Patrick Dangerfield in action during the AAMI Community Series match between Geelong and Essendon at GMHBA Stadium on March 1, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

GEELONG is at a critical juncture.

Its dual spearhead combination of Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron is the envy of the competition, and five-time All-Australian Tom Stewart – who turns 31 on Friday - is set to patrol the backline for a few more years to come.

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There are enough weapons at either end of the field to make opponents nervous, but it could all come crashing down very quickly after so many years at the top. 

The defining factor for Geelong's season is likely to be its midfield, but the preferred make-up is still unclear just days before the club's season-opener against St Kilda.

Geelong's clearance numbers took a hit last year after the premiership year of 2022, dropping from ninth to 13th in average clearances after the retirement of captain Joel Selwood and a toe injury restricted reigning best and fairest Cam Guthrie to six games.

Guthrie has once again been struck by injury, his quad tendon giving way on his first kick in a practice match, and he won't be seen until at least round seven.


Over summer, the Cats had publicly mused about a potential move of Stewart to the midfield, but that (so far) appears to be a bit of furphy. 

"We're still exploring a bit. We're a team where we're going to have to bank on numbers going through, and weight of numbers," assistant coach Steven King said.

"We've got some unique athletes who can do that. To have a Mark Blicavs who can play wing, ruck and onball, that's an asset for us to have. 

"We're still finding what that best mix looks like, and to be honest, that's going to be pretty fluid throughout the year. 

"All I know is games never go the way you want, you want to have different mixes available at certain times and against certain opponents. We'll be ready to have that at arm's length when we're ready."

The senior leaders

Of course, there's always captain Patrick Dangerfield, who'll lead from the front and has the potential to turn a game on its head. Tom Atkins will be looking to rebound after a quieter 2023, and his physicality is key to Geelong's contest work. The ever-versatile Mitch Duncan spent a bit of time in the middle in the practice match against Essendon, but given he's turning 33 this year, isn't a long-term option. Blicavs is the same age, and just as King said, is just as likely to be seen contesting a ruck battle, lining up on the wing or in a key defensive job instead of playing a pure inside role.

Mark Blicavs handballs during a Geelong training session at GMHBA Stadium on March 6, 2024. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

Next gen

Two players caught the eye in the practice match against Essendon – Jhye Clark and Max Holmes. The latter is arguably more effective for Geelong at half-back or on the wing, where few can match his pace. His value as an outside player has increased after the retirement of Isaac Smith, who was a strong performer in his final year. Clark missed the back half of his debut season with a foot injury, but the top-10 pick adds some speed and explosiveness to the Cats' midfield mix. Tanner Bruhn is growing in confidence after stringing together 19 games last year, but it would be unfair to rely on the youngster to provide the bulk of midfield drive. Jack Bowes has the potential to increase his midfield minutes, but is more commonly found on the flanks. 

Other options

In a perfect world, Brandan Parfitt should be leading this next generation of midfielders, but his consistency has been an issue in the past, and he was named an emergency for the recent practice match – not even making the extended interchange bench of eight. There's also two Irishmen who may have the potential to roll through the middle. Mark O'Connor has done so in the past, but his versatility often sees his position dictated by the opposition. Oisin Mullin is much less experienced than O'Connor – 2024 being just his second season playing the sport – but his athletic traits suggest he could be a midfield option in years to come.

Brandan Parfitt and Oisin Mullin during Geelong's official team photo day at GMHBA Stadium on February 6, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Geelong's top centre bounce attendances in 2023

  • Tom Atkins (467, 23 games)
  • Mark Blicavs (388 inclusive of ruck role, 19 games)
  • Patrick Dangerfield (337, 18 games)
  • Tanner Bruhn (262, 19 games)
  • Max Holmes (172, 21 games)
  • Cam Guthrie (107, six games)
  • Mark O'Connor (108, 22 games)
  • Brandan Parfitt (105, nine games)
  • Jack Bowes (40, 17 games)
  • Mitch Duncan (30, 16 games)