A slight detour from the script for this week’s edition of the Notebook, with a single-topic focus.
Geelong’s ball movement stood out to me on Friday night – not for any increase or decrease in speed, given it felt about the same to the eye test without any (publicly available) stats to confirm or deny that assumption.
It was more for the methods they took in figuring out the gaps which would be available to them, stretching the ground and then executing to perfection.
Of course before we get into explaining how Geelong did it, an obvious disclaimer that none of this would have been possible without the utter belting they handed out around the contest. But with that out of the way, on to the fun stuff…
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31 scoring shots from 55 inside 50s, Geelong’s highest score against Richmond since the Tigers became a legitimate contender and a whopping 20 marks inside forward 50. Not a bad night for the Cats.
What stood out, to me at least, was the directions Geelong took with their ball use and particularly their willingness to play ‘between the lines’. First, a slight detour to explain what that means for those who don’t follow soccer:
Most AFL teams want to force their opposition to play in straight lines. When this happens, they have two lines of defence – one closer to the ball, and one about a kick behind the play. In theory the line closer to the play prevents a team from moving the ball quickly, either forwards or sideways for a switch.
In turn, that means the line behind the play is set up for any long rushed kicks which come from pressure on the ball. To wildly oversimplify things, Richmond and nearly all teams defend this way, to varying degrees of success of course.
Getting ‘between the lines’ with clean possession is the prized space because if a team can get it there, it forces a defence to break their shape in response. So a base defence would roughly look like this when the ball is central:
You can see how tricky it is to find the space between the lines – an added degree of difficulty in the AFL is how teams often leave just enough space to tempt a kick in there, knowing if it’s even a slight miss, it’s an invitation to swarm, turn it over and go back the other way.
Geelong often parked players right in between the lines, and then importantly made sure to use those players when going forward – with one key change.
With Tom Hawkins, Jeremy Cameron and Esava Ratugolea providing goal threats of their own, wherever possible Geelong made a conscious effort to position the trio closer to home. Watch this passage of play as an example:
Note how they were able to find an option over the first line of defence relatively easily – the Tigers defenders in the vicinity if the kick was off target – and then the space between the initial target and the second line, so striking to see on the reverse angle.
By the Geelong forwards pulling back closer to goal, they were able to increase the area between the lines, which then gave their midfielders more room to work with, away from the normal suffocating Richmond pressure.
The base defence diagram trended towards the following for central possessions as the night wore on:
If you’ve missed any of the previous editions of Monday’s Notebook, you can catch up by clicking here and scrolling through the season so far:
The trusty switch may draw ire from those in the stands from time to time – “WHY AREN’T THEY GOING FORWARD?!” – but it’s a crucial part of any team’s offensive armoury.
When a team has the ball on one side of the ground, a defence sets up to keep it there and protect the centre as much as possible. To return to the trusty (roughly speaking) diagram, it’s something like this:
If the team in possession can identify the possibility for a switch and execute it with enough speed, they should be able to get a clean inside 50 from the other side of the ground.
It was another piece of Geelong’s ball movement which was firing on all cylinders after they were able to cleanly win possession.
Here, as the play unfolds, we can clearly see Cats loading up for the switch on the outer side with an enormous assist to the vision staying on a wide angle. One punching kick from Sam Mene(n)gola later, they’re on the other side and Isaac Smith goes inside 50:
The standard defence in the initial diagram has now morphed into scramble mode. The switch wipes out the initial line, while those still remaining behind the ball are doing their utmost to hustle over, which inevitably leads to gaps somewhere:
For those who have missed any North Melbourne recaps and ruminations from the last month, you can catch up here:
To finish off, the final part of Geelong’s ball movement which stood out was their willingness to look centrally when inside forward 50.
When the ball is in open play on one side of the 50, the default reaction from most players tends to be a shot on goal or a hack forward.
That’s exactly what a defence wants, backing themselves to apply enough pressure on the ball carrier to force a mistake. The general setup is something like so:
Geelong had a conscious effort to go inboard whenever possible – sometimes to their detriment, but more often than not yielding a positive result.
It happened too many times, with players waiting patiently for the pass, to be a coincidence. A brief selection of choices:
Combine all three methods and you have Geelong effectively stretching the ground both vertically and horizontally, making it incredibly tough to defend.