Geelong a class above West Coast

Chris Scott has not shied away from putting the onus on his youngest Cats to step up and make this evergreen team their own. Against a likewise undefeated opponent, Geelong’s coach saw further compelling evidence that they have well and truly heeded his words.

The Cats’ first big test of the season had become an examination of West Coast’s depth before a ball was kicked in anger, and they duly inflicted the first defeat of Adam Simpson’s coaching career by 75 points.

It is one he won’t soon forget, the Eagles failing to kick a goal after the 27-minute mark of the first quarter as the Cats added 12 without reply. What started out as a decent tussle became an embarrassing hammering.

If Geelong’s execution was at times a little more mistake-addled than the local crowd would prefer, few went home wishing they’d found another way to spend their Saturday night. Steve Johnson got more of the ball than anyone and probably made more mistakes too, but the rising stars around him came to the party with aplomb.

Cam Guthrie has enjoyed a stirring start to 2014, and his blond head and anvil-like torso emerged from clusters of bodies with the ball from the very first bounce to the last. George Horlin-Smith improved like a wine worthy of his name, Mitch Duncan gave his forwards a gluttonous supply of ball, and Jordan Murdoch and George Burbury lapped it up.

George Horlin-Smith was one of Geelong’s many stand-out players. (Getty Images: Quinn Rooney)

The Eagles had lost Darren Glass, Mark LeCras and Chris Masten to injury and Luke Shuey to suspension, dropped Callum Sinclair, and were further challenged by Matt Rosa’s late withdrawal due to illness. After half-time they lost Nic Naitanui too, subbed off with an ankle injury that capped a forgettable trip to an eastern outpost that brings few visitors joy.

The Cats, in contrast, could only ever be soothed by Corey Enright’s return. But on this night, as good as captain Selwood was, or the omnipresent Johnson and Mathew Stokes, the irrepressible Jimmy Bartel and James Kelly, or the cool Jared Rivers and Harry Taylor down back, this was a win for the next generation.

The scoreline was close early but the myriad other numerical measures of the modern game weighed heavily in favour of the locals. They went to the quarter-time break with a plus 29 advantage in uncontested possessions, 28 up in disposals overall and plus 18 in marks. Thereafter they set about putting a gap where it actually matters.

The second quarter was a rout, Tom Hawkins, Bartel twice and Selwood – already wearing the mandatory bandage to stopper his weekly head wound – all goaling before Selwood found Hamish McIntosh for the fifth of the term, and Hawkins crowned another full-chested lead and vice-like mark with a 55-metre bomb.

West Coast had no answer to any of them, nor to the wave of blue and white ball carriers who streamed toward and away from them. By the long break the margin was 38 points, the game effectively over, and those statistical pointers were becoming embarrassing – marks 60-24, uncontested possessions 135-79, inside 50s 32-19.

At times it seemed the Cats’ greatest challenge was to avoid comparison with Mark Waugh, the gifted batsman who made it look so easy that his mistakes had an air of the avoidably careless. Ergo Travis Varcoe kicking straight to an opponent barely five metres away, Johnson undoing his good work in getting the ball by consistently giving it away, Andrew Mackie missing a fist on the goal line that gave the Eagles their only score of the second quarter. Of course, it cost the Cats only a point.

Maree Selwood had tossed the coin for son Joel and Dean Cox, who was given the honour in Darren Glass’s absence to mark his 277th game as an Eagle, a new club record. Mrs Selwood’s other son Scott didn’t stop trying for West Coast, and Joel gave his Mum another nervous night at the footy by adding sore ribs from a meeting with Sharrod Wellingham to his gashed scalp.

He got up, as he always does, and was soon marking and shooting for goal. His miss fell in a third-quarter lull where the game went to sleep, but another from Hawkins and screwed efforts from Burbury and Horlin-Smith woke it up.

Johnson hit the target to open the last quarter, Horlin-Smith added another on his left foot, and Selwood finished the job.

Peter Hanlon – The Age
GEELONG 4.3 10.4 13.9 16.11 (107) WEST COAST 4.1 4.2 4.5 4.8 (32)
Goals: Geelong: G Horlin-Smith 3 J Selwood 3 T Hawkins 3 J Bartel 2 G Burbury H McIntosh M Duncan S Johnson T Varcoe. West Coast: J Cripps J Darling J Hill J Kennedy.
BEST Geelong: Guthrie, Selwood, Duncan, Horlin-Smith, Johnson, Rivers, Stokes, Bartel. West Coast: Selwood, Wellingham, Gaff, Cox. Selwood, Wellingham, Gaff, Cox.
Umpires: Brett Rosebury, Luke Farmer, Nicholas Foot.
Official Crowd: 25,271 at Simonds Stadium.