JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

Four amigos who could carry the Cats all the way

Date

Chief sports columnist and associate editor with The Age

View more articles from Greg Baum

Email Greg

X-factor: Travis Varcoe, centre, celebrates a goal with Allen Christensen, left, and Steven Motlop. Photo: Getty Images

X-factor: Travis Varcoe, centre, celebrates a goal with Allen Christensen, left, and Steven Motlop. Photo: Getty Images

A senior figure at Geelong, watching as the Cats demolished Collingwood in a practice game this year, thought to himself that he had never seen such slick movement of the ball, in or out of season, and left certain the Cats would again be in the mix for the premiership this year.

Central to that blinding display was Geelong's indigenous quartet, Travis Varcoe, Mathew Stokes, Allen Christensen and Steven Motlop. Christensen and Motlop have had outstanding seasons, Stokes has been rejuvenated, but the luckless Varcoe suffered a shoulder injury in round three which meant the four did not play together again in the same team until round 20.

It is not easy for a pace-and-touch player such as Varcoe to pick up the rhythms of the game, but the ball is starting to come to hand for him again, and there is a school of thought this foursome represents the X-factor, a sort of multi-Rioli effect, that might prove decisive in the reckoning up of this year's premiership.

Varcoe, Stokes, Christensen and Motlop do not consciously form a clique, but they are close, and fate keeps nudging them closer. This week, all four were named in the provisional indigenous squad to tour Ireland in October.

Then there was a moment in a match against West Coast two weeks ago when Motlop blasted his way through a pack and snapped a handball to Stokes, who goalled, and all four found themselves in a ring-a-ring-a-rosy celebration. ''That was a pretty special moment,'' Christensen said. ''A few people picked it out.

''It's the first time all us four have played together pretty consistently. There's always been two or three of us. I think we all have a pretty good connection with each other and love playing with each other. The boys get a kick out of Stevie Motlop kicking a goal, or taking a mark like he did on the weekend, and Travvy Varcoe breaking lines and chasing down tackles …''

Geelong indulge that flair. ''We want them to play on their instincts,'' line coach James Rahilly said. ''They're naturally gifted players, every one of them, and we don't want to take that away from them and fill them with too many structures. Their unpredictability helps us.''

Christensen cherishes this. ''If you've got speed, you have to use it,'' he said. ''If you've got a leap, you have to go for your marks. The beauty about playing for Geelong is that we have a structure, but we can all play our own way in that structure to make the team better.''

Besides, all four attend to the less glamorous, more rigorous elements of the game. Geelong's defensive game is lesser-sung than, say, Sydney's, but no less effective.

Once, Cameron Ling was at the heart of it. Now he watches in awe from his boundary-line television eyrie. ''Maybe I'm a bit boring, but I love what Stevie Motlop's done this year off the ball,'' Ling said. ''His ability to transition deep into defence to help out his teammates, then bust his backside to get to the fall of the ball in the forward line … that's what makes me think these guys are playing great footy.

''Then kicking those really nice goals - their finish is pretty amazing sometimes - is real reward for the stuff that goes on off the ball.''

Varcoe, Stokes, Christensen and Motlop are linked by their heritage, and are as likely as not to be found together mid-week working on one of Geelong's indigenous projects, but each has made his own distinct journey. Varcoe's has been blighted latterly by injury and personal upheaval, but both are being soothed away. This season, he is the least performed of the four. ''But Trav's proven he can play good footy in big games,'' Ling said.

Stokes floundered a little last year, causing some at Geelong to think his days were numbered. Ling liked what he heard from Stokes early this season, that he was angry with himself about last year. ''He thought it was a wasted year. He didn't do the work that was required,'' Ling said. ''But he went and did something about it in pre-season. He attacked it with real desperation. And he's had an incredible year.''

Christensen and Motlop are youthful contemporaries. Christensen has improved in each of his three seasons. ''He's one of our smartest players,'' Rahilly said. ''He has a gift for the game. We can put him anywhere, in any situation, he reads the game so well. He spends most of his time in the midfield, but every time he sneaks forward, he kicks a couple of goals for us. That's crucial.''

Motlop has been the revelation, a veritable football whisperer. Geelong knew his talent - football manager Neil Balme proclaims to anyone who will listen: ''We've got the good Motlop!'' - but not what he would make of it. ''It was a challenge for Steve to do it on a consistent basis, against good opposition, week in, week out,'' Ling said. ''That's what he's done this year. He's not just showing flashes of brilliance. If he can string it together for a couple of years now, the way he can play, he can take himself into the real elite of the competition.''

Here are four parts whose whole potentially is greater than their sum. They give Geelong extra pairs of sure hands on the ball, and pace, and scoring power on the break. They lessen the Cats' reliance on Tom Hawkins and James Podsiadly. Individually and collectively, they constantly imply the possibility of a special happening any moment now.

