Grounding those high-flying Crows

Geelong defenders Ben Graham and Brenton Sanderson keep a close check on dangerous Adelaide forward Brett Burton. Perhaps Tom Harley will be given the job on Sunday.  
Thursday, July 25

GEELONG appears to be growing bigger and bigger with every victory. The Cats continue to raise the bar of expectation. Two weeks ago we were all of the opinion they would fall over against some of the league's powerhouses.

But all of a sudden we are toying with the thought of a genuine top-four finish.

This week's game against Adelaide has - for the victor - a great reward.

The Skilled Stadium clash is as big as they come as far as what might be achievable for the winning side at season's end.

If the Geelong match committee had hoped for a little breather, think again.

The Cats must start the preparation all over again as this game is vital to the big picture in 2002.

Geelong at home against Adelaide is unlike the past couple of rounds. It was a game pencilled in to win.

But the rubber on the end of the pencil has shifted what was an anticipated victory into the great unknown column.

With the stakes so much higher the pressure is starting to build on the Cats.

They have been able to play carefree football with little expectation. But make no mistake, expectation is at an all-time high.

Media, fans and the team itself will expect nothing less than a win at the final siren on Sunday afternoon.

But the boys must focus only on the game plan that has been extremely successful the past seven weeks and limit the effectiveness of a hard Adelaide game style.

The Crows, under the guidance of former Cats' coach Gary Ayres, will be very well prepared for this game because of the top-four position the game holds. Ayres, too, will also want a personal victory over his former charges.

Ayres likes his players to play accountable football by not giving opponents any space to work within.

This is fine if you're in control of a match but a very difficult style to repeat week in and week out.

Players can become very tired doing this which can create some poor form.

It is very difficult to play with no fear when a top-four berth is up for grabs.

Hopefully Geelong can maintain the intensity and focus on the game at hand.

Adelaide has a formidable midfield, as I explained when Geelong travelled to Football Park in round two, and that must be controlled and tamed.

But that is not their only strong point. There are a couple of players who have had great seasons this year.

Matthew Bode, a pacy midfielder and forward, has achieved more than expected while Brett Burton has been the Crows' best forward.

With Scott Welsh missing, Burton along with skipper Mark Ricciuto are the two key forward targets.

Burton has the best aerobic capacity at Football Park and has a giant leap.

He can't be allowed to run at the ball because if he does, he's a better than not chance to mark the leather.

I watched him against the Blues at Optus Oval earlier this year and once he gained his confidence, the high-flying Crow was unstoppable.

That is the key for him - confidence. Geelong must play a player that is prepared to stop his run and jump all over him.

His past would suggest he will only have minimal impact on the game if he gets his confidence early.

If his opponent is able to take a mark against him early, it'll shoot Burton down while soaring his counterpart's confidence.

I think defender Tom Harley is the man for Burton. Tom has become a regular feature of this column this season but it's because of the outstanding form he continually shows.

He has the running and spoiling ability and work rate equal of any other player in the competition.

Tom rarely gets beaten and is often the key to determining whether opposition forwards dominate. If he gets on top on Sunday, it will go a long way towards Geelong's eighth win.