Two cool Cats show the Twain meets midfield
Steve Johnson aka 'Stevie J' (left) and Paul 'Chappy' Chapman. Photo: Paul Rovere
IT'S a safe bet Mark Twain didn't feature too highly in the ''favourite author'' category when the Geelong list sat down to fill out those player questionnaires at the beginning of this season.
But his famous quip that ''reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated'' seems lately to have struck more of a chord with the Cats than any sporting biography or a Stephen King thriller might have.
While we seem to have waited most of this season to find out whether the Geelong of 2012 was anything like the outfit to be feared 12 months ago or one slowly disappearing into the sunset, the past few weeks have had ''we're not done just yet'' written all over them.
There was an imperious smashing of Essendon, the tone set in the opening moments with the relentless physical pressure the Cats routinely apply so well. There was an efficient enough win over Adelaide, perhaps underrated given the loss of Steve Johnson in the opening seconds and key midfielder Joel Corey after half-time. And last week's consolidation of the winning streak over a Hawthorn many had just about over the premiership line.
There have been some common denominators: Tom Hawkins upping the ante again as a powerhouse and goalkicking key forward, Harry Taylor and Tom Lonergan shoring up the Geelong defence, skipper Joel Selwood and James Kelly in top gear.
But for another couple of key contributors, it has been a different story. Paul Chapman and Johnson have been arguably even bigger parts of Geelong's greatest era than those mentioned above, but in their case it hasn't just been about more of the same.
Geelong's rise from the canvas has coincided with ''Stevie J'' and ''Chappy'', as they are almost universally known, playing almost mirror images of the roles to which we have become accustomed.
Johnson, the forward sharpshooter with the penchant for the freakish goal, has spent more time midfield as the Cats have upped not only the ante on hard ball gets and possession, but the quality of their disposal.
Chapman, along with Selwood so often the hard-nut presence in the centre square and around the contest, has slipped forward more often to offer everything in a goalscoring sense that his teammate regularly has been able to provide.
While Johnson was collected by Adelaide's Scott Thompson at the opening bounce of the game at Simonds Stadium a fortnight ago and was not able to have any impact at all, their numbers over the past month are instructive.
The biggest point to the switch is simply their numbers of centre bounce involvements. To the end of round 15, Johnson's average was four. Since then, it has been 18. Chapman up to round 15 had 10 per game, which has slipped back to three.
But the other numbers prove it has been a shift far more successful than merely redistributing the deckchairs on a sinking ship.
Chapman had a total of 16 goals in the Cats' first dozen games. Over the past five, he has kicked 14, including two bags of four, one of those last week, alongside Hawkins' half-dozen, accounting for more than half Geelong's winning score.
He's a hard-running forward, too, proven in his possession breakdowns in the games breakdown. Until the end of round 15, Chapman was accruing 68 per cent of his disposals, that number since having fallen only marginally to 61.
His rate in the forward 50 has soared from 17 to 33 per cent.
The value of Johnson's silky ball use in midfield, meanwhile, was never more evident than in that closing play against Hawthorn last Friday night.
With exactly 30 seconds left on the clock, and Johnson taking possession on the half-back flank just 15 metres in from the boundary line, he swung on to his left foot and centred a ball that nine times out of 10 would have had potential turnover in the most dangerous part of the ground and opposition goal written all over it.
This, though, was Stevie J. The 40-metre pass found Selwood, whose opponent Brad Sewell rightly expected a boundary line play, and in desperately trying to make up ground overshot the mark, allowing Selwood to turn and hit Hawkins on the lead. You know the rest.
Johnson's greater midfield involvement is reflected in his disposal count climbing from 22 to 28 over the past month, and the quality of his ball use headed into the forward 50 arc seeing his score assists climbing from an average 1.6 to 2.3.
Yet, as Chapman has still been able to retain an influence midfield while creating more scoreboard pressure, so does Johnson still hit the scoreboard from even further afield, averaging 1.3 goals in the latest period compared with one beforehand. Chapman and Johnson are two enormous talents with a big impact wherever they play. In this latest mini role reversal, Geelong has extracted even more from its biggest stars. The death notices for a great team and a great era might be on hold for a while yet.