Cats ‘relentless’ after ‘ducks and drakes’; star takes points in ‘Carey-Jakovich’ style battle: 3-2-1
No Joel Selwood, no Patrick Dangerfield, no Mark Blicavs, no Gary Rohan — no worries for Geelong, which showed no mercy against St Kilda to claim its 11th straight win.
After a stunning six-goal quarter by the Cats, St Kilda worked its way back into the game with four goals to two in the second term to cut Geelong’s lead to 10 points at the main break.
But the Cats found another gear in the second half, booting eight unanswered goals to set up a 45-point win over the Saints. 17.8 (110) to 10.5 (65)
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Geelong pulled two late changes, with Jonathon Ceglar and Mark Blicavs coming out of the 22, the former named medical sub. Then there were concerns over Patrick Dangerfield, who reported low level calf tightness in the warm-up. The Cats then made a conservative call alongside the medical team and withdrew Dangerfield from the game, with Luke Dahlhaus coming into the side.
Dangerfield confirmed he’d felt tightness in the same spot in the same calf he’d had issues with earlier in the season.
Zak Jones was the sub for St Kilda, which made no late changes.
Asked if the Cats outs swung his tip, Channel 7’s Jobe Watson said: “I’ve got the feeling of an upset.”
QUARTER-BY-QUARTER MATCH REPORT
The Saints got the fast start, with Jack Sinclair kicking the first goal of the game within the opening two minutes.
But Geelong quickly clicked into gear and responded at the other end from a forward 50 stoppage, with Zach Tuohy snapping a clever goal.
“It’s weight of numbers at the minute, they’re holding position so well,” triple Melbourne best and fairest winner Nathan Jones told Channel 7.
“Their quality ball use on the rebound is so slick.”
However the Cats couldn’t capitalise on the scoreboard, kicking three straight behinds, including a seemingly easy set-shot attempt for Brad Close. Tom Hawkins then broke the drought, taking a strong contested mark and snapping his club’s second major as the Cats had 10 of the first 11 inside 50s of the game.
Tyson Stengle then booted his first of the night thanks to some brilliant ball movement from his teammates up the field before Hawkins converted a set-shot opportunity to kick his second and extend the lead to 21 points.
At one stage, Saints goalkicker Tim Membrey moved into defence to try and stem the bleeding.
The Saints got one against the grain late in the first term, with Jack Higgins earning a free kick for a trip then snapping a set-shot goal.
But the Cats continued to put the foot on the throat, surging the ball forward where swingman jack Henry marked, earned a 50m penalty and kicked the major.
The Saints were able to get back into the contest after matching the Cats at clearances, with Mason Wood winning a free kick for a high tackle and flushing his set-shot.
But Mitch Duncan delivered a big blow on the quarter-time siren, nailing a long-range set-shot attempt to give the Cats a 22-point advantage at the first change.
The Cats had nine marks inside 50 in the first quarter alone, prompting triple premiership Lion Jonathan Brown to tell Fox Footy: “This is unbelievable … They’d be starting to have nightmares, those St Kilda defenders.”
The Saints regained some control of the game and regained confidence in the second term, continuing their dominance at clearances and on the outside. It led to three of the first four goals of the term through Max King, Jack Steele and Membrey.
Skipper Steele set the tone, laying crunching tackles and winning important clearances.
However the Cats were able to get one against the grain, with Isaac Smith getting on the end of a slick passage of play.
“They are hungry,” Watson said.
The Saints though continued to challenge the Cats, getting on top on the outside. It led to a late goal to Dan Butler to cut the margin to four points.
“They’ve got a few out, but remember St Kilda are playing for their football lives in 2022,” seven-time All-Australian Nathan Buckley told Fox Footy. “They’ve got the Western Bulldogs and Richmond breathing down their necks … they need to win at all costs, so they’re throwing everything at it.”
But, again, the Cats were able kick a goal on the siren, with Stengle nailing a set-shot to give his side a 10-point lead at the main break.
It took less than two minutes for the Cats to hit the scoreboard, with leading goalkicker Jeremy Cameron getting boot to ball near the goalsquare to extend Geelong’s lead.
Hawkins then kicked his third after receiving a down-field free kick, before Smith kicked his second and Max Holmes nailed a long-range set-shot to make it a 33-point lead.
The Saints were able to match the Cats in most key areas during the third term, but weren’t able to put scoreboard pressure on.
There was an injury scare for the Saints too when luckless veteran Dan Hannebery was seen doing running tests and speaking with club physios on the interchange bench. He was initially cleared to come back on the ground, but was subbed out at three quarter-time and replaced by Jones with the Cats leading by 33 points.
St Kilda needed the first goal of the quarter to be any chance of challenging the Cats — but Geelong didn’t let that happen as Smith pounced for his third goal of the night.
The Cats piled on the pain as Cameron snapped a long-range goal — his second of the night — before Close added another to make it eight straight Cats goals.
Higgins finally got one against the grain, breaking the Cats’ streak with a late consolation goal.
But Zach Guthrie drifted forward to mark and goal, before receiving a standing ovation from the faithful at GMHBA Stadium as another Cats party finished in sweet style.
THE 3-2-1 …
3. RUTHLESS CATS ‘BREAK DOWN’ SAINTS … DESPITE THEIR VULNERABILITY
St Kilda fans had ample reasons to be optimistic.
