A burst of nine goals in a row led Geelong to a 27-point win over Brisbane at the SCG on Thursday night to open the AFL’s Round 6. In essence, the 11.7 (73) to 6.10 (46) conquest was a well-earned victory which seemed unlikely after the Cats lost a pair of key on-ballers early in the first quarter.
Forced to being two down on the bench and body language lingering with the loss of running midfielders Quinton Narkle and Mitch Duncan to respective hamstring injuries, Cats coach Chris Scott adapted his team’s style and tactics to a grittier edge focusing on contested footy and being first to the ball at all costs before waylaying an attack on the scoreboard.
As a result, the Cats took halftime advantages in disposals, disposal efficiencies, contested possessions and tackles – key statistical areas all bar the most important one, the one on the scoreboard.
But all that was already in the process of changing, with the best yet to come.
To be fair, the Cats fought back well in the latter stages of the second term to head into the main break down by a mere ten points. Goals from Sam Menegola and Tom Hawkins kicked goals to give Geelong a taste of hope as halftime approached.
The Cats then, by employing a determination to get first hands on the footy at all times, engineered virtual one-way traffic as their assault on the scoreboard.
The evergreen Gary Ablett inspired the fightback, kicking a goal of his own and bearing influence for Gary Rohan to boot a pair of majors, and Hawkins adding multiple goals and Esava Ratugolea and Brandon Parfitt also adding ones of their own in a six-goal swing occurring after halftime – and that nine-in-a-row onslaught from the middle of the second term to three-quarter time.
Rohan, the ex-Sydney Swan playing like a man possessed oftentimes in a return to his old home ground, was unlucky not to have added a couple more of his own, but added grit and determination was provided by a Cats back six that overcame some earlier nervy moments to stifle the likes of Charlie Cameron, Lachie Neale, Daniel Rich and Dane Zorko from bearing any influence on the proceedings.
An early bit of magic from Lachie Neale, but the Cats proved too strong.
And although Lions forward Eric Hipwood kicked the first goal of the final term, it did little more than to stop the bleeding. Cats veterans such as Ablett, Menegola, Patrick Dangerfield and Cam Guthrie were all willing participants to continue to keep laying the one-percenters – case in point being Ablett, who applied a lot of work around the contests despite ending with an uncharacteristic 14 possessions to go with his two goals.
And the tackling and contested footy was simply contagious, as Geelong – with the leadership of those veterans – fought tooth and nail to keep Brisbane off the scoreboard as much as possible.
Rohan’s aggressions, while serving as an example to his teammates, did have moments where they got the better of him, including an early airborne incident with Brisbane’s Brandon Starsevich which saw him drawing a report.
However, Rohan reflected on his teammates’ commitment to doing the hard yards to come back from being as many as 22 points down in the second quarter.
“Aggression is something we work on week in and week out,” Rohan told Channel 7.
“We knew it was going to be a four-quarter effort, quarter by quarter, but getting over [Brisbane] showed that we are in ripping shape,” he added.
Hawkins finished with three goals, against a side that he has played some of his best footy against in his 14 years in the AFL, and then paid credit to his teammates as the Cats beat the Lions for the ninth time in the teams’ last eleven meetings going back to 2011.
“We as a club love playing against the best sides,” he said afterwards, “and we played some outstanding footy tonight.”
“It was a great, great win for us,” he added.
Meanwhile, while Scott was over the moon with the manner of Geelong’s win, the concern was with his team’s growing injury list, as the loss of both Narkle and Duncan adds to the ongoing loss of key defender Tom Stewart from a fortnight earlier.
“We knew it was going to be tough when we lost those players and fell behind early,” Scott said.
“Those two goals [before halftime] helped us, and allowed us to see a way through.
“The game could have gotten away from us very easily. It got to be a stage of being a simple game, and we stood our ground well,” Scott added.
However, while Narkle and Duncan will accompany the team in the trip to Perth for next week’s game against Collingwood, their prognosis is yet to be determined as Stewart remains out for at least another month.
But Scott was quick to play up the cameraderie of his squad’s overall spirit, and the luxury of having other quality players to choose from – such as retaining the Cats’s VFL side’s Best and Fairest Sam Simpson, who took advantage of his chance to play in the seniors to provide a strong game against the Lions, as well as recalling a managed Jack Steven, or bringing in the likes of Nakia Cockatoo or Charlie Constable from the VFL.
“It is important to have a deep list,” Scott said, as his Cats have now won their last three matches.
“We are blessed to have a lot of players to pick from,” he added.