Pondering the impact of Cats trio
Travis Varcoe rejoices after the final siren in the 2011 grand final. Photo: Joe Armao
WHEN a great team isn't travelling quite as well as it once did, the reflection seems to start quickly. How good was it when Cameron Ling was there, not allowing the best opposition onballers to breathe freely? How good were the Cats back when Brad Ottens was flicking from the ruck to the forward line? Where would they be if Travis Varcoe's foot was in operational order?
Geelong has won two more games than it has lost, and dropped a couple of close ones. The Cats sit seventh on the ladder and despite a tough run home, should play finals unless something goes horribly wrong. It's a moot point to wonder what Ling and Ottens would be doing for today's team, because our most recent memories of them are more than nine months old. Perhaps they would barely be able to run by now. In any case, they ain't coming back any time soon, unlike Varcoe's creativity and pace.
Still, the question did the talkback radio rounds last weekend: who is their reshaped team missing more, Ottens, Ling or Varcoe?
Brad Ottens battles Collingwood's Darren Jolly in the 2011 decider. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
Former Cat Cameron Mooney has no doubt Joel Selwood has picked up where Ling left off as captain, or that Taylor Hunt has shown promise in his run-with roles. But in Ling the Cats had not just lost one of the game's greatest-ever taggers, he said, but their most all-seeing on-field communicator.
''They still have great leaders in the midfield. We know how amazing those players are, but the communication was something Lingy was just so good at,'' Mooney said.
''Everyone kind of took a back seat to Lingy, because he was so good at it. Communication is such a massive thing around stoppages - who's got who, who's got to set up where. Every player at a stoppage basically has a place they need to be in, and he made sure they were there.
That premiership feeling... then Cats captain Cameron Ling celebrates a goal in the final quarter of the 2011 grand final. Photo: Paul Rovere
''He's a huge loss for those reasons, as much as anything else. But in saying that, they've got a lot of guys in there who are just learning the game. People have got to understand that it's become a vastly different side. There's a lot of new players in there, as many new players as any other side has played. They're not going that badly in there, and they've got a lot of guys who are still learning the game.''
One of them is Trent West, a 20-game player when Ottens left him in charge after last year's grand final. Nathan Vardy hasn't played in a long time, and Dawson Simpson's development has been stymied by injuries. ''Otto's obviously a huge loss, but I think what's happened with Vardy and Simpson has been more important, because they just haven't been able to really play,'' Mooney said.
''Even now, Westy's young. He's tremendously athletic but he's played 30 games, and not too many ruckmen or key position players are going to know how to dominate in 30 games. He's still a work in progress and he's needed guys like Dawson to be helping him out.
''Westy was really good at playing the No. 2 role by the end of last year and he's just in that process of learning how to be the No. 1.''
Further foot surgery means Varcoe won't be around for a while yet. Of the three, he is the player Mooney would most love to slot in this week. ''Losing Trav and David Wojcinski has hurt really bad. Even though Wojo's back, they've really missed their pace, and [Allen] Christensen being injured a bit hasn't helped,'' he said.
''Geelong's fitness is as good if not better than anyone's … that's why you see them coming so hard at the end of games, because they're fit and they've got those big, strong bodies.
''I think people are judging them a bit quickly. I'd be shit-scared if it was the finals next week and I had to play against them. Every team dips, and they're going to come back up a lot quicker than other great teams have done in the past 20 years, but if they're missing one thing it's probably that hit of pace at the start of games. That's where you look at it and realise how important Varcoe really is to them.''