AFL

Greater depth has Geelong ready to pounce

Greater depth and class in the crucial mid-20s age group has Geelong hopeful  a top-four resurgence - and potential flag assault - will eventuate this season.

The ability to successfully lure Patrick Dangerfield (25), Lachie Henderson (26), Zac Smith (25) and Scott Selwood (25), along with the expected development of the likes of injury-hit pair Nathan Vardy (24) and Daniel Menzel (24), is expected to ensure last year's drop from the top-eight was not only an aberration but will again have the club primed to be a legitimate premiership aspirant.

Comeback kids: Daniel Menzel and Nathan Vardy.
Comeback kids: Daniel Menzel and Nathan Vardy. Photo: Getty Images

Cats president Colin Carter conceded Chris Scott's team had been on the slide late last season when it missed the finals for the first time since 2006.

"That's obviously true. One of the things we needed to address was the fact we had the age profile of our player group was a bulk in the older, a bulk in the younger, and nothing much in the middle," Carter said.

This led to the departures of premiership stars Steve Johnson, James Kelly and Mathew Stokes, who have joined rival clubs, the latter pair linking as top-up players with besieged Essendon. Carter likes what he has seen from the new names, adding "if most of them are fit, it's a pretty different team".

"That has its issues, of course, as to how long they take to gel," he said.

"The middle part [age group] was partly denuded by the guys who should have been in that - guys like [Nathan] Vardy, [Daniel] Menzel, [Josh] Cowan - were injured. Then you add to that the blokes that had come in, like [Rhys] Stanley, [Mitch] Clark, who were injured, and Mitch Duncan. What the recruiting has done, and the retirements have done, has changed our profile.

"We are well stocked in that middle age group, with blokes who hopefully will have an injury free year. We are not putting up the white flag and saying we are rebuilding by a long shot."

The Cats finished 10th last year - two wins adrift of the top eight, and five behind fourth-placed, Sydney. Considering the talent the Cats now boast, few would doubt they will be a top-four force.

"We have that expectation every year - we had it last year as well. In one sense, it's not new. We weren't that many games off top-four last year," Carter said.

"We had a lot of injuries. It was a bad year from that point of view.

"That's what our expectation is. At one level, you can say, if you don't aim high, you won't get anywhere. I think we have a fair bit of talent around the playing group. We are cautiously optimistic."

Dangerfield, a brilliant forward and midfielder, and Henderson, a key-position defender who struggled last year while coming out of contract at Carlton, will be particularly important for the Cats.

The dynamic Steve Motlop has enjoyed a strong pre-season while there is likely to be more improvement from Mark Blicavs, the athletic best-and-fairest winner who is a threat in the ruck or in multiple other positions. Should the Cats have an injury-free list, they will have Blicavs, Clark, Smith and Vardy to choose from in the ruck.

The one concern remains skipper Joel Selwood, who is fighting to be fit for the round-one blockbuster against Hawthorn on March 28 as he continues to battle plantar fasciitis in his right foot. The Cats begin their NAB Challenge series against Collingwood at Simonds Stadium on February 26.