Ben Jensen 22 April 2006

By Ben Jensen THE CATS were narrowly defeated by a determined Western Bulldogs side at Telstra Dome today. In an atmosphere reminiscent of a finals match, Geelong were in the game all day but just couldn't stop the Bulldogs up forward when it counted, nor make the most of limited opportunities up forward. The Cats walked off the field a very deflated bunch, coach Mark 'Bomber' Thompson giving the team a rare 'bake' immediately after the game.

In other news, Geelong announced they had ended the contract of long time fitness coach Loris Bertolacci, after a spate of 'soft tissue' injuries to key players in Kent Kingsley, Steven King and Tom Harley early in the season. The surprise move was expected to come over summer after major structural changes were made to the so called 'training services' department, now headed by 199-gamer Stephen Hocking. But having survived the cultural revolution, Bertolacci was expected to remain for at least the season; Brian Cook told radio station MMM that as Bertolacci was considering legal action, "I'm really not in a position to go into any detail about the reasons why we terminated his contract".

In what was definitely the match of the round, one of the best to feature on Fox Footy for some time, Geelong started off well, with David Johnson and Joel Corey finally having shaves. Brad Ottens started in the ruck, Cameron Mooney up forward - with Mooney kicking the opening goal. Mooney generally rucked around the ground with Ottens taking most centre bounces.

Josh Hunt initially lined up on Robert Murphy, who gave him trouble from the word go. Gary Ablett was manned by Bulldogs Ryan Hargraves, who had trouble containing the young star up forward, Ablett kicking two goals in the first quarter.

After jumping to a nine point lead with ninety seconds to go in the quarter, the Bulldogs pegged the lead back to less than a kick, after Nathan Eagleton took a courageous mark in front of goal. While the Cats maintained the lead for the entire quarter, it was not to be the trend in the remainder of the match.

The second quarter was a classical seesaw affair, the lead changing hands no less than eight times. The Bulldogs grabbed the lead for the first time in the opening minute; but the Cats would quickly equalise, in a sign of things to come. The lead changed hands eight times in all. Paul Chapman was Geelong's livewire up forward, kicking two goals from leading marks inside two minutes, putting the Cats back in control.

Just when it seemed the Cats were to run away with the game, former Geelong and now Western Bulldogs ruckman Peter Street took a screamer over Steve Johnson, marking a Josh Hunt kick out from goal. Street passed to a waiting Bulldog who promptly goaled, stealing back the lead.

The final change came just before the main break, when the Bulldogs were awarded what was possibly the softest 'down ground' free kick of all time. Brad Johnson tried to run through Geelong's huddle outside 50m and ran into David Wojcinski, who surprisingly remained on his feet as Johnson sprawled onto the Telstra Dome 'floor'. The resulting free kick was given on the goalsquare, turning over Geelong's kick-in, and gave the Bulldogs an undeserved but important four-point lead into half time.

Up until half time, Geelong's tall forwards in Tom Lonergan, Nathan Ablett had virtually no (positive) impact on the game, while forward-rucks Mooney and Ottens did well. David Wojcinski, coming back from a knee reconstruction, hurt himself in a marking contest, fortunately only a corked thigh, and to add insult to injury gave away a free kick in the process.

Also feeling ginger going into the main break was Mr Bulldogs himself, the 'smiling assassin' Brad Johnson, who started the second half on the bench. Johnson bumped his head on Cameron Ling's knee (fortunately Ling's knee was not injured). Johnson's absence not only worried Bulldog fans, but also thousands of punters with Johnson in their respective 'Dream Team' and Herald-Sun Super Coach games like moi.

Josh Hunt's defensive skills were once more put to the test from the word go in the second half. He may be great kicking in, but in recent times has been exposed in tight situations in the 'teeth' of goal. Robert Murphy was able to take overhead marks with impunity throughout the game; he may have silky skills but more attention should have been paid by the Geelong defenders. Also a handful was the 'bald eagle', in Nathan Eagleton, who ultimately proved to be a match-winner.

Despite a four pronged tall attack in the second half, Geelong's most potent marking target was Gary Ablett Junior. Steve Johnson tried to add a spark, but could not manage a goal, at times over-using the ball.

