Optus Stadium was the location for champagne football on a fine Sunday afternoon and the next day became the venue for a rain-sogged slugfest. This Monday night's (Perth time) game saw the Geelong Cats finish convincing winners by booting six goals against the undermanned Fremantle Dockers. It was a rain-soaked game where the team with the highest number of fit and mature bodies would win. The Dockers fielded a team without a recognized tall defender and their dual Brownlow Medalist captain Nat Fyfe was one of eleven Dockers on their extensive injury list. The Cats had an injury list nearly as long, which included Gary Ablett, Joel Selwood, and Rhys Stanley. It wasn't the number of non-injured players that won the Cats the game; it was the physical maturity of the players fielded, which gave them the winning advantage.
Geelong supporters usually grumble when their team has to travel an hour to Melbourne to play a "home" game against Collingwood at the MCG. Even in their wildest dreams they couldn't envision their team traveling across the nation to play a home game against Collingwood in Perth. Yet in a football world turned upside-down by COVID-19, that is what just happened; and for the Cats the result was not good. In a cold and wintry Perth night, the Pies seemed right at home in the stadium normally reserved for the Eagles and the Dockers. A crowd of 22,000 braved the elements and entry restrictions, to be treated to moments of sparkling football as Collingwood's Jordan de Goey shone bright in the forward line; and a resurrected Adam Treloar and imperial Scott Pendlebury ruled the midfield. Before this game, the Cats were the most attacking team in the league, but the Pies denied them space and shut them down with fierce tackling and rock solid defense.
In a Friday night (Melbourne time) Semi-Final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the Geelong Cats picked themselves up from their previous week's loss to the Collingwood Magpies, to keep their finals hopes alive and defeat the reigning Premiers, the West Coast Eagles. The Cats had been under intense media scrutiny all week, as many pundits predicted the Cats would again drop out of the finals series with two straight losses. The Eagles too had their own mid-week drama to deal with, as small forward Willie Rioli was handed a provisional suspension for interfering with a urine test administered by the Australian Sports Anti-doping Authority.
The Cats opened the game with a burst of goals. Their plan was clear. Run the ball through the middle of the ground, using handpassing and accurate kicking to catch the Eagle intercept markers [mark = catch] out of position. After nine minutes of play the Cats had booted three goals, keeping West Coast scoreless. Geelong's Captain Joel Selwood continually put his body on the line and midfielders Tim Kelly and Cameron Guthrie used their pace and ball skills to break the Eagles defensive lines. The Eagles abandoned their zone defense structure and played a man-on-man defense,
The Fremantle Dockers produced one of the shocks of the season by knocking over the competition's top team, the Geelong Cats. The Cats' quest for a home final is on shaky ground. For the Dockers, it keeps alive their slim chance of making the finals. The undermanned Dockers went into the game without a recognized tall forward, and instead gambled on pace and pressure around the ball. Perhaps this was a lesson learned from a hammering they received from the Western Bulldogs in their last game.
The game began as expected with the Cats getting straight down to business with Joel Selwood kicking to Tom Hawkins who took a contested mark (catch) at the top of the goal square, to open the Cat's account after just two minutes of play.
With six teams enjoying the week off due to the programmed mid-season bye rounds, there was less quantity but no lack of quality during a fascinating round of football on the weekend. The festivities kicked off on Thursday night with Port continuing its good form with another win, but Friday night was what the AFL public was waiting for, with the Sydney Swans – the only team to defeat the Eagles – facing the West Coast again, this time on their home deck at the SCG.
An energetic and committed St Kilda has stayed the course to force a drawn game against Geelong in Round 21. While players say they never enjoy a tied game, this one had enormous ramifications with the Cats’ Finals chances dealt a heavy blow. For American fans, the most newsworthy facet of the game was the impressive debut of James Holmes from Chicago and the first American-born and raised AFL player. (Read more about Holmes at http://www.afana.com/drupal5/news/2015/08/21/chicago_native_set_debut_saints-7811).
In an entertaining first quarter, St Kilda threw down the gauntlet and ran all over Geelong for the first ten minutes, kicking the first four goals before the Cats could take a breath.
Johnson Leung reporting for AFANA from Melbourne
Collingwood and Geelong have announced their starting teams for Saturday's AFL Grand Final. In the only change to either team, Pies midfielder Dayne Beams, who only had two possessions in last week's Preliminary Final win over Hawthorn, is out with groin soreness and has been replaced by Alex Fasolo. Pies ruckman Darren Jolly and key defender Ben Reid, who suffered upper-leg injuries in the match, have been retained in the team.