With the Saints, as Fox Footy’s Nathan Buckley put it, “playing for their football lives in 2022”, the Cats on paper were as vulnerable as they’ve been in months, with Joel Selwood, Patrick Dangerfield, Mark Blicavs and Gary Rohan all out injured.
Instead, the Cats cemented a top-four berth – and even boosted their percentage, not that they really needed to anyway – thanks to a second-half blitz that has left St Kilda’s finals hopes now even thinner.
After a dominant first quarter by Geelong, St Kilda got the game on its terms in the second quarter, dominating possession through uncontested marks and, subsequently, territory. The Saints booted four goals to two to cut the Geelong lead to 10 points at the main break – all as multiple All-Australian Tom Stewart was being clamped by Mitch Owens.
But any hope the Saints had generated in the first half was shattered within the first 15 minutes of the third quarter, with St Kilda’s backline struggling to stop the momentum of Geelong, which booted four unanswered goals.
Geelong would boot another four goals before the Saints finally got one midway through the third term. But the margin before Jack Higgins’ goal was 58 points – and it was far too late for the Saints.
It was Geelong’s 11th straight win of the season, further cementing its spot on top of the ladder with games against Gold Coast and West Coast to come.
“The Saints aren’t doing too much wrong, it’s just the quality of Geelong and their ability to execute fundamentals minute after minute is just breaking down what the Saints are trying to achieve,” triple Melbourne best and fairest winner Nathan Jones told Channel 7.
“They’re such a quality outfit … They’re so in-tune both offensively and defensively.
“They are relentless.”
Combined with Richmond‘s win over Port Adelaide, it was a poor night for the Saints, who dropped out of the top eight.
And they would appear unlikely to reclaim it, given the Tigers face bottom-six sides Hawthorn and Essendon over the season’s final fortnight, while the Saints face top-four contenders Brisbane and Sydney.
2. CATS STAR CLAIMS CHOCOLATES IN FUTURE ‘CAREY-JAKOVICH’ BATTLE
It’s the tantalising match-up footy fans will be treated to for many years to come.
And on Saturday night, emerging Cats star Sam De Koning took the points against top Saints goalkicker Max King in an enthralling battle.
King came into the match sitting fifth on the Coleman Medal table, while De Koning was an equal second-favourite for the Rising Star award.
But this was a big win for De Koning, who restricted King to one goal from eight disposals and two marks, while the young Cat had 11 disposals and eight intercepts for the game.
Granted King’s goal in the second term was crucial to keep the Saints in touch, but outside of that he didn’t have a huge amount of opportunity due to the poor St Kilda ball movement and excellent Cats pressure up the field.
And when the ball did go in the duo’s direction, De Koning gave King no time or space to move.
“It’s a marquee match-up, a bit of Carey-Jakovich about it,” Brown told Fox Footy.
“Hopefully it certainly rises to those levels over the journey.
“Sam De Koning’s ability to read the play is very impressive, so that shows me he’s got good footy smarts. “
1. DANGER SIGN AMID LATEST CATS ‘DUCKS AND DRAKES’
Chris Scott on Friday flagged Geelong would likely make a late change for its clash with St Kilda.
But he probably wasn’t expecting to make three – and for one of them to be Patrick Dangerfield, who was left frustrated yet relieved pre-game when he pulled out just minutes before the first bounce.
The Cats, who are renowned for tweaking their team sheets when they name their final team on game day, on Saturday night made three late withdrawals.
Star utility Mark Blicavs was ‘managed’ for the game, while ruck recruit Jon Ceglar was dropped to the medi-sub position. The duo were replaced by experienced duo Zach Tuohy and Sam Menegola.
It came after skipper Joel Selwood was rested for the match, while Gary Rohan was ruled out with concussion.
“I was surprised when I saw Tuohy and Menegola on the emergency list,” triple premiership Lion Jonathan Brown told Fox Footy. “As we know, there’s a few ducks and drakes at Geelong, they play some games, so they were always likely to come in.”
But the biggest concern – and most of the attention this week will be on – Dangerfield, who was removed from Geelong’s line-up well after the final teams were named.
Dangerfield caught the eye of onlookers at GMHBA Stadium when he was seen undergoing a late fitness test and speaking with Cats officials. He then went down the Cats race with 30 minutes before the first bounce.
Minutes later, Dangerfield was pulled from the match and replaced by Luke Dahlhaus.
In a concerning sign for the Cats, Dangerfield confirmed he was withdrawn after feeling tightness during the warm-up in the same spot in the same calf that saw him miss five games earlier this season.
“It just got a bit tight — and then given the last time I reaggravated my calf, to be honest I just didn’t trust myself to make the right decision so close to game time,” Dangerfield told Channel 7. “At this time of the year, given the situation we’re in, the conservative route is the best path forward.
“It’d been a bit tight during the week, even though I trained fully, so I was confident in that regard. But then a bit on deceleration tonight, it just didn’t feel right. In the back of your mind it’s just … around making the mature decision around where we’re at and where the season’s at.
“It is (frustrating), but it’s almost a relief to be honest because at the time it’s so close to game time, the crowd’s started rolling in and the emotion around wanting to be involved in that. But then there’s the practicalities around making a good decision when it’s just not quite right.”
Brown said it was a wise move by the Cats though as they wouldn’t like a player like Dangerfield suffering a serious calf injury so close to finals.
“They seem to manage players as well as any team,” he said.
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