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Stats files: The forward woes that killed the Cats

Peter Ryan  September 12, 2017 7:01 AM

AFL 2017 Second Qualifying Final - Geelong v Richmond

Geelong paid the price for a season of uncertainty in front of the sticks

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GEELONG finally paid a price on Friday night for not having a settled forward structure in 2017.

The Cats' 5.10 (40) was their lowest score in a final since 1914.

The decision to drop Daniel Menzel didn't work but there was much more behind the low score than that call.

The Cats didn't help themselves with a season-high 37 clangers, a total only exceeded in 2017 by Port Adelaide in round 19, and just 38 inside 50s (the Cats' lowest total for the season).

For the 19th time this season the Cats entered a game missing at least one goalkicker from the previous week, something the more settled top of the table Adelaide has only endured nine times this season. 

Injuries to small forwards Nakia Cockatoo, Lincoln McCarthy and Cory Gregson have been bad luck, while swinging Harry Taylor back and forward has caused as many problems as its solved with the defender kicking goals in just nine games for a season total of 22.

Untimely, suspensions and lack of certainty around Menzel and second-year player Wylie Buzza has made the Cats' unstable in that area of the game.

Against the Tigers, Tom Hawkins, Taylor, James Parsons, Brandan Parfitt and Jordan Murdoch played up forward with the Cats also hoping Patrick Dangerfield could have some influence in front of goals. 

Nothing went right on the night, with even the most dire of forecasts failing to predict such a sleepy start from the Cats.

In blunt terms, the Geelong defence looked shellshocked early against Richmond, unable to win one-on-ones and not getting enough support from the midfield.

With that drive missing and the ball locked in their back half, the Cats' forwards lost their structure and Hawkins didn't know at times whether to hit up to the ball or run deep inside 50.

Tom Hawkins - caught in the middle as the Cats' forward structure disintegrated on Friday night. Picture: AFL Photos

Such sluggish starts have become a problem at Geelong with the Cats winning just 10 first quarters this season (they have won each game they have led at quarter-time) and they have not scored a goal in the opening quarter of their past two finals. 

Geelong has kicked two goals or fewer in 10 opening quarters this season as it battles to find an avenue to goal and is the fourth-lowest scoring team in the opening 10 minutes of games this year.

The Swans, by contrast, are the second best starting team in the AFL.

The challenge for the Cats is to put that reality behind them and select a mix that connects the forwards and midfield better against Sydney.

That might mean playing Sam Menegola and Steve Motlop as midfielders rather than pushing up to stoppages as a high forward and running Murdoch off a wing to open the forward line up.

Dangerfield could spend more time forward to create some chaos and throw the Swans off their game. 

Whatever the plan, they need to be as united as they have ever been when they take the field against the Swans because anything else will be inviting disaster.  

Goalkickers thin on the ground

There were just 56 goalkickers in week one of the finals, the lowest total in the opening four games since 2003 – when 56 players also kicked goals in the first week of finals.

Lance Franklin's four-goal tally was the biggest from an individual, with the superstar Swan kicking all four majors in the second quarter of the elimination final against Essendon. 

History against the Cats

Qualifying finals have been played in various forms since 1972 but only one team has recovered from a margin of 51 points or more – as Geelong was beaten by on Friday night – to make the Grand Final.

That was the Cats in 1989 when they lost the qualifying final to Essendon by 76 points, before fighting back to win their next two games to make the Grand Final.

The Geelong team that year included departing director of football, Steve Hocking, who might draw on that memory to remind the club that all is not lost. 

The Cats can find some positives too as two of the past four qualifying final losers – Sydney and Hawthorn – have bounced back from losses to make the Grand Final that season.

Damien Hardwick, you're off the list 

Bachar Houli embraces Hardwick after Friday night's landmark win. Picture: AFL Photos
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The Tiger man no longer holds the record for the most games as coach without winning a final, having broken the duck in his 180th game.

It puts the record back in the hands of Bob McCaskill, who coached North Melbourne and Hawthorn in 138 games without a finals win.

The Tigers' stunning Friday night final quarter of 7.3 (45) against Geelong, which almost doubled their three-quarter time score of 46, was Richmond’s greatest fourth quarter in a final since 8.4 (52) in the 1980 Grand Final.

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