''If you see Travvy out of the corner of your eye, and he's going flat out, not many people have got his speed, so you want to use it,'' Christensen said. ''You know if you're in traffic, you can always give it to Motty, because of his speed and his nice step. Stokesy's Stokesy. We're all different, but we work well together.''

1 comment so far

  • Be afraid, opposition, be very afraid

    Commenter
    Glocky
    Date and time
    September 02, 2013, 8:30PM

    Make a comment

    You are logged in as [Logout]

    All information entered below may be published.

    Error: Please enter your screen name.

    Error: Your Screen Name must be less than 255 characters.

    Error: Your Location must be less than 255 characters.

    Error: Please enter your comment.

    Error: Your Message must be less than 300 words.

    Post to

    You need to have read and accepted the Conditions of Use.

    Thank you

    Your comment has been submitted for approval.

    Comments are moderated and are generally published if they are on-topic and not abusive.

    AFL 2015

    Round 1
    Thu, 02 AprTimes shown AEDT
    CAR 78 vs RIC 105 Report Stats
    Sat, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
    MEL 115 vs GCF 89 Stats
    SYD 72 vs ESS 60 Stats
    BRI 74 vs COL 86 Stats
    WBU 97 vs WCE 87 Stats
    Sun, 05 AprTimes shown AEST
    STK 78 vs GWS 87 Stats
    ADE 140 vs NTH 63 Stats
    FRE 75 vs PTA 68 Stats
    Mon, 06 AprTimes shown AEST
    HAW 123 vs GEE 61 Stats
    View All Fixtures
    Round 2
    Fri, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
    WCE 131 vs CAR 62 Stats
    Sat, 11 AprTimes shown AEST
    RIC 66 vs WBU 85 Report Stats
    GWS 101 vs MEL 56 Stats
    COL 63 vs ADE 90 Report Stats
    GCF 76 vs STK 104 Stats
    PTA 44 vs SYD 92 Stats
    Sun, 12 AprTimes shown AEST
    GEE 60 vs FRE 104 Stats
    ESS 78 vs HAW 76 Stats
    NTH 133 vs BRI 51 Stats
    View All Fixtures
    Round 3
    Fri, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
    COL 140 vs STK 66 Stats
    Sat, 18 AprTimes shown AEST
    CAR 84 vs ESS 105 Stats
    ADE 80 vs MEL 55 Stats
    SYD 111 vs GWS 90 Report Stats
    NTH 105 vs PTA 113 Stats
    BRI 58 vs RIC 137 Stats
    Sun, 19 AprTimes shown AEST
    HAW 127 vs WBU 57 Stats
    GEE 105 vs GCF 96 Stats
    WCE 81 vs FRE 111 Stats
    View All Fixtures
    Round 4
    Fri, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
    RIC 51 vs MEL 83 Stats
    Sat, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
    STK 81 vs CAR 121 Report Report Stats
    ESS 49 vs COL 69 Report Stats
    GWS 119 vs GCF 53 Stats
    PTA 99 vs HAW 91 Stats
    FRE 74 vs SYD 60 Stats
    Sun, 26 AprTimes shown AEST
    BRI 65 vs WCE 118 Stats
    GEE 67 vs NTH 83 Stats
    WBU 125 vs ADE 68 Stats
    View All Fixtures
    Round 5
    Fri, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
    CAR 45 vs COL 120 Stats
    Sat, 02 MayTimes shown AEST
    RIC 76 vs GEE 85 Stats
    SYD 73 vs WBU 77 Stats
    GCF 118 vs BRI 54 Stats
    NTH 70 vs HAW 130 Stats
    WCE 120 vs GWS 33 Stats
    Sun, 03 MayTimes shown AEST
    MEL 50 vs FRE 118 Stats
    STK 80 vs ESS 82 Stats
    ADE 91 vs PTA 115 Stats
    View All Fixtures
    Round 6
    Fri, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
    COL 59 vs GEE 100 Stats
    Sat, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
    NTH 109 vs RIC 74 Stats
    WBU 87 vs STK 94 Stats
    GWS 108 vs HAW 98 Stats
    GCF 78 vs ADE 119 Stats
    MEL 50 vs SYD 88 Stats
    FRE 80 vs ESS 52 Stats
    Sun, 10 MayTimes shown AEST
