For a team that came within one good half of footy from winning a flag, Geelong improved itself markedly with the addition of three very proven veteran players during the just-concluded AFL Trade Week.
That’s the early verdict on paper.
Whether they wind up being the biggest beneficiaries of the wheeling and dealing remains to be seen – that’s why games are played, as it has been said, and the fruits of the Cats’ front office labour won’t be known for another ten months or so.
So let’s examine the Cats’ new acquisitions, of who’s coming down to Kardinia Park…
NUMBER ONE: JEREMY CAMERON
We’ll start with the highest quality blue-chip talent available during Trade Week.
And the words may not rank up there in context with what Paul Bremer or Barack Obama declared in their time, but Geelong recruiting and list manager Steven Wells would be right to declare about Jeremy Cameron, “Ladies and gentlemen, we got him!”
Instead, Wells actually said: “It is rare that a player of Jeremy’s talent becomes available, and we are thrilled that he will be playing for us for the rest of his career.”
The process went back and forth between the Cats and Greater Western Sydney for, literally, every possible minute of Trade Week. The Giants moved on their demands in exchange for the former Coleman Medal winner more than once – first demanding a key player and at least one of the Cats’ three first-round draft picks, then a definite of multiple draft picks, then multiple players with a draft pick… and variations in between… you get the idea.
That flexibility of negotiation was possible because as the Giants’ front office squirmed, it was Wells and the Cats who held the hammer.
Having three draft picks for leverage will allow that to occur.
And after stretching the process out for as long as possible, Wells and the Cats relented and sent all three of their first-round selections in next month’s draft – picks 13, 15 and 20 – in what was essentially a three-team trade which involved Essendon as well.
The Bombers sent a second-round pick to GWS in exchange for Jye Caldwell, and the Giants bundled that draft pick plus Cameron to the Cats in exchange for those three draft picks.
So is mortgaging the future worth it, to get a gun forward?
Wells and Cats coach Chris Scott would be of the opinion that “the future is now”, especially with a list that – despite the recent retirements of Gary Ablett and Harry Taylor – was already veteran-laden as it was.
It might be best to analyse the acquisition of Cameron from Scott’s probable tactical standpoint.
The Cats, despite the assertion that Tom Hawkins seems to get better the longer he plays on, have struggled to have a two-pronged tall forward combination in recent years. They want to emulate what Jack Riewoldt and Tom Lynch have at Richmond, and what Geelong themselves had in their premiership years with Cam Mooney and Nathan Ablett and then with what Hawkins and James Podsiadly offered in tandem.
Cameron gives them that option – and while it doesn’t exactly put to bed the debate over where Patrick Dangerfield is best suited to play, it does allow Mark Bliclavs to be more of a “stay at home” fullback and chief ruckman Rhys Stanley to concentrate on dictating contests around the ground. And in that latter respect, perhaps it does give one argument to the Dangerfield question that he is destined to line up in the centre alongside Cam Guthrie and Sam Menegola to make the clearances possible.
And not forgetting the mouth-watering proposition that Geelong now has the last two Coleman Medal winners in its forward line in Hawkins and Cameron, with a combined 1030 career goals between them. While younger forwards like Gryan Miers and Tom Atkins will learn from and feed off of the Hawkins-&-Cameron partnership, other forwards such as Gary Rohan will also benefit – and in the end, that will keep opposing defences honest, as being able to keep that much forward talent honest may be too big a task to achieve.
NUMBER TWO: ISAAC SMITH
Hawthorn supporters would have to feel filthy that one of their better players over the years this side of Buddy Franklin, Luke Hodge and Cyril Rioli has left the Hawks’ nest – and they’d have every right to be, leaving for a rival club that beats them in blockbusters virtually every year.
And to rub salt further into Alistair Clarkson’s wounds: as an unrestricted free agent, Hawthorn gets nothing in return from Geelong.
Truth is, Smith – who turns 32 next month – still has plenty left in his tank, and the move to pick him up is one of those savvy moves Wells and Scott have crafted over the years with the Cats. Acquisitions in recent time of Rohan, Lachie Henderson, Zach Tuohy and Luke Dahlhaus have worked well in concert with Geelong blooding its own players, and Smith will become another one of those veteran role players which Scott relies upon to fill needs.
Smith won’t kick many goals, but his average of around 21 possessions and three tackles per game over 210 games in ten seasons at Hawthorn reveals that he exists as a handy addition that gives depth in the Cats’ midfield.
Tactically, Smith’s presence running down wings and through the midfield and in contests could allow Dangerfield to spend some spot time up forward when required, and feed off the likes of Menegola and Mitch Duncan when the Cats launch their counter-attacks.
Smith’s addition exists as a bit of an x-factor – no telling how much he improves the side by his presence and contributions, but he won’t hurt them through his efforts.
NUMBER THREE: SHAUN HIGGINS
Wells and Scott basically got the ex-Western Bulldogs and North Melbourne player for a song, sending just the 30th overall pick in next month’s draft – which they didn’t even possess prior to Trade Week, because it was Carlton’s, picked up along with pick 51 in exchange for Lachie Fogarty and pick 58 – over to Arden Street.
Higgins, who turns 33 at the start of the 2021 season, comes home to Geelong, where his family still resides and his sister Danielle plays for the Cats’ AFLW side. In entering his 16th AFL season after the Bulldogs drafted him from the Geelong Falcons of the TAC Cup competition and having spent the last five seasons with the Kangaroos, Higgins will have the comfort zone of having family and friends around him in the twilight of his career.
In rotating between midfield and a half-forward flank, Higgins – like Smith – will be one of those role players good for key possessions and timely tackles in the playing time that he gets, and provides veteran depth and adequate cover.
NUMBER FOUR: WHAT THE CATS DIDN’T TRADE
Oftentimes, it is said that the best trades are those a club does not make.
Other than giving away Fogarty to Carlton in the Higgins deal and Nakia Cockatoo to Melbourne for a future third-round selection, the Cats did not part with any key players – especially those like Brandan Parfitt and Esava Ratugolea, each of whom GWS inquired about in the Cameron trade talks – and enhanced their depth and their club culture of promoting more competition for places.
In conclusion, they got the top prize and their top target of the Trade Week festivities in goal-kicking stalwart Cameron, got a triple-Premiership winner Smith in a coup, and a 2018 All Australian Higgins in a steal. They may have had to part with their trio of first-rounders to grab Cameron, but also added draft picks along the way.
If it was possible for a very good team to improve, Geelong did so during Trade Week.
And as a result of these moves, Geelong’s fans have every right to salivate over the prospect of another AFL grand final appearance in 2021 – and very likely that capturing of the flag which eluded Scott’s side last month.
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