In the lead up to the 2019 finals series, I’ll be highlighting each team’s style of play. How they move the ball, how they defend, their strengths, weaknesses, and much more. And yes, just to get the obvious out of the way; this is primarily a North Melbourne site – I have nowhere else to put this and it doesn’t affect the analysis. Today it’s a focus on Geelong.
When was the last time a minor premier had such pessimism surrounding them heading into September?
11-1 before the mid-season bye gave way to 5-5 after it, and most importantly, a 1-5 record away from Geelong.
There are reasons for the great start, reasons for the spluttering finish, and what’s left to do is figure out which half of the season is closer to Geelong’s capabilities.
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The difficulties in analysing Geelong
If there was to be an AFL definition of ‘comparing apples to oranges’, it’s comparing games in Geelong to games at any other venue.
The narrow dimensions of GMHBA Stadium make for a completely different game to what we’ll see in September at the MCG. There is a 22-metre difference in width between the two grounds; even five to 10 makes for a noticeable change in the flow of a game, so 22 is enormous.
It means when opposition teams play in Geelong once a year, they’re confronted with unfamiliar surroundings, conditions and dimensions. It’s a 1-2-3 combo unique to the Cattery.
So much of today’s football is about control. Keep possession and spread the defence to move up the field.
Of course – and you know where I’m going here – it’s next to impossible to spread a defence when the ground is so narrow. The less width there is, the more it becomes straight line football.
Straight line football is predictable football, this type of predictable football is easy to defend against, and the result is a Cats outfit set up to destroy teams.
But all the things opponents can’t do in Geelong, they can do everywhere else. It raises the question – which Geelong performances hold more weight? The ones at home, or those everywhere else?
|Geelong||Games in Geelong (9)||Games away from Geelong (13)|
|Total||AFL rank||Total||AFL rank|
|Contested possession differential||+167||2nd||+72||8th|
|Uncontested possession differential||+125||8th||-43||10th|
|Scores conceded per inside 50||38.50%||1st||42.81%||9th|
|*Rank signifies where that number would sit over a full season|
Regardless of where Geelong play, they’re a good side. But there’s a difference between ‘good’ and ‘historically elite’, which is what the Cats are at GMHBA Stadium.
I’d imagine there are a handful of fancy stats which could better illustrate the difference between performance at venues, but alas…
Geelong’s conservative style
Though the word conservative usually brings a negative connotation, it’s important to emphasise that’s not always a bad thing.
No side has conceded fewer points in 2019 than Geelong’s 1462, and indeed you have to go back 10 years to find a more miserly defensive outfit in the home and away season.
It’s defence-first for the Cats, aimed at grinding an opposition down before taking advantage going the other way.
If a team can’t use the ball well against Geelong, there’s almost no point turning up. They won’t put the scoreboard pressure on the Cats to force them to stray from their bread and butter. This is what Geelong force teams into when they’re defending well around the ball, and set up soundly behind it.
However, where the equation swings too far is when Geelong allow that conservatism to infect their ball use.
As strange as it is to highlight a game they won by 55 points, a look at the game against North in Round 21 is instructive when focusing on the bigger picture of their ball use.
On that evening, Geelong had a remarkable dominance in every area of the field. They dominated the stoppages (+20 clearances), contested ball (+24), uncontested ball (+25), and had 61 inside 50s.
Yet their defensive setup to happily mop up North’s rushed forward movements – as shown in those clips above – was a mindset they couldn’t break out of when in possession themselves.
If you missed yesterday’s spiel on West Coast, you can find it at the below link. The dossiers for the remaining teams will be published one a day:
The Cats only managed nine goals for the evening and just one shot from within 25 metres – that one from a mark which shouldn’t have been paid. If any other top five team had that level of domination, the night would have ended with 100+ points on the scoreboard.
The million-dollar question as it pertains to Geelong’s season is if they can attack enough to put a winning score up, or whether their conservative style won’t allow them to put a break on the top-tier sides when they have momentum.
The ups and downs of Geelong’s season
Much of Geelong’s early season success stemmed from brutal efficiency in their forward 50.
They were comfortably ranked first for goals per inside 50, and per Stats Insider’s excellent shot charting tool, we can see that up until the bye Geelong were outperforming their expected score by a wide margin.
|Geelong, Round 1-12||Total||AFL rank|
|Goals per inside 50||29.03%||1st|
|Difference over expected score||+139.1 points||1st|
After the bye, everything changed. Like the cliff hanger game on The Price Is Right, what had been rising and rising suddenly went straight down.
|Geelong, Round 14-23||Total||AFL rank|
|Goals per inside 50||21.29%||13th|
|Difference over expected score||-47.9 points||17th|
The key change has been where Geelong are getting their scoring shots from. Once again via Stats Insider, we can see teams have been defending the Cats better and forcing them to take more shots from distance.
Not only have they been taking more shots from distance, their accuracy from all areas has dipped significantly. From a pure numbers point of view, it suggests the first half of the season was unsustainable.
(L) Geelong’s shot distance from Round 1-12
|Round 1-12||Round 14-23|
A 10-match sample size is large enough to wonder whether sides have figured Geelong out, and more importantly if the Cats have a counter.
If Geelong don’t, they’ll be relying on winning low-scoring grinds to progress through September. It’s definitely doable, but it means there’s next to no margin for error.