Brandan Parfitt of the Cats celebrates a goal during the round six match between Brisbane and Geelong at The Gabba, April 20, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

HOW DO they do it?

Geelong is back on top of the ladder – defying football gravity once more – after the lengthy spell of (say it under your breath) one season out of the finals.

With a 6-0 start to 2024 and with seven games to come at GMHBA Stadium, the Cats are in a very strong position to lock away a top-four berth.

If the Cats were a Hollywood blockbuster, they'd surely be The Terminator – the unkillable force that finds different ways to adapt, different methods to pounce, different means to attack. They will, seemingly, always be back.


Again it has been coach Chris Scott and his football department's capacity to change that has Geelong in premiership contention after its post-2022 premiership reset last year.

Defensively the Cats have made the biggest jump to find themselves back in premiership contention, after falling out of the finals for just the second time in Scott's 14-year reign last season.

Champion Data shows them ranked first this season for points against, points against from turnover and scores against per inside-50 percentage. Not only are they stopping their opponents from the biggest score source in turnover, but once they get it inside-50 Geelong's opposition still can't get through its organised defence. They are also second for goals against per inside-50 percentage.


Last season the Cats were seventh for points against, 10th for points against from turnover and 16th for scores and goals against per inside-50 entry.

Geelong's pressure index has clearly been a focus, too, with the Cats ranked No.1 in the AFL for tackles (an average of 69 a game) and third for pressure rating (averaging 187 on the scale).

Scott's spinning of the magnets has also reenergised a group that was quiet in last year's off-season, having dominated the previous trade period in 2022 when they brought in Tanner Bruhn, Ollie Henry, Jack Bowes and a top-10 pick, which became Jhye Clark.

Jhye Clark breaks away from James Worpel during the round three match between Hawthorn and Geelong at the MCG, April 1, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

The natural development of Bruhn and Clark as midfielders and Henry's continued excitement in the forward half have been central to the renewal on the run, while Bowes has also been one of a number of positional switches to succeed.

Last season in his first year at the Cats the former Sun spent 71 per cent of his time as a defender. This year he has flipped that to be 83 per cent in the midfield, with a better understanding of the Geelong system also important in his step up.


The recently re-signed Max Holmes' move to defence has worked – his dashing run off half-back last week against Brisbane breaking open an otherwise still game. Holmes played 95 per cent of his game time as a midfielder last year – it's at 28 per cent this year and 72 per cent in defence.

Mark O'Connor's move into the midfield from defence – 63 per cent defence last year to 79 per cent midfield this season – has seen Tom Atkins flip to the back half, with the reliable Cat now splitting his time nearly in half between defence and the midfield. Last year, Atkins was a permanent midfielder, spending 96 per cent of his game time in the Cats' engine room.

Tom Atkins in action during the round six match between Brisbane and Geelong at the Gabba on April 20, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Reinvention has come in many forms, but it is the Cats' coaching and football department's ability to find the new in the old that has also sparked another tilt.

Geelong has never viewed age as a barrier to new frontiers – its Grand Final team two years ago was the oldest premiership team in history and had an average experience of 146 games per player across the season – and it has looked to its veterans to expand their skillsets too.

Champion forward Jeremy Cameron's shift further up the ground, although marginal, has paid dividends for the forward group, with Cameron spending nine per cent of his game time in the midfield this year compared to one per cent last season.


Mark Blicavs has also been sent more to the wing, where he's played about 40 per cent of this season, as the Cats continue to blood young ruckman Toby Conway alongside Rhys Stanley. Last year Blicavs spent six per cent of his time on the wing, a significant switch.

This season Geelong is also reaping the benefits of not rushing its younger players whilst also doing the same for its next group. Ollie Dempsey has been a three-year overnight sensation, showing flickers of his talents at VFL level (enough to be a trade target for several clubs across the past two years) with tastes of the top level. In 2024, he has been consistent as a half-forward in their mix. 


Zach Guthrie, a premiership player in 2022 and now a half-back weapon, is testament to the no-rush policy after taking time to break into the team at the start of his career.

Connor O'Sullivan is at the start of that process, having been brought into the side to make his debut in round five against North Melbourne, and they are taking a patient approach with fellow tall Shannon Neale.

Perpetual contending relies on a number of factors being tied together brilliantly – the strands are connecting so far this season at the Cats.