TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT, BUT GOOD TEST
By Anthony Jensen AFL 2009 ROUND 9 GEELONG CATS V WESTERN BULLDOGS AS THE DUST settles (and the incessant fog clears) around the Cattery from which this website gets it's name, and our hearts descend from our mouths, we get to reflect on last night's thriller match and see it for what it really was. .
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6.4, 9.10, 14.12, 17.14 (116) DEFEATED
CROWD: 44,620 at Etihad Stadium, Melbourne Docklands
Mathew James (5) Ray Chamberlain (18) Shaun Ryan (25) EM: Scott Jeffery
REPORTS: Matthew Stokes (Geelong) for striking Liam Picken (Bulldogs)
It was a hard fought clash between two of the best sides in the competition on what is essentially neutral ground, a game that Geelong were lucky to win due to another errant kick after the siren by skipper Brad Johnson.
At the moment the two teams match up well against each other. Mooney's ill-timed and irresponsible absence, Otten's ongoing injury and Lonergan's omission meant Geelong's forward line resembled that of the Bulldogs; a small, fast and skillful group of forwards, most of whom rotate through the midfield.
Coach Mark Bomber Thompson summed it up well in the post-match interview: "It would have been a great thing for the Bulldogs to win. To us, we know we didn't play our best footy and they had more of a chance to win it than us."
Didn't play our best? Not even close, but that's a high standard to set, and we can't expect that every week. The Bulldogs on the other hand are back to the form that saw them just one win from making a Grand Final last year. Who knows, had they got over the Cats in their 2008 Preliminary Final, they surely would have put up a better fight than Geelong did, and the rest may have been history.
But back to the game at hand, the first of the Indigenous Round. Most of the Cats entered a near-capacity and quite hazy Etihad Stadium donning fluoro orange bootlaces in support of an initiative led by Tom Harley, James Kelly and David Wojcinski called "Just Think", which aims to prevent alcohol-related violence.
A rejuvenated Gary Ablett and Paul Chapman were welcomed back into the AFL in perfect fashion, Ablett using his first touch of many (38 to be exact) to find Chapman on a lead, who used his first possession to find the big sticks from directly in front just a few minutes in.
Joel Selwood then surprised many when, as a result of a 50m penalty, he lined up with confidence from 54m out on the slightest of angles and steered it through. Cleverly he didn't try to overkick it and in doing so has added yet another string to his ever-expanding bow.
Steve Johnson was, but for Ablett, Geelong's best and he was more accurate in front of goal than in recent weeks. Finishing with 5 goals 2 behinds, he was also very efficient with the ball, needing just the 11 kicks to have such a massive impact. The absence of handballs from his game may be because he either has a shot at goal no matter what the angle, or sets up a team mate inside 50 with his short passes. Either way he is in top form and the saving grace of the Geelong forward line for the past month.
A pair of brilliant "don't argues" rounded out the highlights of the first quarter. The first came from Ablett as he gathered with his right hand and stuck the left right into Bulldog Jason Akermanis' sternum, sitting the 300-game superstar on his back and pushing off in the other direction.
The second was just awesome to watch, big Tom Hawkins from a standing start planted his tree trunks in the ground and used a mitt to dispatch a Bulldog who shall remain nameless lest he be hounded by his teammates for failing to execute a straightforward tackle, albeit on the biggest forward on the ground. The Tomahawk continues to do the little things which puts him in good stead for a long career with the cats, and favourable treatment here at thecattery.com.au.
Geelong led by 20 points at the first change. Brad Johnson got one of his 4 goals within 20 seconds of the second quarter, and along with Aka (4 goals, 25 disposals) was the most damaging for the Bulldogs. A replay on the big screen showed a Geelong player (Bartel?) throw out a wayward boot causing a trip, which may come under scrutiny by the AFL match review panel, although it wasn't reported on the night.
Versatile utility and wildman Max Rooke intelligently evaded traffic on the wing and speared a pass to Ryan Gamble, who took what would be a contender for mark of the night. The mark took its toll, though; Gamble had nothing to break his fall but his head and appeared to be knocked out as he landed hard on the Etihad turf. A long lull in the game ensued as the stretcher/golf cart hit a top speed of perhaps a few kilometres per hour as it trundled out. Gamble was eventually carried off by Geelong medical staff, and was later seen up and about and walking, albeit straight to a waiting ambulance bound for Epworth Hospital with a suspected concussion.
Not much else happened in the now long quarter and the Cats held on to a scarce 13 point lead.
Geelong as they're prone to do had a much better 3rd quarter, kicking 5.2 to the Dogs' 3.5. Matthew Boyd who was matched up with Ablett for the Dogs, although not giving Gazza much attention, started to get plenty of the ball in his own right in the second half and got it into the hands of Aka and Brad Johnson at every opportunity. Best and fairest from 2008 Daniel Cross racked up 26 touches for the match too, but he had to with 2008 Brownlow winner Adam Cooney being tagged well by Cameron Ling and Lindsay Gilbee seeming to struggle a bit with an ankle he rolled early on.
One of the highlights of the 3rd came from Selwood. Outnumbered 2 to 1 and chasing a ball to the boundary that most would have given up on, he ingeniously paddled it back into play into the path of a teammate. He kept running and received a handball, passing to the Chapstick who eventually got it to Stevie J who goaled from a tight angle.
Stevie J pulled out another party trick too. Mathew Stokes was lining up for one of his 4 goals on the right side for a right footer but just 10m from the boundary. Johnson began complaining to the umpire that the Bulldog on the mark was in the wrong spot and it turned into quite the discussion. Seeing that Johnson had everyone fittingly distracted, Stoke was able to creep to within 3m of the mark and simply stepped out to snap a goal from a much improved angle.
Geelong led by 22 points at the last change but would never again lead by so much in this match.
In the opening minutes of the last term Mitch Hahn took a great juggling grab amongst 3 Cats defenders who it must be said should have done better. Geelong was let off though when Hahn missed a pretty straightforward goal. Small forward/midfielder Nathan Eagleton made up for it in sensational fashion by scoring an astounding goal when he picked up the ball on the corner of the centre square and unleashed a 55m monster.
Jimmy Bartel popped up for a snapped goal after some desperate pressure from the Cats. With Chapman coming off with a horrifically dislocated digit, it was danger time for the "home" side. Aka was brilliant with two longish goals in a few minutes, one of them from around 45m out which he celebrated with two pumping fists which really got his side, and their crowd, excited.
The rest of the Bulldogs never stopped coming either. Even when Travis Varcoe snapped a goal with a few minutes to go putting us 3 points up, no one could be sure we were home.
In the end it came down to Brad Johnson, once again given the task of kicking a goal after the siren to give his side the win they, admittedly, deserved. But with a sense of déjà vu, just like this same round 9 last year where they played North Melbourne, Johnson couldn't get the Doggies over the line and missed the goal, given Geelong a 2-point win.
Geelong have some testing weeks ahead, with a clash against the young confident Bombers next Sunday, followed by consecutive trips to Perth with a week off in between.
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AFL PREMIERSHIP SEASON 2009, ROUND 9
GEELONG V WESTERN BULLDOGS
FRIDAY 22 MAY 2009, 19:40 AEST
TRAVIS VARCOE CELEBRATES WHAT TURNED OUT TO BE THE WINNING GOAL
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GEELONG NAB CUP GRAND FINAL WIN DVD