CHRIS Scott concedes his Geelong team wouldn't have beaten eventual premier Melbourne in last year's preliminary final even if a bug hadn't ripped through his team, but in his first expansive addressing of the matter says he remains confused that the game wasn't postponed.
At least eight Geelong players took varying degrees of illness into the match won by a rampant Melbourne by 83 points.
"The thing that has shocked me, on reflection, is how, at some point, given the whole environment where we were in, in a hub in Perth … I reckon it was about 1 o'clock game day, the game was 6 o'clock Perth or thereabouts, when I got the call that Lachie Henderson and Jeremy Cameron were crook as well, and that made it six, seven, eight players down, why it didn't really occur to me that the game really shouldn't go on, because we couldn't know for sure," Scott told AFL.com.au this week.
"I just trust the doctors implicitly with these things, but even in hindsight it has occurred to me why I didn't ask the question - how could I guarantee they weren't COVID issues?
"And fortunately they weren't. I didn't consider it until after the fact, and that is the part that surprises me, I must have had a lot on my mind because after the fact it would have been the logical question.
"I know now the conversations were being had behind closed doors. I think the question came from the AFL first. The last thing I want to say on this is this isn't us making excuses. The stronger point for me is it downplays the performance of the opposition and once you look back on it, it was a pretty dominant finals series."
Asked if the illnesses hadn’t swept his club if it could have made a second consecutive Grand Final, Scott said: "No. Not the way they played.
"What I will say is even if we didn't have any guys under the weather, I just don't think we were firing as much as you need to, to win a flag, from Jeremy Cameron having three hamstrings to Paddy (Dangerfield) still not being at his best. Brandan Parfitt was a close contact going into the previous week and couldn’t get out of his room and strangely enough did a hamstring in the first quarter.
"We just didn't have enough going our way."
In a wide-ranging interview on the eve of his 12th season as Geelong coach, Scott said:
- The build-up to the 2022 season reminded him of the feelings he had upon entering the coaching landscape in 2011, a season in which Geelong secured a third flag in five seasons;
- Joel Selwood would be captain for an 11th consecutive season and would be used differently on-field;
- The Cats had been reinvigorated by off-field personnel changes and indicated his club would embrace a different game plan to the precise and calculated ball movement ones of recent years; and
- Declared the Cats could win the 2022 premiership.
"Yep, I am very confident of that," Scott said when asked: 'Can you win the 2022 flag'?
"But if you ask the question how many teams can win it, it has never been a bigger group. I think that has been happening over a long period of time.
"The era of a couple of teams dominating year after year is gone for the moment. It probably took a little bit longer than the AFL thought it was going to take. There are a number of reasons for that.
"I can understand why there may be some question marks over us, and I am not here to argue with any of that, but internally, and one of the reasons I am really excited and am enjoying my job as much as any time in the last five or six years, is that I've got some optimism that the challenges can be overcome."
With off-field changes including the additions of Steve Hocking as chief executive, and the return of ex-Cats players Harry Taylor, Shannon Byrnes, James Kelly and Matthew Egan as assistant coaches, Scott said the 2022 season loomed as very different to the past two.
"It does (feel very different), it really does - the last two years have affected everyone in various ways, and may well contribute to how I am feeling and how the club is feeling, but going into this season reminds me a little bit of going into my first year," Scott said.
"I can draw the parallels to the enthusiasm I felt then … I must say my level of enthusiasm reminds me of how I felt back in 2011 which was a good time."
Scott on Joel Selwood: "We are both really optimistic about what he can do this year. He will be our captain. I think we have the best captain in the comp. I am biased obviously, but that makes it pretty simple for me.
"The only flow-on to that is how does that help you with succession? And my view with him and specific to circumstance, fast-tracking his change of role wouldn’t make our succession planning any easier. I think it would be detrimental to our group. There is that part.
"What will change, and where the evolution will come with him, compared to his absolute prime as captain, and this has been happening for a period of years already, we will do everything we can to encourage him to not feel like he needs to do everything, that he needs to think too far outside of his own game to carry the team along.
"So, a little bit of a narrower focus on his role and how he can maximise his strengths. It is part of my theory on leadership anyway. It is hard to be the best leader you can if your individual game is suffering."
The Cats have extraordinarily reached a preliminary final or better on seven occasions in Scott's 11 seasons in charge, including five of the past six years.
But a game-style change is being designed for 2022.
"One of the criticisms that I'm happy to talk on publicly is that we had identified internally that at our best we have been really positive with the way we have played and have found it easy to score, but at our worst, flicking the switch from being a good defensive team to being able to score a bit quicker hasn't been good enough," Scott said.
"All the things that flow into getting those outcomes are the things we are working on.
"To persist with a losing plan is akin to banging your head against a brick wall. But you've got to weigh that with the chances of that big shift working any better, and that is always impossible to work out."