    CAR 75 vs BRI 84 Report Stats
    PTA 68 vs WCE 78 Stats
    View All Fixtures
    Round 7
    Fri, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
    ESS 82 vs NTH 93 Stats
    Sat, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
    ADE 119 vs STK 73 Stats
    HAW 155 vs MEL 50 Stats
    CAR 57 vs GWS 135 Stats
    SYD 120 vs GEE 77 Stats
    WCE 135 vs GCF 43 Stats
    Sun, 17 MayTimes shown AEST
    WBU 88 vs FRE 101 Stats
    RIC 105 vs COL 100 Report Stats
    BRI 102 vs PTA 65 Report Stats
    View All Fixtures
    Round 8
    Fri, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
    GEE 140 vs CAR 63 Report Stats
    Sat, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
    STK 78 vs WCE 131 Report Stats
    GWS 108 vs ADE 84 Report Stats
    GCF 63 vs COL 132 Report Stats
    HAW 69 vs SYD 73 Report Stats
    FRE 115 vs NTH 42 Report Stats
    Sun, 24 MayTimes shown AEST
    ESS 136 vs BRI 78 Report Stats
    MEL 103 vs WBU 64 Report Stats
    PTA 43 vs RIC 76 Report Stats
    View All Fixtures
    Round 9
    Fri, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
    SYD 122 vs CAR 62 Stats
    Sat, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
    HAW vs GCF 13:45AS
    MEL vs PTA 14:10TIO Traeger Park
    WBU vs GWS 16:35ES
    RIC vs ESS 19:20MCG
    ADE vs FRE 19:40Adelaide Oval
    Sun, 31 MayTimes shown AEST
    BRI vs STK 13:10G
    COL vs NTH 15:20MCG
    WCE vs GEE 16:40Domain Stadium
    View All Fixtures
    Round 10
    Fri, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
    FRE vs RIC 20:10Domain Stadium
    Sat, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
    CAR vs ADE 13:40MCG
    GCF vs SYD 16:35MS
    ESS vs GEE 19:20ES
    PTA vs WBU 19:40Adelaide Oval
    Sun, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
    GWS vs BRI 13:10Spotless Stadium
    NTH vs WCE 15:20BA
    STK vs HAW 16:40ES
    Mon, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
    MEL vs COL 15:20MCG
    View All Fixtures
    Round 11
    Fri, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
    PTA vs GEE 19:50Adelaide Oval
    Sat, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
    GCF vs FRE 13:40MS
    WCE vs ESS 16:35Domain Stadium
    NTH vs SYD 19:20ES
    Sun, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
    COL vs GWS 13:10MCG
    STK vs MEL 16:40ES
    View All Fixtures
    Round 12
    Thu, 18 JunTimes shown AEST
    ADE vs HAW 19:50Adelaide Oval
    Fri, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
    RIC vs WCE 19:50MCG
    Sat, 20 JunTimes shown AEST
    CAR vs PTA 13:40MCG
    GWS vs NTH 16:35Spotless Stadium
    WBU vs BRI 19:20ES
    Sun, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
    GEE vs MEL 15:20SS
    View All Fixtures
    Round 13
    Thu, 25 JunTimes shown AEST
    FRE vs COL 20:10Domain Stadium
    Fri, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
    SYD vs RIC 19:50SCG
    Sat, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
    HAW vs ESS 13:40MCG
    BRI vs ADE 16:35G
    STK vs WBU 19:20ES
    Sun, 28 JunTimes shown AEST
    CAR vs GCF 15:20ES
    View All Fixtures
    Round 14
    Thu, 02 JulTimes shown AEST
    SYD vs PTA 19:20SCG
    Fri, 03 JulTimes shown AEST
    COL vs HAW 19:50MCG
    Sat, 04 JulTimes shown AEST
    RIC vs GWS 13:40MCG
    GCF vs NTH 16:35MS
    WBU vs CAR 19:20ES
    MEL vs WCE 19:40TIO
    Sun, 05 JulTimes shown AEST
    ESS vs STK 13:10ES
    ADE vs GEE 15:20Adelaide Oval
    FRE vs BRI 16:40Domain Stadium
    View All Fixtures
    Round 15
    Thu, 09 JulTimes shown AEST
