IT MUST still be the main source of nightmares in Geelong.

The memories of Richmond spearhead Tom Lynch running rampage in front of a packed MCG as a commanding lead and a spot in the 2019 Grand Final slipped from the club's grasp.

LADDER PREDICTOR Can your team make the eight?

Scary enough yet? Well, those nightmares wouldn't end there.

Equally as haunting must be the thought of Mark Blicavs – perhaps the only Cats defender capable of quelling Lynch's influence in such form – stationed on a wing at the time, unable to do anything to stop the mayhem being caused nearby.

06:47 Mins
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Highlights: Richmond v Geelong

The Tigers and Cats clash in the second preliminary final

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The regret of Geelong's painful preliminary final defeat last season, masterminded by Lynch's brilliance on the big stage, still lingers. The Richmond forward kicked five goals from 19 disposals and 10 marks that night, while he also had 12 score involvements and took four contested grabs to inspire his side's thrilling 40-point second-half turnaround.

The question of why Blicavs, Geelong's best defensive stopper, wasn't manning Lynch – or why he wasn't sent to him immediately after he'd put a couple of goals on the board – is still fiercely debated.

ROUNDS 17-18 Check out the full fixture

The beauty of Blicavs is his versatility. Not many players have won two best and fairests at a champion club in two completely different positions, as he has done – claiming the 2015 honour as a ruckman and the 2018 prize as a key defender. At 198cm and 100kgs, but with the tank of an endurance athlete, he can do it all.

But with that beauty comes a headache, as Chris Scott found out on preliminary final night last season. Maximise his value in one position, and get lambasted for losing his worth in another. In a way, Scott was damned if he did play Blicavs in defence and damned if he didn't.

01:39 Mins
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Match Previews R17: Geelong v Richmond

Sportsbet's Nathan Brown and Michael Wall preview the game between the Cats and the Tigers at Metricon Stadium

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It's an issue the Cats coach toiled with right throughout the build-up to September, and throughout the club's finals campaign, last year. Blicavs was played in the ruck in round 21 and round 22, in the backline in round 23, in the ruck in the qualifying final, then on a wing in the semi-final and in the preliminary final.

But forget about how the Blicavs dilemma impacted the Cats last year.

As both Geelong and Richmond prepare to renew hostilities at Metricon Stadium on Friday night, and as the Cats prepare for another finals campaign where a premiership tilt is firmly on the agenda, the question of where best to use Blicavs remains as season-defining now as it was 12 months ago.

IN DEFENCE?

Blicavs in defence 2019-2020

Per 100 mins avg.

Club Rank (out of 10)

Ranking points

75.5

#2

Disposals

11.9

#7

Intercept Possessions

5.3

#2

Intercept Marks

1.8

#1

Tackles

2.3

#1

1v1 loss rate %

21.7%

#3


In the 40 games Geelong has played since the start of the 2019 season, Blicavs has split his time between three incredibly different positions. Champion Data logs him playing 26 of those games primarily as a key defender, eight games primarily on a wing and six games primarily in the ruck.

Break that down into his minutes on the field and Blicavs is spending 68.2 percent of his time as a key defender, 16.5 percent of his time as a ruckman and 13.5 percent of his time as a wingman.

There is a good reason why Blicavs has been used mainly as a key defender throughout this period. And that's because he is undoubtedly one of, if not Geelong's best down back.

Champion Data notes that Blicavs ranks No.1 among the club's 10 key defenders to have played during those 40 games for intercept marks and tackles, No.2 for intercept possessions and ranking points, and No.3 for one-on-one loss rate percentage.

In many of those categories Blicavs out-ranks Harry Taylor and Jake Kolodjashnij, who spent 71 and 25 minutes respectively on Lynch during last year's preliminary final defeat. Jack Henry, Mark O'Connor and Tom Stewart shared the other 15 minutes.

In recent weeks, Blicavs has been moved out of his key defensive post and has returned to a combination of playing either in the ruck or on a wing. The return of the experienced Lachie Henderson in round eight to accompany Taylor, Kolodjashnij and others in defence has played a large part in this change of position.