Clean-shaven David Johnson kicked an unlikely goal from the right-forward pocket near the boundary, to put the Cats right back into the game and peg the margin back to just two points. Johnson's goal came after a promising but unrewarding five minutes largely inside Geelong's inside fifty. Johnson followed up with a bone-crunching tackle of Mitch Hahn down back, allowing the Cats to run the ball up the ground. The team should have regained the lead at this point but for a errant rushed kick at goal resulting in only a behind.

The Cats would level the scores, via yet another behind, this time to Joel Corey, however the Bulldogs regained the outright lead with just twenty-five seconds remaining with a behind of their own through a Mitch Hahn 'poster'. The lead at three-quarter time was one point to the Bullies.

At the final break, both coaches in Mark 'Bomber' Thompson and Rodney 'Rocket' Eade gave their respective charges a rev-up. Cameron Mooney had a long talk with Bomber, and started the final quarter on the bench in an apparent tactical move to conserve energy, with Ottens starting in the ruck once more.

The move almost paid off immediately, Ottens sharking the ball from the ruck, playing on, before kicking the ball inside fifty. Unfortunately Steve Johnson tried to run around half a dozen players before the ball was rushed over for one behind, leveling the scores.

Geelong would kick another two behinds only to see the Bulldogs kick truly to take a four point lead. But the game didn't end there; the Cats grabbing the lead back one last time via James Kelly's goal.

Geelong's lead was extended to eight points via good work by Cameron Ling, David Wojcinski and Gary Ablett Junior, who got the ball to Jarad Rooke for an excellent goal from just inside fifty. All game Ling managed to relieve pressure from the backline, finding space to take uncontested marks.

The next change in lead was to be the last; Mr Bulldog Brad Johnson read a bouncing ball like a book for a signature soccered goal. Next, a terrible piece of defending allowed Nathan Eagleton to mark on the goal-line, and give his side the lead. Eagleton extended the lead a short time later, but only by one behind.

Adam Cooney appeared to have sealed the game, running into open goal with just under three minutes remaining. But there was still at least one life left for the Cats. Corey Enright and Gary Ablett Junior conjured up goals in general play, despite not a flood but a sea of Bulldogs inundating the Geelong forward line. Could the Cats steal the game? Steve Johnson floated down back and set up both goals; whether it was a deliberate coaching move or not it was a good move by somebody, an attacking player like Johnson was very nearly able to steal the match.

With just five seconds left it was down to a boundary throw-in forty metres from goal. Gary Ablett roved the ball and might have been taken a little high, but alas the SIREN rang, meaning the winners of the Origin Energy sponsored Western Victoria Cup were once again a deserving Western Bulldogs side. Tens of thousands of Geelong supporters at the game, a hundred or so thousand more at home and at least one commentator in Sam Newman (who hopped onto his boat at half time and departed Docklands) were very disappointed, but most at least knew their team had tried their hardest. But the forward and back lines each had their struggles, not making the most of opportunities up forward or giving away soft goals at the other.

Steve Johnson, who struggled all day but was very good down back in the final few minutes, looked very sore and despondent after the game, and is in doubt for next week.

After the game, Jimmy Bartel admitted he felt 'like sh1t' after the loss, but was ready for the challenge against the Swans next week. In a contrast of emotions, Peter Street was over the moon, and deservedly so; he not only stood tall in the ruck but actually got a few kicks around the ground, and was a vital cog in the Bulldogs train to victory.

NEXT WEEK week Geelong travel to the SCG in a rematch of that fateful semi-final last season, when the Cats blew a three goal lead with just minutes to go to be eliminated from the finals by the eventual premier.


WESTERN BULLDOGS 3.5 (23) 8.9 (57) 10.11 (71) 14.14 (98) DEFEATED
GEELONG 3.5 (26) 8.5 (53) 10.10 (70) 14.13 (97)

GOALS: R Murphy 3, B Johnson, N Eagleton, M Hahn, A Cooney 2, R Smith, N Giansiracusa, M Robbins
BEST: N Eagleton, C Grant, B Johnson, S West, P Street, R Harris

GOALS: G Ablett 4, C Enright, C Mooney, P Chapman 2, B Ottens, D Johnson, J Kelly, J Rooke
BEST: G Ablett, B Ottens, J Rooke, P Chapman, J Bartel, J Corey


Other outcomes of the day:

  • Fox Footy's infuriating commentator Kevin Bartlett continued calling Geelong's Shannon Byrnes 'Shannon Burn'
  • One set of fans think an umpire's decision is brilliant, the others want to get out the electric cattle prod
  • Ipod



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