CATS OPEN SEASON WITH EASY WIN OVER
By Ben Jensen GEELONG opened their 2006 AFL season with a 77 point win over the Brisbane Lions at Skilled Stadium. Gary Ablett Junior thrilled the 23,029 fans with a 27 possession game. Also in Geelong's best was best on ground Jimmy Bartel, nuggety Paul Chapman and best and fairest winner Joel Corey. Tellingly, those first three versatile midfielders played in Geelong's 2002 VFL premiership.
Before the game, Brisbane coach Leigh 'Lethal?' Matthews spoke of his hopes of upsetting the 'slippery' Cats; the Cats instead served up an absolute pounding for the three-time premier. Matthews was at his grumpy best after the game, saying that his side "didn't come to play", and told a reported to "ask Mark Thompson" about Geelong's performance.
The win puts Geelong on top of the ladder, a position it is unlikely to lose considering the massive percentage boost. Coach Mark 'Bomber' Thompson said it was nice to 'give one back' to what had been Geelong's nemesis ever since they were renamed the 'Lions' in 1997.
Thompson was thrilled with the consistency of the side, and made mention of his backmen including Matt Egan, ensuring better credentialed Jonathan Brown had no impact on the game. Today was just Egan's 16th match, but it certainly won't be his last - Egan's now part of the Geelong backline furniture.
Thompson confirmed that while enjoying the NAB Cup win, they didn't go 'over the top', and had trained hard in the lead up to today's opener. He agreed he was amazed at the depleted team's strength throughout the NAB Cup and the consistency even without key players such as James Kelly, Kent Kingsley, Peter Riccardi and Tom Harley. Thompson is pleased that even with those injuries, there's currently more than 22 players being considered for selection, mentioning Brent Prismall as an unlucky exclusion.
Thompson said Kingsley will return next week, meaning somebody will have to be left out. Nathan Ablett kicked four goals in the first half of today's VFL game, finishing with six, but may struggle to force his way back in with Kingsley to return and key forwards Charlie Gardiner and Henry Playfair having acceptable games.
Captain Steven King and fellow tall Brad Ottens both played, albeit having quiet games as Mark Blake took much of the ruck workload. Ottens' six possessions including three kicks yielded two goals.
Will Slade, dumped from the list at the end of season 2005, was redrafted through the rookie list but lost his number 12. Injuries looked to have ended his career that started from the rookie list in 2003, but saw him take no part in Geelong's 2004 and 2005 seasons. But after being one of Geelong's best in the NAB Cup final, Slade's now secured a spot in the AFL side for the time being.
Shannon Byrnes, or 'Wee Byrne' as my Scottish friend calls him, ran rings around his opponents, and along with Paul Chapman made the aging Lion Chris Johnson look much older than his 29 years.
After the game, Bartel told Fox Footy of the improved pre-season training regime, resulting in a fitter side. He also spoke of the versatility of Chapman and Ablett up forward and other utilities such as Darren Milburn and Cameron Mooney.
The crowd was a bit disappointing, affected by light showers. Yours truly couldn't be there because of an educational commitment, but rest assured a full match report by my younger brother will be appearing on this website later on tonight, along with some photos of the action.
Next Saturday Geelong hosts the Kangaroos.
GEELONG: 4.3, 8.7, 12.9, 17.13 (115)