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Steve Johnson expects young Cats to lead the way

Cats debutant Jackson Thurlow in action during the 2013 AFL round 07 match between the Geelong Cats and the Essendon Bombers at Etihad Stadium, Melbourne on May 10, 2013. (Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Media)
Steve Johnson expects Jackson Thurlow to step up in 2014
We probably need to stop referring to them as young players. They're actually the core group of our side
GEELONG'S talented young players are no longer just the future, they are the here and now, star midfielder Steve Johnson says.
 
The Cats experienced a changing of the guard during the off-season, with premiership stars Paul Chapman (Essendon), Josh Hunt (Greater Western Sydney), James Podsiadly (Adelaide) and Joel Corey (retired) all moving on.
 
That follows the retirements of Matthew Scarlett, Darren Milburn and David Wojcinski in preceding years.
 
Geelong has meticulously planned for the loss of its experienced personnel, fast-tracking the development of youth with a well-resourced development program and exposing a select few to senior football.
 
With that in mind, Johnson trusts that the club's emerging players can put the Cats in premiership contention once again this season.
 
"We probably need to stop referring to them as young players. They're actually the core group of our side," Johnson told AFL.com.au.
 
"They're the ones that have got to step up and take ownership over the side and drive the standards of the team.
 
"We set no limitations on how far we can go again this season."
 
Johnson nominated Lincoln McCarthy and Jackson Thurlow as the young Cats most likely to take the next step in 2014.
 
McCarthy, who played his solitary AFL game in 2012, has had a frustrating few years, with a serious foot injury preventing him from developing any continuity in his football. The 20-year-old is clever around goal and strong over the ball in traffic.
 
Thurlow – the Cats' 2012 first-round draft pick (No. 16 overall) – showed some impressive signs last year, impressing with his confidence to attack the ball in the air and an ability to hit targets.
 
Both players, among with a number of other young Cats, will be crucial as Geelong aims to continue its dynasty, according to Johnson. 
 
"There were players coming in that didn't get much of an opportunity at AFL level last year, that certainly have the potential to be good AFL players," the three-time premiership Cat said.
 
"I'm sure that when they get the opportunity to play in the AFL, they'll be ready and they'll certainly improve our side. There's quite a lot of guys with plenty of ability that our supporters probably haven't even seen yet."