Ben Jensen 30 March 2008

By Ben Jensen, from London BOYS AGAINST MEN stuff today, GEELONG giving Essendon a football lesson at the Telstra Dome this afternoon (or morning as it is for us). The Cats made a mockery of the pre-match billing that it might be a good game - the Bombers sticking with the Cats for about five minutes before losing in an opening term as even ruckmen Mark Blake and Trent West kicked running goals. It was The Cattery's first 'live' game on TV, having to listen to the first match on Internet radio due to the timing, now able to watch this one on Setanta in the comfort of home (albeit at 4am the night the clock got wound forward an hour!). The match was a good earner for the Cats, 50,636 being in attendance.

It was Geelong's first 'home' game of the year, although like in their last Melbourne game, the Grand Final at the MCG, they wore the white shorts. And is it just me, or do Geelong's socks look different? A much bigger hoop at the top.

Cats CEO Brian Cook was a little PO'd at playing at Telstra Dome, left mystified why it wouldn't be at the MCG. "If we played at the MCG and got a crowd of about 80,000 and that's a big if, I suppose, but if we did we would make about $700,000, whereas a sellout with 50,000 at Telstra Dome would make us about $300,000. So it's around $400,000 difference in terms of here and the MCG," he said.

Debutante Harry Taylor, described to me as a ready made player by fans back home, sure enough started on the ground in place of Andrew Mackie, and was in the action from the get go. The Bruce almost immediately declared he 'liked the boy', as I'm sure most Geelong fans did.

Geelong's opening goal was a signature roving goal from Steve Johnson. He probably doesn't have the fastest time for 100 or top scores in the beep test, but gee he knows where to be at the right time, and how to avoid being tackled. Seeing him pounce upon that ball from the ball-up was eerily like THAT GOAL by Nick Davis at the SCG in 2005. The Bombers looked quite lively in the first eight or nine minutes but soon lost track. They briefly led (by a point) after Basher Houli opened their scoring, but that was to be about as far as they went in the scoreboard department for the entire quarter.

Gary Ablett Junior, who with the nude nut now looks like he may in fact be the son of whomever sired twins Paul Chapman and David Johnson and not the Great Man, got on the end of a chain of possessions through the corridor for his first goal. As usual little Gaz gave a pump of the first and a bit of a finger wag as he sprinted back to the centre square, lapping up the applause that threatened to lift off the roof, that was closed for the day.

Mark Blake's running goal was one of the highlights of the first quarter, and was not nearly as comical as his long awaited debut goals last season. He received a pass just inside fifty and went on with it from a not-too-easy angle. Minutes later fellow beanpole Trent West repeated the spectacle of a ruckman snagging a running goal. They must've been taking lessons from the likes of little Gaz and Jimmy Bartel, such was the deliberateness and confidence of their kicks. West's goal, Geelong's fourth and final of the term, pushed the lead out to nineteen points.

Tom Hawkins was in the action all quarter, but was well beaten for position by Mal Michael; his first mark and kick coming in the middle of the ground. He still has some way to go at finding the right position and kicking, however his field kicking has improved. Fellow big forward Cam Mooney was also up against it, but after dropping a couple started to hold onto the pill although missed his shots at goal.

Josh Hunt was awarded a free kick inside the centre square on the quarter time siren, and went back to have a shot, although then, hunching over the ball, looked as if he was looking for a marking target. He launched into what Dennis referred to as a 'spiral' punt, that sailed deep into the stands but registered only a behind.

Bottom Line Geelong 4.4 (28) Essendon 1.2 (8)

A ghost of the past flashed up momentarily on the screen: Kent Kingsley was sitting in the stands watching on with Brad Ottens and other officials. Good to see him welcomed back.

The second quarter opened with an avalanche of goals. Ryan Gamble, who was quite the goal kicker in the pre-season campaign but kicked just the one goal last week, opened up his account just fifteen seconds in. Gamble got on the end of a brilliant chain of handballs from the centre bounce.

