GEELONG FINISHES 2003 IN STYLE
GEELONG showed St Kilda that they aren't the most talented group of youngsters in the AFL yesterday, defeating the Saints by 19 points in front of 20,728 in cold, wet and windy conditions at Skilled Stadium. The heavens opened up at five minutes past two as the Cats came out for their final warmup, but cleared just after the first bounce. The strong wind meant that clouds came and went within minutes. The Saints had the better of the Cats in the opening quarter, kicking two goals three to Geelong's two behinds. But in the remainder of the match it was the Cats who proved the stronger and more skillful team.
The withdrawal of Henry Playfair allowed Aaron Lord to make a 150th and final AFL appearance. Lord, who spent most of the game on the bench, didn't really have much impact on the game, but gave his teammates an emotional lift when it was needed.
Kent Kingsley was also a late withdrawal, replaced by the out of favour James Bartel. Bartel was among Geelong's best when the game was on the line, and surely must be re-signed for 2004. Bartel, according to former Geelong Captain Michael 'Backdoor Mickey' Turner, made the decision himself to put off negotiations until the season was over. In code this means Bartel doesn't think he's valued and may well be on the way out the door.
Beanpole Peter Street edged ahead of Paul 'Unco' Chambers in the race for the backup ruckman position. With Mark Blake due to arrive next year under the father-son rule, there is only room for another second-string ruckman. Street was very effective around the ground and also managed a lazy 47 hitouts. While hitouts generally don't tell all the story (if you're 6 foot 10 you generally get hands on the ball first) as they don't necessarily go to a player, that is a fair few.
Former skipper Ben Graham was brilliant all day, starting in the forward line, but playing all over the ground including key stints in the ruck. It was Graham's long bomb from outside 50m that gave the Cats control of the game in the final term.
But it was Gary Ablett who really won the match for the Cats. As well as kicking three clutch goals, Ablett set up several others when the game was in the balance. Ablett must be a favorite, along with Cameron Ling, to lead Geelong's Brownlow charge. My conservative tip is twelve votes. Fellow kitten James Kelly stood up again today, taking several contested overhead marks and putting his body on the line.
Steve Johnson, while not quite as electrifying as last week against the Lions, set up two excellent goals in the second term, ultimately giving Geelong the lead. Johnson has the ability to steal the ball by sneaking up on his opponents.
Darren Milburn played well on Nick Riewoldt, who did get a few kicks but generally had very little impact on the game. Cameron Ling was quiet, getting into a stink twice in the opening few minutes, after being taken out by not so saintly Steven Powell at the opening bounce. After being taken out a second time in front of St Kilda's goal, Ling again retaliated but was penalised, the Saint kicking a goal from directly in front.
Finally, Matthew Scarlett's effort really put the exclamation point on the win, making Fraser Gherig look stupid. Gunner Scarlett must be a certainly for All Australian selection for his performances over this season. Gherig booted a goal 40m out on the boundary early in the first quarter but from then on had virtually no impact, other than to continually lack the ability to gain a posession. Whenever the ball went down, Scarlett either marked the ball himself and played on, or punched it clear.
First gamer Tim Callan, playing after Henry Playfair withdrew on Friday, was quite good, only letting himself down when the game was over, kicking straight to the opposition.
Meanwhile, Geelong's VFL team has lost its elimination final to Tasmania in Hobart by 15 points. Despite leading by 15 points at three quarter time, Geelong simply could not stop Tasmania as they came home with the wind.
Later in the week The Cattery Review will rate each and every player on Geelong's list, giving our opinion on whether or not they should stay or go.
Geelong's Rising Star: Gary Ablett
GEELONG 0.2 4.7 9.11 12.12 (84)
GEELONG 5.4, 7.4, 14.6, 16.7.103