Under-the-radar Cats an absorbing tale

Geelong's defence looked especially slow and cumbersome against Melbourne. Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images
Geelong's defence looked especially slow and cumbersome against Melbourne. Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Some AFL clubs are like moths to a flame when it comes to public attention - their cultures, histories or sheer size of their supporter bases making them favourite subjects of media coverage.

Others aren't so "hot". And it's fair to say, despite nearly two decades of almost constant relative success, Geelong falls into the latter category.

That's probably as much a benefit as it is an annoyance to the Cats.

Their provincial setting guarantees a stable core of support. Their off-field stability means any problems are dealt with efficiently and swiftly.

And obviously, given their seemingly perennial position near the pointy end of the ladder, any novelty value has long since worn off.

This is a team which has not only won three premierships and appeared in eight grand finals under the AFL banner, but appeared in no less than 15 of the past 17 finals series. That's some record.

And one that means while the Cats don't command much attention these days, there's an understandable reticence also to dismiss their chances when things hit a rare bumpy patch. Which makes their current position particularly interesting.

As much as I've generally backed the Cats' credentials, I can't help but feel some genuine cause for concern about their 2021 prospects right now.

At 2-2 and outside the top eight on percentage only, things could be a lot worse.

Yet, realistically, Geelong - having scraped over the line against both Brisbane and Hawthorn - is also just a handful of points away from being winless after a month of the new season. Not quite what you'd expect of the previous season's runner-up.

Richmond, the Cats' 2020 grand final conqueror, is also 2-2. And if the Tigers can avoid the blowtorch with a similar record, clearly Geelong, given its "under the radar" status, will as well.

But as much as I've generally backed the Cats' credentials, I can't help but feel some genuine cause for concern about their 2021 prospects right now.

While opening rounds historically throw up their share of rogue results, that round one loss to Adelaide smacked of a "we've got their measure" type of complacency. Brisbane, of course, is a decent team these days, but at home should still have been an opponent Geelong had covered by more than a solitary point.

The Cats nearly blew a five-goal lead against a far-less competent Hawthorn.

Last Sunday against Melbourne, while it remained within touching distance for most part, Geelong seldom looked likely to get on top of the Demons.

While there's been some critical absentees from midfield over the first four rounds, including Patrick Dangerfield, Mitch Duncan and Sam Menegola, the pinch has been felt all over the ground.

Predictably, much of the Cats' harder edge around the ball has been lost with that trio having played collectively only five of a possible 12 games.

A side which last year ranked first and second respectively for contested possession and clearance differentials now languishes 13th and 10th in those two categories.

Geelong has never been as spectacular up forward as its rivals, yet often more effective. Last year it was the highest-scoring team, and for five years has never ranked lower than fourth. Currently, for points scored, the Cats are a distant 12th.

The defence has been even more reliable, conceding fewest points in the AFL in both 2018 and 2019, and fourth-fewest last year. Right now, though, eight teams have better defensive records than Geelong.

Age and lack of pace have been two popularly-diagnosed problem areas, though the Cats have done what they could in most of their additions to the list to rectify the latter, and clearly aren't bothered by the former given their latest batch of recruits includes a 33-year-old in Shaun Higgins, and Isaac Smith, 32.

But against Melbourne particularly, Geelong's defence looked slow and cumbersome.

Perhaps that's why a former small pressure forward in Tom Atkins has been playing there. But perhaps also any gains have been offset by Mark O'Connor's shift to a midfield role, along with having one extra mid with a less attacking and more negative mindset.

Of course, Dangerfield's return from suspension this week, and Menegola and Duncan back in harness after injury make for a more potent Geelong.

There's a nice little potential confidence booster also in a game against struggling North Melbourne at home on Sunday.

But the Cats will need it (and it goes without saying, the four points) to take on the following month, consisting of assignments against West Coast, Sydney, Richmond and St Kilda.

As bored as much of the footy world seems to have become of Geelong, a win-loss record of 3-6 would definitely be difficult to avoid as a talking point.

The danger then is that not only would it be publicity the Cats didn't want, it might also well be too late to do anything about it.

This story Under-the-radar Cats an absorbing tale first appeared on The Canberra Times.