Leading into Saturday’s Grand Final, much of the chat about Geelong had centred on their ability to defend, particularly off turnover. It was with good reason too, given how frugal the team setup had been.
But when, with 3:20 remaining in the first quarter, Brad Close wobbled through Geelong’s sixth goal for a 32-point lead, the match was basically done and dusted – and decided through a different route.
Four of Geelong’s six first quarter goals came from … clearances, with one of the two turnover goals also off the back of a clean stoppage win in the previous phase.
The rout continued all day, Geelong’s 65 points from stoppage their highest single-game total of 2022. Of their 33 clearances, the Cats retained possession from all but one, per the AFL Match Centre.
Today we’ll focus purely on the first quarter stoppages, which is where the game was decided.
The last match analysis piece of the year. Very disappointing.
From here until the end of the free agency and trade period, focus moves to the future. Wednesday (Sydney) and Thursday (Geelong) will bring the finish of the Look Back/Look Ahead series.
Then from Friday, every player move will have its own standalone piece. As it stands the plan is to post each day’s pieces at 7pm EST, but that may change depending on the quantity and/or quality of transactions.
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Nearly straight away, alarm bells started ringing. It was clear Geelong wanted to bully Tom Hickey at every opportunity around the ground, specifically using the ruck contest as an opportunity to take territory.
With the way Geelong set up behind the ball, dropping Rhys Stanley back to create a spare, it often means the opposition has an extra player at stoppage. Therefore, if we use some basic probability, when the ball hits the ground we’d assume Sydney have an advantage.
An easy way to negate that? Get rid of the ruckman and grab it out of the air:
Fast forward a few minutes, and it’s time for a throw-in about 20 metres out from Geelong’s goal, with Tom Hawkins in the ruck.
For years (and years and years), Geelong have largely run one of two plays in this situation. Either:
a) Hawkins taps it to open space. In that case it’s the sweeping wing’s responsibility to cover.
b) Hawkins pushes the ruck out himself, grabs it and snaps. In that case – as it was on Saturday – it usually falls to his regular defensive minder – now an extra player at the stoppage – to be in the vicinity to stop it.
Nothing is new in either of those situations. The first part was covered through Justin McInerney. The second part … not so much.
Posts continue to come thick and fast. If you’ve missed anything recently, here are links to catch up:
Friday 23rd: Look Back/Ahead: Collingwood
Wednesday 21st: Look Back/Ahead: Brisbane
Tuesday 20th: Look Back/Ahead: Fremantle
Monday 19th: Look Back/Ahead: Melbourne
Sunday 18th: Sydney v Collingwood: The last minute
Flash forward a few minutes, and a similar situation presented itself, albeit a little further out from home.
With more numbers closer to the drop, in theory Sydney were better prepared to stop Hawkins.
But again it’s evident Hawkins sees the dangerous space – and how to execute – long before the Swans are awake to what’s happening.
Again Hawkins’ usual opponent is caught in a place where he can’t impact, which is the added benefit of him rucking. Not only does it give the other ruck an opponent he may only have for five or six contests, it also puts the key defender into a position they’re unfamiliar with.
Geelong’s next two goals came from back-to-back centre bounces.
As the ABC covered during the week, Mark Blicavs’ midfield shift has largely come with a defensive focus.
On Saturday it was time to showcase the offensive capabilities in that move. Many a word has been spilled about Blicavs’ versatility, and there’s no need to pore over all that again.
Instead, let’s roll this 25-second clip from the centre bounce to Blicavs’ mark.
First we see Blicavs neutralise Luke Parker, then once he sees Geelong with possession he rolls forward to provide a threat.
Geelong, moving with an aggression that would have made 2021 Chris Scott confused, keep Sydney’s defence constantly shifting, trying to keep up.
All the while, keep an eye on Blicavs away from the play. He’s always in a threatening position, taking Parker to a place he doesn’t want to be. Although to be fair, how many centre square midfielders would be capable of going back inside defensive 50 and taking care of Blicavs?
Eventually it’s Dangerfield who finds Blicavs. A showcase of Geelong’s improvement in 2022, both in roles and style.
The Look Back/Look Ahead series analyses every team’s list in-depth and picks out a key question for their off-season and 2023. It’ll be a little harder to pick out a key question for Sydney and Geelong, but, nevertheless.
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For the fourth goal, I want to focus on setups and familiarity.
As the ball spills from the bounce, it’s clear Geelong’s chance of possession rests on Patrick Dangerfield.
Instantly Geelong’s remaining centre bounce attendees snap into a perfect formation.
Blicavs is in the immediate vicinity, Joel Selwood is behind the line as a handball option, and Stanley is at the back as the sweeper. It works both defensively and offensively:
Defence: Blicavs to apply pressure if Dangerfield coughs it up, Selwood as the first line of protection, Stanley as the sweeper/last line
Offence: Blicavs as a rushed option, Selwood as the safe immediate option, Stanley with the most time for a clearance
Of course it’s the offensive option which comes into play while Sydney are still finding their bearings. After the Stanley kick Geelong are the beneficiaries of a couple lucky bounces, but they put themselves into a position to benefit because of what happened in the centre.
This final example actually led to a behind rather than a goal, but from the kick in Sydney turned it over and Close goaled, so let’s call it a seven point play.
Earlier I mentioned how Hawkins in the ruck often leads to his defensive opponent forced to play as the extra at a stoppage.
It happens again to Tom McCartin at this boundary throw-in, and Sydney are in a state of flux – to say the least.
They’re at sixes and sevens with their positioning, committing way too many players to the ball and allowing Geelong to set up a shell around the outside…
…and in the confusion Selwood is able to stroll into space and create an overlap with Tyson Stengle.
One team was organised and the other wasn’t. It was ultimately the difference in a first quarter that decided the game.
Geelong were clearly the best team in the competition from the halfway point of 2022, and it was a well-deserved premiership.
Time will tell how replicable their approach is for other teams, or even which elements they try to copy. Although history is not kind to those who lose Grand Finals by a heavy margin, it shouldn’t send Sydney into a spiral given their list profile.
And now the countdown begins until I can write more match analysis pieces. Six months to go.