STAR Geelong midfielder Liv Purcell looks bound for Melbourne, exacerbating a serious issue for the coachless club she leaves behind.
A 2020 All-Australian, Purcell is keen to experience more success than she has had in her three seasons at Geelong.
Coach Paul Hood resigned on Monday with a 6-17 win-loss record, having been on reduced hours this season – teaching at St Joseph's College during the day and working at Geelong in the evening – following the COVID-19 shutdown and subsequent restructure.
At this stage, the Demons are favourite to win the Geelong local's signature, although she'll be rehabbing a torn ACL until at least late February.
Such was Purcell's form this year and importance to the Cats, she finished fourth in the club's best and fairest despite missing the final four games through injury.
After a one-win season, without a coach, and a star player looking elsewhere, where are the Cats at?
How did we get here?
Geelong joined the NAB AFLW competition in 2019. After missing out on an inaugural licence, the club took on North Geelong's VFLW licence, fielding a team for the two years prior to its national entry.
The Cats carried through 12 players from their VFLW side to their first AFLW squad, including now-regulars Danielle Higgins, Jordi Ivey, Renee Garing and Maddy McMahon.
The club was granted a protected drafting zone for its first two drafts, with players able to nominate Melbourne Metro, Geelong or the whole of Victoria to be drafted to.
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It helped the Cats to a certain point, landing them the likes of Nina Morrison, Purcell, Georgia Clarke, Denby Taylor, Amy McDonald, Sophie Van De Heuvel and Becky Webster (both Victorian nominations).
That zone system was removed for the 2020 NAB AFLW Draft, but Geelong stuck with the local theme, bringing in Falcons Darcy Moloney, Laura Gardiner, Steph Williams and Carly Remmos, with Olivia Barber from the Murray Bushrangers.
The missing group
Geelong carried a curious list profile into the 2021 season.
Age range at the conclusion of 2021
Number of players
*Includes inactive Kate Darby (pregnancy)
Since then, 28-year-olds Maddie Boyd and Nicole Garner, and 20-year-old Mia Skinner, have been delisted.
Richmond was successful over the off-season in targeting players in the mid-20s to boost the experience and stability of its inaugural squad, but the solution is not as straightforward for Geelong.
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The club's Melbourne-based players were exhausted at the conclusion of the ever-lengthening AFLW season, with the constant travel up and down the congested Princes Highway after a full day's work a wearing factor.
The trip over the West Gate Bridge is a difficult sell for Geelong, particularly for players based in the eastern half of Melbourne.
Where to from here?
Firstly, some good news.
The club's VFLW side is in excellent form, sitting second on the ladder with six wins, two losses and a percentage of 220, behind only the powerful Collingwood.
Clarke (nine goals), Barber (nine) and Williams (seven) are the team's leading goalkickers, while the club's 2018 No.1 pick Nina Morrison is closing in on a return from a second torn ACL.
In the next tier down, the Geelong Falcons under-19 side is set to face off in the NAB League Grand Final against the Oakleigh Chargers on Sunday.
If the Cats choose to go down a local route again when the draft rolls around – and the players are still available – a trio have put their hands up with strong form both for the Falcons and Vic Country.
Small forward Poppy Schaap is causing chaos at ground level, (soon to be) 19-year-old Renee Tierney is third in the overall goalkicking while Annie Lee has shown sure hands in defence.
Inside midfielder Tess Craven has consistently been the Falcons' best, but with Geelong possessing the No.1 pick in the Victorian pool (second overall), there's another star inside midfielder in Georgie Prespakis (younger sister of Carlton's Maddy) who will be commanding a top selection.
The AFL Commission has a decision to make on priority picks and possible assistance packages.
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Last year, West Coast and Richmond received an extra pick at the conclusion of round one, which had to be traded to another side in return for a player (Sarah Hosking and Aisling McCarthy, respectively).
Another idea that has been floated by some rival clubs is a quasi-Cost of Living Allowance, to assist with relocation of experienced players, or simply extra money in the salary cap to help attract top talent down the highway.
The unique Geelong circumstances means a tailored assistance package would be the most suitable to get the Cats purring.