It was on again almost immediately at the following centre bounce, signs ominous for the Bombers as the Cats again easily cleared the ball through to Paul Chapman. Chapman immediately played on, passing to Stevie Johnson, who did likewise to Joel Corey. Smithy found himself just inside fifty on a slight angle, and made not mistake as he banged it through to make the lead thirty-two points less than two minutes in.

Corey Enright, Jimmy Bartel and David Wojcinski joined in the goal kicking festivities, Bartel's the most spectacular. Jimmy took a crowd pleasing hanger, mind you over an invisible opponent after Tom Hawkins chose to forego his first realistic chance at goal, instead passing to Bartel. Wojcinski missed the first round but kicked Geelong's ninth goal, created by Joel Selwood's brilliant tenacity. Selwood first smothered the ball, then picked himself up to make a crunching tackle to free the ball.

Essendon finally kicked their first goal, by Brent Stanton, with thirteen minutes left on the clock, however the deficit remained a seemingly unassailable fourty-seven points. To be fair the Bombers had a red hot go for the next ten minutes or so but unfortunately for them could only score only one more goal. Alwyn Davey, brother of Aaron (or Jack as Rex says), kicked the other goal, what was now the hallmark of the match - a running goal after his team ran the ball down the centre corridor.

Backmen Darren Milburn, Matthew Scarlett, Hunt, Taylor and Tom Harley went about their business of suffocating the Bombers' forward line in their usual professional pattern. Harry looks great but gee we miss the boy from Oak Park, Matt Egan.

Stevie Johnson was displaying his sublime skills and wise head throughout the match, and was anything but selfish. He nearly had another goal 'assist' but Matthew Stokes made a mess of his set shot from a pocket, slicing the ball from left to right and fortunate to register a score at all.

Cameron Ling, the lovable bloodnut watched on by a female lookalike who must be a close relation, must be one of the most reliable set shots for goal in the league now. As he did on twenty-eight occasions in 2007, he floated forward to take a mark around thirty metres out, and duly converted. Joel Corey became the first multi-goalkicker of the night with his second, another set shot from just inside fifty; the lead now restored to fifty points.

Cameron Mooney was about the only Geelong player to be beaten on the night, Essendon's Paddy Ryder doing a great job on the All Australian forward.

Bottom Line Geelong 11.9 (75) Essendon 3.6 (24)

The second half started in not quite as frenetically as the first two terms but the Cats were still dominant all over the ground. Little Matty Stokes stepped up, exhibiting his courage early on as he held his ground as Mal Michael bore down on him. Stokes wore Michael in his back, but rather than write (for too long) in agony on the ground, he got back up and not one minute later laid a shepherd.

The first goal came from little Gazza. Gaz was held and pushed by Henry Slattery and was awarded a free - Bomber fans not happy but you get that. Of course he converted - it was enough for The Bruce to declare Junior the AFL's best midfielder, better even than Chris Judd-Twigley and ahead of teammate and Brownlow Medallist Jimmy.

Gee Dasher is great. Seen for the first time since the Grand Final without a child in each arm, he saved a certain Bomber goal by backing back to the goalsquare and intercepting with a mark on the line. He also had a hand, literally, in saving the game against Port last week when he did a similar thing but conceded the behind.

Mooney finally broke Ryder's clutches and his duck, Byrnes and Kelly combining to get the ball quickly to him. Chappy spent a bit of time on the bench - gotta give those little legs a rest. But it wasn't long before he was back in the action, linking up with his midfield teammates to give Jimmy his second goal. Bartel played on from outside fifty on the 'wrong' side for a right footer, but easily split the middle.

The Mrs emerged bleary-eyed just before 6am to see what the racket was, and upon seeing the 69-point lead remarked "told you they (Essendon) were overrated". Too true! This was 'match of the round' - for what? Fair enough you want to see the best team in the land in the Cats but the Bombers are not much chop. Their under-23 brigade aint bad and may go places, but the rest of the team is rubbish.

Big Cam realised multi-goalkickers were now allowed, and kicked his second goal deep into the medallion club, receiving a dinky little foot pass from Stokes. This brought up Geelong's fifteenth goal and ton. Stokes himself kicked his first goal a short time later, five minutes from three quarter time. He had The Bruce and the team (and us) in raptures.