Indeed, it's working much better than it did for last year's preliminary final, where the return of Henderson as a negating forward to play on Richmond defender Dylan Grimes did little to aid what was happening at the other end of the field.

This time around, Henderson's inclusion has helped Taylor and the defence look more settled. But is the more pertinent move of taking Blicavs out of the backline working, both for him and the Cats?

ON A WING?

Blicavs on the wing 2019-2020

Per 100 mins avg.

Club Rank (out of 7)

Ranking points

92.3

#3

Disposals

14.0

#7

Contested Possessions

8.7

#3

Uncontested Possessions

5.5

#7

Clearances

3.0

#2

Tackles

3.4

#3


It's where Scott wanted Blicavs in last year's preliminary final, and it appears where Scott wants Blicavs heading into Friday night's clash against Richmond.

But whether or not it's where Scott wants Blicavs during the club's upcoming finals campaign is uncertain. The stats behind his effectiveness on a wing makes it all the more difficult to tell whether it's where he is best suited, either.

The value of placing Blicavs on a wing stems from his tank. By this stage of the 29-year-old's career, you would have to be living under a rock if you didn't know that he used to be an elite steeplechase runner before pursuing an AFL career.

But when deployed on a wing, Blicavs struggles in the areas you would want your wingmen to excel. Of the seven Cats players to have featured in this role over the last 40 games, Champion Data notes that he ranks last in disposals and uncontested possessions.

He wins his own footy on a wing, averaging 8.7 contested possessions and three clearances per 100 minutes in the position, but there is no clear area where Blicavs is Geelong's best wingman.

That is vastly different to his numbers in defence, where Blicavs is clearly playing a more pivotal role.

And yet, it's where it looks as though Blicavs will stay for this year's finals series. Taken out of the backline to accommodate for Henderson's inclusion, he has played either in the ruck or on the wing since round eight.

But even when Rhys Stanley was lost to a groin injury before last Sunday's victory over Essendon, Blicavs stayed on a wing. Instead, Stanley's replacement in Josh Jenkins became the side's main ruck option.

Was that done to accommodate keeping Blicavs on a wing long-term? Perhaps, but time will tell on that front.

IN THE RUCK?

Blicavs in the Ruck 2019-2020

Per 100 mins avg.

Club Rank (out of 4)

Ranking points

109.8

#1

Disposals

14.5

#1

Contested Possessions

8.3

#2

Clearances

4.4

#2

Hitout win %

38.4%

#3

Hitout-to-advantage win %

10.1%

#3


Yes, Geelong has struggled to find its main man in the ruck.

Stanley, Darcy Fort, Esava Ratugolea and Blicavs have all had their chances over the last 40 games, without any becoming the consistent and reliable No.1 choice.

But while Blicavs might be an OK pinch-hit option, there's not much evidence to suggest he should be called upon as the go-to guy for more than the six games where he has already fulfilled that role since the start of 2019.

The value of putting Blicavs in the ruck is his ability to play as an extra midfielder, with the athleticism and fitness he displays on a wing easily translating to a more inside role.

Indeed, Champion Data notes that he averages the most disposals of any of the aforementioned names when played as a ruckman. He also ranks No.2 for contested ball and clearances.

But his ruck craft is by no means the strongest of Geelong's options, with Blicavs ranking third out of the club's four ruckmen for hitout win percentage and hitout-to-advantage win percentage during this time.

In a way, it's all emblematic of the issues Geelong faces with Blicavs going forward. His ability and his versatility are so strong in so many areas that you're always going to benefit from him in a certain way when played in a certain position.

On the flip side though, as the Cats found out on preliminary final night last season, it will also always mean you're bound to lose his valuable strengths elsewhere.

Unfortunately for Scott and Geelong, there is only one Mark Blicavs – not three.

So, on Friday night and during the club's upcoming finals campaign, the Cats will just have to close their eyes and hope the opposition forward, wingman or ruckman not manned by their dual best and fairest winner doesn't win his side the game … as Lynch did last year.

Otherwise, that 2019 nightmare might become a reality once again.