2012 is shaping as one of the most even and exciting premiership races in modern history. No one could doubt the current top five in Sydney, Hawthorn, Adelaide, Collingwood and West Coast all have legitimate claims to this year’s prize. And of course history would suggest that they’re right….all have the opportunity to finish in the top four, and winning a flag from outside the top four is almost unheard of.
However one consistent theme in both life and sport is that tradition always has and always will, eventually provide results outside of the norm.
Take the current Geelong side for example. Three flags in five years has only been achieved by Geelong and three other sides in over half a century since the Melbourne juggernaut ended its run of dominance with their last flag in 1960.
The last time a side won the flag from lower than fourth was Adelaide in 1998. However a vastly different finals set up from which we see today saw them lose their first final, and win from fifth. The current system simply doesn’t allow such graces to the fifth ranked side.
Make no mistake, despite popular opinion Geelong tick all the boxes to suggest they can and will break the mould and win an historic flag from the lower half of the eight…..and here are the four key reasons why.
History’s greatest sides always boast several big game players. These are the players who build much of their reputation on producing the goods when their side needs them most, irrespective of what they might achieve during the run of the mill thrashings of the lower ranked sides.
Names ranging from the legendary status of Leigh Matthews and James Hird, to so called serviceable players like Clarke Keating and Billy Duckworth. They all knew how to deliver when everything was on the line. These are the men that win premierships for their clubs and write their names into the history books.
The big game players are rarely motivated by their next contract or money. They are on the whole driven individuals who take enormous pride in their performances, yet will happily sacrifice any personal glory for the betterment of the team…..especially when it counts most.
They are pure of mind footballers. These are the men that every coach dreams to have on his list. When spring is in the air, these men thrive and consequently produce their best.
Geelong is still chock full of this special breed of player, and it should come as no surprise after such a sustained period of success that they should struggle to motivate themselves in the lead up to the 2012 finals series.
They’ve done enough thus far….which is perfectly consistent with the psychology of such players in these uncommon circumstances.
A primary example of this is Jimmy Bartel, Paul Chapman and Matthew Scarlett. It’s common in the footy world for bookies, punters and experts alike to suffer from the goldfish syndrome of only remembering recent form, yet those with a broader perspective simply cannot ignore the ability of such players to produce when they are motivated to the extreme.
Not that they’ll admit it on the record, but it’s simply the nature of the beast for players of this mindset to struggle for motivation in round 10, 12 or 14 after winning three flags. It is not however the nature of the beast for them to produce anything less than their elite best in September.
Some might say the first ingredient required to go deep into September are two big bodied, accomplished key forwards. Essentially they are required to not only straighten up their midfielders and bring the ball to ground, but to deliver clutch goals when required. In Tom Hawkins and James Posdiadly, Geelong have this area more than covered.
Additionally support from the mid and smaller sized forwards is critical. Once again Geelong are strong in this area. Steve Johnson nailed four goals at half fitness in last year’s Grand Final, and Chapman has been below his best this year and still kicked a respectable 31 goals. He is another Geelong champion proven to lift when it counts most, kicking three goals with a hamstring strain after quarter time in 2009, with a flag and the Norm Smith medal his reward.
The X factor of Steven Motlop’s pace and flair in kicking 25 goals with a truckload of score involvements adds to Geelong’s potency.
The midfield speaks for itself, particularly their size and ability to play the hard-nosed, contested footy that’s proven to deliver deep into September.
Last year’s Norm Smith and clutch player Bartel, Joel Selwood who also proved himself on last year’s big stage, All Australian James Kelly on the back of a whopping 13 tackles in the last Grand Final, Joel Corey’s run and carry, Taylor Hunt’s tagging abilities, the list goes on….Travis Varcoe’s inclusion could add yet another string to their bow.
Defensively the Cats should be the envy of the competition. All three of Geelong’s key defenders have proven time and again that they can carve up big name forwards on Grand Final Day. Tom Lonergan, Matthew Scarlett and Harry Taylor are the best set of key defenders in the competition….bar none.
The support and drive they receive off half back from Josh Hunt and Andrew Mackie perfectly complements their defensive unit.
And lastly the rucks. Whilst Brad Ottens’ finals performances are unlikely to be replicated, Orren Stephenson and Trent West are both competitive and hungry, providing significant challenges for opposition ruck combinations.
3. Structure/Game Plan
Finals footy requires a combination of skill and execution, an ability to create space, and an unstoppable desire to win the contest. Again, Geelong are hard to fault in any of these areas in the games that matter.
When they’re hungry, there’s not a side in the land that can match them for contested footy. This list is purpose built for high intensity, ultra desperate, in the clinches contested footy.
Additionally Chris Scott demands they play a highly accountable and disciplined brand of football. There are rarely passengers in the big games and on the most part everyone plays their role well, yet they are more than capable of playing with flair and moving the ball inside 50 quickly.
The great advantage the Cats hold structurally is that they are the best side in the wet by a country mile. Even their key forwards seem to hit the scoreboard, as demonstrated by Hawkins’ sensational six goal display in the slosh against Brisbane earlier in the year. If it rains in a final, back the Cats all the way.
More than any side going around these guys know what is required – finding a way to win high intensity finals and grand finals with everything on the line is not something anyone can teach.
There are virtually no key players in this side that don’t fully understand the intangibles of what is required to deliver on the big day.
Make no mistake, with six weeks to go there’s still a lot of water to go under the bridge, however if Geelong are anywhere near the finish line when the whips are cracking, it’s hard to see anyone getting in their way.