The Cats are back – by numbers

Geelong’s Jimmy Bartel and Corey Enright give Hawthorn’s Cyril Rioli no respite at the MCG.           Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

A dramatic improvement in the ability to apply defensive pressure all over the ground has taken place at Geelong since the diabolical loss to the Brisbane Lions a fortnight ago.

Coach Chris Scott is not foolish enough to believe two examples of first-rate defensive execution and discipline is enough to fix the inadequacies that had some questioning the team’s premiership credentials based on an out-of-kilter balance between scoring and stopping the opposition.

But the fact Geelong has been able to implement the adjustments on the whiteboard with such haste in the heat of battle – and in tests against top-four calibre teams such as Fremantle and Hawthorn – must provide the coaching staff with a certain level of comfort.

Geelong’s defence by the numbers.

And the fact this Geelong team is filled with seasoned professionals who take pride in their craft, also makes the statistics not only worthy, but perhaps a forecast of what other clubs can expect from the Cats from now on.

It was mid-table rankings in key defensive areas that, when compared with the likes of Fremantle and Hawthorn, had some commentators saying the Cats needed to urgently address the other side of their game to complete their premiership challenge.

The fade-out against Brisbane in round 13 in which Geelong conceded 10 of the last 11 goals to blow a 52-point lead, provided an opening for critics with reservations about the team’s defence .But since then, the Cats have redoubled their efforts and garnered praise for outlasting the Dockers in a dour defensive struggle in round 14, and then for shutting down the Hawks last Saturday night. In both cases the Cats kept the opposition to less than 73 points – Fremantle (44) and Hawthorn (72) – something they had done only twice in their previous 12 games – 11 of which they had won.

Geelong fans must have been buoyed by Scott’s own personal drive to command one of the best defensive units in the game. ”Not much external criticism stings me, but when our defence was criticised, that did sting,” Scott said on Fox Footy on Monday.

Scott only partially subscribes to the theory that the Brisbane loss was a catalyst to jolt the players into demonstrating a more focused mindset to defensive effort. ”We had some things that we need to fix permanently, things that should never be repeated,” he said. ”So we’ve done it for two weeks, but the jury is still out whether we can do it for the real long term.”

Saturday’s game is not against a top-four rival, it is against lowly Melbourne at Simonds Stadium.

For Scott, it is just another chance for his team to stamp out any defensive lapses that could cost it later in the year.

”Our players aren’t fools,” he said on Tuesday. ”Everyone in the footy world accepts that we played two of the best footy teams in the competition in the last two weeks and this week we play a side that hasn’t performed as well this season.      So our challenge is to forget about what the opposition presents and just keep improving our game. It is a different test, but it is a test nonetheless.”

Source: The Age