Cats in control: How Geelong has gone from also-ran to finals contender

IN 2021, Geelong hit a low point, losing all but its final game against the winless Gold Coast and ultimately saying goodbye to head coach Paul Hood.

Last season there were clear signs of improvement, but that didn't quite translate to the win-loss ledger, only able to register two wins from 10 starts. This time around, the Cats are a genuine force to be reckoned with, and that all comes down to the improved connection between lines that has been building this year. 

Typically, as teams work themselves back from disappointing seasons like the Cats had in 2021, they do so in layers. Work on the fundamentals, stem the flow of opposition scoring and then the last key piece of the puzzle is their own ability to score. This is exactly how Geelong has come back from the brink to now challenge for its second finals series. 

Last season Geelong locked down its defence and was able to find more possession higher up the ground. This season the side has combined that with its own scoring prowess, conceding just 18.7 points per game while kicking 29.5 of its own. This ability to limit opposition scoring and hitting the scoreboard itself has resulted in a percentage over 100 for the first time. Essentially, for the first time they have scored more than their opposition.  

This scoring development layer has come thanks to improved connection between each line, which has made the side's areas of dominance - clearance and pressure - far more effective in translating on the scoreboard. 

MIDFIELD PURRING Geelong's onball brigade matching it with the best

Averaging 8.1 more intercepts per game this season compared to last, Geelong is generating an average of 19.5 points each week from turnover, 66.1 per cent of its total score. A season-high 45 points came from turnover in its club-best win over St Kilda in round five. 

It is interesting to note that despite strong clearance numbers, averaging 24.3 per game this season off the back of Amy McDonald, Georgie Prespakis and Nina Morrison's dominance at the contest, the Cats have been less reliant on scoring from stoppages, instead allowing their intercept game to come to the fore. 

One reason for this is Geelong's ability to link chains of play together better than ever before, controlling play with uncontested marks to move down the ground, launching attacks from those intercepts and then hitting the scoreboard at the end of those chains.  

Although the Cats are, understandably, known as a strong contested team, it is in fact through uncontested possession chains that they have established control and thoughtfulness in the way they move the ball.

Some 54.2 per cent of Geelong's possessions this season have been uncontested, a club high and a difference of +5.6 per cent compared to earlier this year. From this, 8.5 per cent of the side's score this season have come from the defensive 50 because they have been able to link end-to-end passages of play together like never before. 

Darcy Moloney in action during the R6 clash between Geelong and Western Bulldogs at Mars Stadium on October 1, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

That control of play has also coincided with the recruitment of several key players in recent seasons, including Mikayla Bowen on the wing, Chantel Emonson and Annabel Johnson in defence and Shelley Scott and Chloe Scheer in attack, with their skill and experience helping to improve the chemistry between lines. 

From here, the real challenge for Geelong is if it can maintain this calm, considered style of play against an elite pressure side like Adelaide in round nine. If the Cats can remain competitive there, that will bode well come finals.