Raining cats and knocks as Geelong still leads the pack
It’s known as the game of hard knocks and the Cats dished them out in big doses against the Hawks at the MCG yesterday.
The heavy-handed tactics served the reigning premiers well. The Cats won a thriller in a rough-and-tumble match, eventually wearing down the Hawks by nine points in the AFL’s Round 2.
It’s a ruthless game and it can often come down to the survival of the fittest. The Cats know that.
Hawk utility Rhan Hooper (injured hamstring) and midfielder Jordan Lewis (bung ankle) were sorry sights, while a handful of Hawks copped heavy knocks. Hawthorn is renowned for its physicality but the Cats learned from the painful 2008 Grand Final loss. They hate losing to the Hawks.
I wrote off the Cats this season, believing that would finish in the top five. There were key indicators for my belief that the Cats were slipping.
Firstly, Mark ‘Bomber’ Thompson hinted he had just two seasons left as the Cats’ coach. When players know a coach is going, it can often destabilise the team. Thompson’s wish to retire from his high-pressure job does not seem to be affecting the Cats’ performance.
Secondly, the Cats were shocking in pre-season matches, playing inconsistently. They looked lethargic after their Grand Final hangover. It appeared they would suffer terribly this season.
And the Cats have dealt with the off-field scrutiny of superstar Gary Ablett’s lucrative Gold Coast offer and Mathew Stokes’ drug charges.
The Ablett and Stokes affairs could have knocked the stuffing out of the Cats. But like a true professional, Ablett has brushed aside the speculation about his future and poured his passion into his game.
Ablett has been a prolific ball-winner in the first two matches of the season, with 37 and 38 touches respectively.
The Cats are a close-knit group and although this year’s team has a slightly different dynamic, it’s strong enough to withstand some major efforts from the power clubs.
While The Hawks were struck with injury in yesterday’s bruising loss, they will be scrutinised by the match review panel.
Hawk runner Brent Guerra threw Geelong’s Steve Johnson face-first into the MCG turf in a rough tackle. And Hawk midfielder Liam Shiels raised his arm and collected Cats skipper Cameron Ling, who copped a high blow.
The top teams will muscle their way to wins this year, but the players must learn how to win the ball strategically – without being rubbed out or copping nasty injuries. The clever players will survive. It’s always the survival of the fittest – and the smartest.
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