Despite Geelong’s 4-0 start to the season it starts underdogs

FIVE games ago Geelong lost to Hawthorn by five points in a preliminary final of some quality, just another chapter in a rivalry that seems to push participants to their respective zeniths.

Since then the Cats have won four straight to open their 2014 campaign yet today find themselves distinct underdogs.

James Kelly boots the ball down field as Tom Longergan looks on. Picture by Colleen Petch. Source: News Corp Australia

James Kelly, with 237 Geelong games to his name, says Hawthorn’s overwhelming favouritism is totally justified.

“The way people are looking at the game is reflective of how Hawthorn is going. They are as competent a side as we have seen play for quite a while so we are going to have to be even better than our best to get over the line,” said Kelly, 30. “The footy they have played this season has been flawless. They have got hold of a couple of sides while their performance against Fremantle was amazing. We aren’t silly enough to think we don’t require luck but we are confident that our best is good enough.”

The same “best” that has seen Geelong remain a viable September contender for all bar one of the past 10 seasons, a side that keeps rejuvenating itself through solid and at time inspired recruiting and development coaching the envy of most teams.

Kelly delights in the early season form of George Burbury, Josh Caddy, Cam Guthrie, George Horlin-Smith and Jordan Murdoch, describing them as ‘the next group after the next group.’ “That sounds funny I know, but those players and Lincoln McCarthy, Josh Walker and Billie Smedts are others, are the group after guys like Allen Christensen, Josh Cowan, Mitch Duncan, Taylor Hunt, Daniel Menzel, Steven Motlop and Nathan Vardy. That second group away from injuries are all well and truly on their way so to get games into the younger guys is so important. Plus they have been part of some wins this season which can set your season up because it brings confidence.”

The first group includes some genuine talent that hasn’t been available this year given Christensen, Cowan, Menzel, Motlop and Vardy will miss varying degrees of the season due to injury.

Recently engaged and aware of the pressure to continue the recent Geelong tradition of fathering a son, Kelly believes versatility within Geelong’s list has been an integral part in the Cats’ ability to keep challenging.

He is part of that versatility, having moved out of the midfield this season as coach Chris Scott performs some subtle on-field tweaking. It has seen Jimmy Bartel move forward from his 2013 defensive home, Cam Guthrie go from shutting down small forwards into the midfield and Kelly going back.

“In 2009 when Josh Hunt did his knee I went down back so I have some experience but I still have a lot to learn. Being in the midfield you serve up the same stuff which becomes second nature as to where you set up and where you have to run, whereas being a defender is a whole different way of looking at the game,” said Kelly. “It’s a new challenge to fit in with a tight defensive group. I think one of our strengths is the fact our sides have looked different each year. You will see I this year where there will be experimentation.

“Hamish McIntosh and Dawson Simpson have been good for us. There is always debate as to whether you can have two really tall ruckmen in a side. I wouldn’t have thought they will play every game as it would be silly of us to wear them out. We have played some sides with dominant ruckmen and it has become an advantage having two big guys to work someone over.”

Source: Jon Anderson – Herald Sun