ ground”, looming ahead.
But if Friday night’s spirit of togetherness minus Dangerfield remains any indication, the Cats are still all in as one.
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