Sport AFL Peter Schwab: Geelong’s midfield stars mask a deeper problem

Peter Schwab: Geelong’s midfield stars mask a deeper problem

Gary Ablett
The Hawks and Cats put on another Easter Monday thriller. Photo: AAP
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Geelong and Hawthorn did it again.

The Easter Monday clash saw the two clubs produce just the latest in a line of classic matches since the modern-day rivalry commenced on AFL Grand Final day in 2008.

What was already a match brimming with expectation was boosted by the added bonus of witnessing three of the game’s greats – Gary Ablett, Joel Selwood and Patrick Dangerfield – in the same midfield for the very first time.

And we didn’t have to wait long to see the influence the trio will have on Geelong’s chances in 2018.

Between them, they kicked the Cats’ first three goals, with Dangerfield showcasing his bull-like speed and power to charge through a stoppage and kick the opener.

Selwood booted the second after displaying his fierce attack on the ball to draw high contact and Ablett’s speed and skill to kick a checkside from the boundary completed the sequence.

It was like knowing the three horses in the trifecta. You just weren’t sure of the order.

All three will only get better as they play together more but key for Cats coach Chris Scott to decide is how often – and for how long – Dangerfield plays forward and what is Ablett’s best role in the team.

Much of the pre-season hype around the Cats has centred on their new-look midfield but they certainly have some concerns in defence.

They have been vulnerable at the back since the retirement of Corey Enright in 2016 and Tom Lonergan and Andrew Mackie also called it quits at the end of last season.

They left big holes to fill and it does not help Scott that Harry Taylor is injured and Lachie Henderson is yet to play this year.

It is not all bad for Geelong as Tom Stewart is improving every game and Jake Kolodjashnij is reliable.

But in its first two games, Geelong has conceded 106 points on average – and 31 scoring shots.

Put simply, this is not what top teams usually do.

Geelong’s midfield makes it look a top-eight team but, for the moment at least, it is vulnerable.

Joel Selwood, Patrick Dangerfield and Gary Ablett
Cats stars Joel Selwood, Patrick Dangerfield and Gary Ablett are going to win plenty of the ball but can Geelong’s defence stand up? Photo: Getty

We are just two rounds into the season but the pressure on St Kilda and 2016 premiers Western Bulldogs is already high.

The Saints did not look impressive in a first-up win over Brisbane and were thrashed by North Melbourne on Good Friday.

The 52-point margin could seriously impact on the Saints’ confidence and they appear below-par in defence.

Up forward, Tim Membrey, Josh Bruce and Patrick McCartin are not looking like they are gelling.

Coach Alan Richardson was concerned enough to call a meeting on Saturday morning and I’m not sure the tactic is right or not.

It could indicate panic. Richardson will be hoping it helps his group move on quickly.

Alan Richardson
St Kilda coach Alan Richardson has some worries early in the season. Photo: Getty

But moving on looks ominous with a tough run in the next month.

The Saints play home matches against Adelaide and GWS and face road trips to Geelong and Tasmania (against Hawthorn). Two wins from that would be a great effort.

As for the Bulldogs, they appear in disarray.

They were poor against GWS in Round 1 and allowed West Coast to kick eight unanswered goals at Docklands on Sunday.

Both losses have been heavy and when things are going so badly, it is hard to know where to start in terms of fixing problems.

But it is clear that both ends of the ground are providing headaches for coach Luke Beveridge.

In defence, the Bulldogs are missing key options in Dale Morris and Marcus Adams due to long-term injuries.

At least up forward, the Bulldogs have options, with Tom Boyd and Jack Redpath waiting in the wings.

They also have ex-Brisbane forward Josh Schache as an option. He is the big unknown but may get a chance to show his wares.

The questions for Beveridge are many at the moment.

As a start, he needs to go back to playing his players in the positions they have played their best football.

And he will be desperately hoping that intangible mixture of confidence, talent and hunger returns before the year gets away from his side.

Peter Schwab played 171 VFL/AFL matches for Hawthorn from 1980 to 1991, winning three premierships. He later served as Hawthorn coach, AFL National Umpiring director, AFL Match Review Panel chairman and Brisbane Lions list manager.

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