Retiring Matthew Scarlett leaves the MCG. Photo: Getty Images
ANDREW Mackie had plenty of words to describe what happened to Geelong in Saturday night's elimination final. ''Disappointing'' and ''shattering'' were two that came straight to mind, but the defender saw enough this season to feel certain that the Cats will not only challenge again next year but be a premiership contender for many more to come.
''No doubt. I know it's easy to say, but I really think we're in good shape,'' said Mackie, after the Cats' 16-point loss to Fremantle ended a run that had taken them to a preliminary final every year since 2007 and winning three flags along the way.
''We're going to have another couple of new recruits next year. Young Daniel Menzel's going to find his way off another knee reconstruction, Nathan Vardy's played a couple of games back and we've got some great players who have been taught the right way.
''We're going to be thereabouts again. No side that we play for in this jumper will ever rebuild, or anything like that. I feel we've got a lot of talent.''
Matthew Scarlett is the first player Geelong must replace in its line-up. The champion defender waved a low-key goodbye to supporters as he led the Cats off the ground on Saturday night, after his 284th and final game.
Paul Chapman has been in contract negotiations for much of the year and should play again, while Shannon Byrnes appears destined for Melbourne as a free agent. David Wojcinski, soon to turn 32, remains uncontracted after playing only four games this season.
While Corey Enright, Joel Corey and James Podsiadly are all in their 30s, the retirements last year of Cameron Ling, Cam Mooney, Brad Ottens and Darren Milburn left the Cats with quite a young list. It's one they are looking to boost via trading, with Gold Coast onballer Josh Caddy a target and they have a remaining Gary Ablett compensation pick up their sleeve.
The club used 10 first-gamers this year, ranging from 29-year-old ruckman Orren Stephenson to teenagers Billie Smedts, Jordan Murdoch and Josh Walker and rookies Jesse Stringer and Jonathan Simpkin.
While none have entrenched themselves in the senior line-up like Menzel, Mitch Duncan and Allen Christensen did last season, coach Chris Scott said the decision to blood so many newcomers had left the club better placed to handle what would be the ''incredibly difficult'' challenge of making next year's finals series.
''We certainly didn't put all our eggs into the 2011 basket and if we didn't do it then, we certainly didn't do it in the 2012 season,'' Scott said. ''We think, given the things we've tried to do to rejuvenate our list and give some experience to younger players, on a lot of fronts it's been a positive season.
''Still to say, with a straight face, that we thought our best footy was good enough to test anyone I think leaves us in a pretty good position.
''We certainly didn't plan for 10 debutants. I would have thought that exceeded our expectations, and the performance of some of those individuals probably exceeded our expectations,'' Scott said.
''I think the way we were able to integrate those players into the team was a little bit slow at times. Last year we had guys like Duncan and Menzel and Vardy and Christensen come in and it was quite seamless.
''I think we had a few more challenges blending the youth and experience this year and that's probably based on the numbers, but we're not going to commit ourselves to throwing everything into one season at the expense of the future. I think the last 24 months has given us a better chance to be very competitive in 2013, '14, '15.''