Cats contenders for top four

GETTING ON TOP OF THINGS: Cats skipper Ben Graham throws around his weight, pinning Essendon's Sean Wellman at Colonial Stadium on Saturday. Photo: MIKE DUGDALE  
Monday, July 22

GEELONG played Essendon at its own game on Saturday night and emerged not just as a finals chance but a genuine top four side.

Tough and ruthless football, fast and smart and at times even a touch flashy, Geelong man-handled Essendon into submission to record its seventh straight win by 39-points.

If any Geelong doubters still existed after its 28-point victory over Collingwood one week earlier, they must surely have been silenced on Saturday night.

Coach Mark Thompson was still deflecting finals talk after the win over Essendon, but the emphasis now for many isn't if it will make the final eight but just how high inside it Geelong will finish at the end of the home and away season.

It's a far cry from preseason predictions that had Geelong tipped to be one of the whipping boys of the competition and Thompson a hot favourite to be the first coach sacked.

Past player Ken Hinkley is one who says the win over Essendon now sets Geelong up for a top four berth.

``You can't talk about finals anymore, we can only talk about top four. They are a really confident bunch of young fellows,'' Hinkley said.

Thompson did at least acknowledged that finals football for Geelong was ``getting closer''.

``Sure finals might be getting closer but we're still not there,'' Thompson said.

Last week, during the build up to the Essendon game, he said that Geelong still had room for improvement and he reinforced that message again on Saturday night.

``We've only won 10 and I'll sit down with the group and talk to them about areas we can improve,'' Thompson said.

``The beauty about being so young is that even though it might look as though we've done a lot of things right tonight, there's still a lot of things we can fix up and challenge them to improve and that's the exciting part.''

Thompson holds no fear that sides might now plan more meticulously to combat Geelong's style of play, hinting that there was enough depth to pull some surprises of his own.

He declared the Cats a hard side to match up on with multiple avenues to goal and players capable of playing ``tall and short''

``I think we'd be a pretty hard side to plan against,'' Thompson said.

``Maybe they might look a bit harder and find something (now) but if you have a look at the avenues to goal it's quite strong.

``(And) we match up well with most forward lines; we've got talls who can play on smalls and smalls who can play tall.''

Young James Kelly was again one of Geelong's prime movers through the centre, at one point in the third quarter earning the tag of Adam Ramanauskas.

Quizzed on what he would do if Kelly received closer attention in the next couple of weeks, Thompson was decidedly blunt.

``If he gets tagged my recommendation would be to tag back,'' he said.

``It's just playing footy and if he's not getting a kick we'll put someone else in their like Cameron Ling or Paul Chapman . . . how many can they tag?''