    PTA vs COL 19:50Adelaide Oval
    Fri, 10 JulTimes shown AEST
    RIC vs CAR 19:50MCG
    Sat, 11 JulTimes shown AEST
    ESS vs MEL 13:40MCG
    WBU vs GCF 16:35CAZ
    NTH vs GEE 19:20ES
    WCE vs ADE 19:40Domain Stadium
    Sun, 12 JulTimes shown AEST
    GWS vs STK 13:10Spotless Stadium
    HAW vs FRE 15:20AS
    BRI vs SYD 16:40G
    View All Fixtures
    Round 16
    Fri, 17 JulTimes shown AEST
    NTH vs ESS 19:50ES
    Sat, 18 JulTimes shown AEST
    GEE vs WBU 13:45SS
    GCF vs GWS 14:10MS
    COL vs WCE 16:35ES
    SYD vs HAW 19:20ANZ
    FRE vs CAR 19:40Domain Stadium
    Sun, 19 JulTimes shown AEST
    MEL vs BRI 13:10MCG
    PTA vs ADE 15:20Adelaide Oval
    STK vs RIC 16:40ES
    View All Fixtures
    Round 17
    Fri, 24 JulTimes shown AEST
    CAR vs HAW 19:50ES
    Sat, 25 JulTimes shown AEST
    GWS vs GEE 13:45SO
    ADE vs GCF 14:10Adelaide Oval
    RIC vs FRE 16:35MCG
    ESS vs PTA 19:20ES
    BRI vs NTH 19:20G
    Sun, 26 JulTimes shown AEST
    WBU vs COL 13:10ES
    MEL vs STK 15:20MCG
    WCE vs SYD 16:40Domain Stadium
    View All Fixtures
    Round 18
    Fri, 31 JulTimes shown AEST
    HAW vs RIC 19:50MCG
    Sat, 01 AugTimes shown AEST
    GEE vs BRI 13:45SS
    COL vs MEL 14:10MCG
    SYD vs ADE 16:35SCG
    CAR vs NTH 19:20ES
    GCF vs WCE 19:20MS
    Sun, 02 AugTimes shown AEST
    PTA vs STK 13:10Adelaide Oval
    ESS vs WBU 15:20ES
    FRE vs GWS 16:40Domain Stadium
    View All Fixtures
    Round 19
    Fri, 07 AugTimes shown AEST
    ADE vs RIC 19:50Adelaide Oval
    Sat, 08 AugTimes shown AEST
    COL vs CAR 13:45MCG
    WBU vs PTA 14:10ES
    BRI vs GCF 16:35G
    GEE vs SYD 19:20SS
    WCE vs HAW 19:40Domain Stadium
    Sun, 09 AugTimes shown AEST
    MEL vs NTH 13:10MCG
    GWS vs ESS 15:20Spotless Stadium
    STK vs FRE 16:40ES
    View All Fixtures
    Round 20
    Fri, 14 AugTimes shown AEST
    SYD vs COL 19:50SCG
    Sat, 15 AugTimes shown AEST
    ESS vs ADE 13:45ES
    NTH vs STK 14:10BA
    PTA vs GWS 16:35Adelaide Oval
    GEE vs HAW 19:20MCG
    BRI vs CAR 19:20G
    Sun, 16 AugTimes shown AEST
    RIC vs GCF 13:10MCG
    WBU vs MEL 15:20ES
    FRE vs WCE 16:40Domain Stadium
    View All Fixtures
    Round 21
    Fri, 21 AugTimes shown AEST
    HAW vs PTA 19:50ES
    Sat, 22 AugTimes shown AEST
    COL vs RIC 13:45MCG
    GWS vs SYD 14:10Spotless Stadium
    GCF vs ESS 16:35MS
    STK vs GEE 19:20ES
    ADE vs BRI 19:40Adelaide Oval
    Sun, 23 AugTimes shown AEST
    NTH vs FRE 13:10ES
    CAR vs MEL 15:20MCG
    WCE vs WBU 16:40Domain Stadium
    View All Fixtures
    Round 22
    Fri, 28 AugTimes shown AEST
    GEE vs COL 19:50MCG
    Sat, 29 AugTimes shown AEST
    GWS vs CAR 13:45Spotless Stadium
    HAW vs BRI 14:10AS
    NTH vs WBU 16:35ES
    ESS vs RIC 19:20MCG
    GCF vs PTA 19:20MS
    Sun, 30 AugTimes shown AEST
    ADE vs WCE 13:10Adelaide Oval
    STK vs SYD 15:20ES
    FRE vs MEL 16:40Domain Stadium
    View All Fixtures
    Round 23
    Fri, 04 SepTimes shown AEST
    COL vs ESS 00:00MCG
    RIC vs NTH 00:00ES
    HAW vs CAR 00:00MCG
    GEE vs ADE 00:00SS
    SYD vs GCF 00:00SCG
    MEL vs GWS 00:00ES
    BRI vs WBU 00:00G
    PTA vs FRE 00:30Adelaide Oval
    WCE vs STK 02:00Domain Stadium
    View All Fixtures
    AFL 2015
    Overall standings
    Team P W L D % Pts
    Fremantle 8 8 0 0 155.29 32
    Sydney Swans 9 7 2 0 134.49 28
    West Coast Eagles 8 6 2 0 158.17 24
    GWS Giants 8 6 2 0 118.87 24
    Collingwood 8 5 3 0 129.90 20
    Adelaide Crows 8 5 3 0 116.32 20
    Hawthorn 8 4 4 0 145.81 16
    Richmond 8 4 4 0 107.64 16
    View all
     
    Featured advertisers