Adam McPhee broke Geelong's run of seven goals, although he was moments earlier unfairly given the bronx cheers from the Essendon fans, was cheered this time. Incidentally the birds had started to sing at the Cattery residence as the sun rose on what was surely going to be a great day - sure we only had three hours sleep and have to go to the gym at 10, then a 'Sunday Roast' lunch at noon, but who cares? The Cats are gonna do it all again! But the game nor the fun wasn't over yet.

We don't want to sink the boots in, but Matthew Lloyd may have all but lost it, missing another set shot he used to eat for breakfast. In years past whenever Lloyd was within fifty with a set shot your head would sink - he seemed to have a conversion ratio of around two thirds against us. Tonight, though, he had the yips, on the rare occasion he managed to get a possession out of Matthew Scarlett.

Seconds before the siren Selwood joined a very long goalkicking list. Geelong increased their lead by thirty points from half time; the lead eighty-one points.

Bottom Line Geelong 17.13 (115) Essendon 4.10 (34)

We were really struggling by the time the Cats made it down the ground in the final quarter. Jimmy ran almost the length of the ground after clearing the ball in the backline, received the ball again before setting up Gamble for his second. Essendon actually had a gimme goal, David 'Laurie' Hille taking a good mark in the goalsquare. The Bomber ruckman, Hille and Jason Laycock weren't bad but it'd be gilding the lily to say they beat Blake and West, as some commentators did.

James Kelly became the latest member of the goal kicking list, now standing at thirteen, with his first. Come on Harry! It'd be great if he got a goal in his first game, it'd bring the house down.

Stokes, Gamble and Blake each kicked another goal, Gamble becoming the match leading goalkicker with three. Gamble though still couldn't raise a smile, but did manage to give a Geelong fan a high five over the fence on his run through. Blake, who earlier hit the post from a tight angle in the right pocket, took a hanger to give himself a set shot at goal. He was delighted to kick his second and just the fourth goal of his career, as were his teammates. But with just eight seconds to go the one hundred point margin was just out of reach, remaining at ninety-nine when the final siren mercifully rang.

Bartel and Ablett should each be awarded three Brownlow votes with no two or one voters. But if we had to chose, we'd give the nod to Ablett. Little Gaz pipped Jimmy as he had slightly more impact in the opening quarter. 'Kerry' Stokes would be next in line, but you'd have to give Steve Johnson recognition also for his early-game form, when the game was there to be won.

The backline was superb. The midfield was sublime. The Tomahawk was a bit blunt up forward, missing several attempts at goal and struggling against a big monster of an opponent in Mal Michael. Mooney also struggled but struck back and although not making a direct scoreboard impact early on, certainly diverted attention.


GEELONG 4.4 (28) 11.9 (75) 17.13 (115) 21.18 (150)
ESSENDON 1.2 (8) 3.6 (24) 4.10 (34) 6.15 (51)

GEELONG: Gamble 3, Corey 2, Ablett 2, Bartel 2, Mooney 2, Stokes 2, Johnson, Blake, Enright, Wojcinski, Ling, Selwood, Kelly
ESSENDON: Houli, Davey, Stanton, McPhee, Hille

GEELONG: Ablett, Bartel, Stokes, Johnson, Corey, Blake, Scarlett, Harley
ESSENDON: Ryder, Houli, Stanton, Dyson

UMPIRES: Chris Donlon, Hayden Kennedy, Ray Chamberlain

CROWD: 50,636

MALARKEY VOTES: Ablett (Geelong) 3, Bartel (Geelong) 2, Stokes (Geelong) 1


NEXT SATURDAY Geelong finally play their first home game at Skilled Stadium against wooden-spoon favourite Melbourne. A few years ago you'd have almost tipped the Dees next week but with 'New Geelong' I'd say the Cats will open the betting 150 points in, and that's in the wet. There's also the small matter of the Premiership flag unfurling.

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