Building a great team is not easy. If so, everyone would be good.
Over the past decade, Geelong has seemingly cracked the code.
The Cats have finished in the top four eight times and have only missed the final once in the 11 years since they won their last flag.
Winning a premiership is hard. Injuries and form can derail either way, just like bouncing a footy. Sometimes lightning can strike at just the right time, like with the Bulldogs in 2016.
The Cats have walked in over the past three seasons with arguably the most talented side in the league on paper. But for reasons of fate, they just fell short of holding the premiership cup.
Every year the ties that bind them to that 2011 team disappear – and the flags of 2007 and 2009. From that side of 2011, there are only three players left, besides their coach Chris Scott.
Despite having one of the oldest laces in VFL/AFL history, most Cats haven’t tasted the glory of the premiership while wearing the blue and white hoops.
The Cats enter the decider after a 15-game winning streak, their second longest in the VFL/AFL.
In the way is a Sydney Swans side that is hot at the right time. The Cats enter the Grand Final with talent and a style that can beat any side.
Here’s how the Cats can win the 2022 AFL premiership.
Hold the line
Despite all the advancements in defensive positioning, distance and movement in football history, the game remains the core of the game.
Matches from stoppages to balls after spilled markers can be the difference in a tight game or the reason for dominance.
Working out balance, coherence and approach in competitions is an art form. It’s choreographed but heavily improvised, with rules directing players’ natural instincts to get the ball their way.
Sometimes it’s not about the sheer talent, but how it fits in with everyone else. Scott has regularly spoken during the finals about the depth of the side and how impressive it is.
“I’ve said it before, it’s worth saying again, it’s not a ranking of your best players,” said Scott.
“It’s the roles and the mix of your team that are so important. Some of those guys [missing] I would be in the top 10 or 15 on our list.”
A good example is the Cats center bounce setup. That initial grouping often forms the positioning and structures for subsequent game passages.
At the start of the year, the central bounce combination featured more attacking players: Patrick Dangerfield, Brandan Parfitt, Joel Selwood and Cam Guthrie.
Despite the star power, the results didn’t necessarily follow.
Midway through the season, Tom Atkins – initially a defender – was thrown into the mix. Atkins flourished through the middle, mixing a physical presence to prevent opposing midfielders from leaving the ball from the center with the ability to win the ball.
The latest evolution came on round 17, where utility Mark Blicavs was introduced to the group, not only as a relief ruck, but also as an internal midfielder.
It has shifted the Cats to a more defensive focus on the inside of stops, sending any damage the other way.
Blicavs has the power to keep his opponent out of the game and deny them the opportunity to start the match at a pace.
It turns the match into an almost one-on-one battle for Dangerfield, Guthrie or Selwood, with Atkins and Blicavs teaming up to eliminate their opponents.
In the era of the super-sized midfielder, Blicavs puts them all in the shade.
Combining high-level athleticism, innate defensive understanding and massive size, Blicavs poses a problem for any opposition party to work through.
Geelong is the best center bounce team in the league since its introduction to the mix.
This use of Blicavs also helps them line up for their greatest strength – their interception game. Blicavs often take ground ruck matches, freeing up an extra tall man to get back on the defensive.
Geelong was the strongest side this year in attacking turnover and one of the best in stopping counter-attacks from the opponents from all over the ground.
A big part of this success is how the Cats prefer to set up without a ball. They tend to pay close attention to the distance and spread of the opposition.
Like most teams, they will try to block the hallway in the middle of the ground, but also try to drop two reserve defenders back to guard the most valuable real estate on the ground.
That’s why you often see a Cats player like Tom Stewart clearing stairs to open up space. This positioning drives the opponents crazy and forces them to either play ultra conservative or try near impossible kicks to move the ball forward.
They also do not strictly adhere to orders. Jack Henry talked about this flexibility when he spoke to the media this week.
“I don’t normally take the biggest one, but I’ll play on a handful of guys and try to make it happen.” said Henry.
“Whether it’s (Isaac) Heeney or those dangerous attackers, whoever stays deep. You try to hold on to what you know.”
If they get a loose ball, they pick sides and make them pay for their mistakes. The Swans have a good sense of balance when moving the ball, something they will have to hold onto on Saturday to have a chance.
Given their abilities further down the ground, the Geelong attackers are often overlooked when considering their strengths.
That’s despite having three All-Australians this year and arguably the best two key positions in the game.
The Cats not only have a forward talent, but also the ability to work together effectively.
The attackers know how to work together without cramping their spacing. Cameron knows how to give Hawkins space and vice versa. Tyson Stengle, Brad Close, Gary Rohan and others provide critical support on the ground without drawing additional defenders to either of their pivots.
The result is an almost unstoppable air strike within 50.
That is compounded by the sheer number of times Geelong gets the ball forward. The Cats are generating the biggest inside-50 difference of any side this year. When it comes to getting the ball inside 50, Geelong does it 25 percent more than their opponents.
The Swans are one of the few factions with the defensive weapons to counter the Geelong forward line, and the ability to really hurt them in the counterattack. The ability for the Cats to get points forward can be the deciding factor in the game.
Do it better – one more time
Geelong has been here before. They know the stakes and what it means to play so deep into the year.
Their captain has played more finals than any other player and their coach has won three flags as a player and one as a coach.
After their win over Brisbane, the players in the rooms talked about treating the game like any other game. Close geared up for a round of golf at Barwon Heads on Thursday, just like any other week. The rules of the game don’t change for just one week.
Yet doubts always creep in.
“There’s always a certain amount of fear when the stakes are that high, and our team’s performance over the last three or four months has been really good, but you have to keep doing it at this point.” Scott said after the Cats preliminary win.
One match stands between Geelong and the pinnacle of the Scott era. A match like any other, but with a greater importance than all of them combined.
The Cats of 2022 could almost cement their place in Geelong’s rich football history, if all goes as normal.