THERE is a general consensus among avid AFLW fans this season: Geelong is on the improve and despite starting the season 0-3, the Cats are a side worth watching.
The Geelong of 2022 doesn't just have a host of new faces compared to the same club in 2021, but where it's winning—and retaining—the ball is a whole different story.
In 2021 the Cats failed to win a game until the final round of the home and away season, losing by an average of 36.2 points in that time. Put simply, they struggled to move the footy out of defence.
The ball spent an average of 25 per cent of game time in Geelong's defensive 50 last year, resulting in 12.6 scoring shots and 45.3 points conceded each week. This meant that the bulk of the Cats' possessions came in the back half, looking for rebounding options and reacting when the ball came straight back in.
Essentially, Geelong threatened to break a lot of unwanted records in the AFLW last year, including averaging the second-lowest score in competition history with just 18.2 points per game.
Significant change needed to happen as elite teams were only going to be better in 2022 and the Cats couldn't afford to fall further behind the pack.
That change began during the off season as the club turned over nearly a third of its list, and also regained Nina Morrison and Kate Darby who both sat out the 2021 season.
The experience of Chantel Emonson from Melbourne and Chloe Scheer from Adelaide was added, alongside four draftees, two free agents and Irish recruit Rachel Kearns.
This list upheaval meant the Cats were the second least experienced side to enter the 2022 season, but this didn't matter as these 11 players made an immediate impact this year, playing 29 of a possible 33 games over the first three rounds.
These personnel changes have gone hand in hand with an updated game plan, focused on consistent pressure. Not just pressure in defence, but higher up the field to alleviate the reliance on desperate defence on the last line.
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Over the first three rounds of 2022, Geelong has averaged 61 tackles per game, increasing on its 56 tackle average of 2021, and this is six more tackles each game than its opponent.
These tackles aren't just being made at a more consistent rate, but they are being made in more dangerous positions, including an average of ten inside 50 each week.
Off the back of this pressure, the ball has spent just 20.9 per cent of its time in the Cats' defensive 50—well down on the 25 per cent of 2021.
As the Cats spend less time in defence, they provide opposition sides with fewer chances to score.
The side is averaging the third-fewest scoring shots conceded each game at just nine, nearly four scoring shots fewer than last year. This has seen them concede nearly three fewer goals per game in 2022.
|AVERAGE SCORING SHOTS CONCEDED||AVERAGE POINTS AGAINST|
These shots aren't just fewer in number, they are from more difficult positions as well. Within 30m of goal is considered across the AFLW to be a better indicator of genuine attack, akin to scores from inside 50 in the men's game. In 2021 the Cats conceded 65.2 per cent of its points against within 30m of goal, this year that percentage has lowered to 57.6 per cent
While still higher than Geelong's defensive staff would like, it is an indicator of improvement. Improvement that is coming from pressure on the ball higher up the field, not allowing opposition teams the ease of entry they did last year.
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Numerous metrics prove how the Cats have learned to limit opposition scoring, but the next step in this growth is learning how to consistently score themselves. Last year they won just 15 per cent of their quarters played. While not a huge improvement, this has grown to 25 per cent in 2022 to date. This year they are averaging 24 inside 50s per game, the fifth fewest in the competition, and eight scoring shots.
From here, creating more consistent opportunities to score is how Geelong goes from an underdog the footy community loves to watch, to a side that threatens for finals.
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