Chris Scott had a number of tactical victories on the ground.
By LAURENCE ROSEN
It was a true triumph for Geelong coach Chris Scott.
After a meek performance in the qualifying final against Richmond, his finals record since the Cats’ 2011 Grand Final win had come under questioning all week.
Having won just two of nine finals matches since 2011, Geelong faced pressure as they stared down the barrel of second straight-sets finals exit in two years. So, how did they respond?
Hogging the ball
Before Friday night, Sydney had only been beaten once since Round 6 against Hawthorn. This was largely due to Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson’s directive to hold the football and deny Sydney the bash-and-crash contested footy they’ve become renowned for. The method was simple – hold the ball, slow the play down and try to win the game further afield.
Geelong smashed Sydney in both contested (156-131) and uncontested (283-173) ball all night. Due to sheer weight of possession, they were able to deny the Swans the ball and hurt them going the other way.
The Geelong coaches and lieutenants may have showed their players footage of the Swans’ two losses to the possession-heavy Hawks, which the Cats essentially replicated during Friday’s semi-final. It ended up being the first of many tactical wins for the Cats on the night.
Patrick Dangerfield was ahead of Dean Rampe throughout the first half.
Dangerfield forward and making Rampe accountable
A missing Cam Guthrie meant Geelong surely had to start Patrick Dangerfield in the middle but Coach Scott had other ideas.
All it took was one half for Dangerfield’s move forward to play a vital role in winning the game for the Cats. We’ve seen Chris Scott do this before – ironically against Hawthorn earlier in the year – but it took guts to take Geelong’s best player out of the midfield in the biggest game they’ve played all year.
The Dangerfield matchup on Dane Rampe was the most important duel on the field for a number of reasons. Sydney’s winless first six weeks was largely because of injury and in Rampe – arguably their most important structural player – the absence of his defensive intercept marking and field kicking rattled the Swans.
For the first time all year, the 2016 All-Australian defender looked shell-shocked as he was unable to get off his opponent. Dangerfield did not just hit the scoreboard, but he made a player who relishes zoning off and intercepting accountable. Just 11 touches for the night opposed to Dangerfield’s four first-half goals meant Geelong won that matchup both offensively and defensively.
It’s easy to say the move was expected, but Scott’s bold shift would not have been in the plans of coach John Longmire and the Sydney coaching panel. It visibly shook the Swans’ back six, who have become one of the best defensive sides in the competition. If there is any criticism of the Swans’ head coach, it is that his methods can be predictable. Scott rolled the dice and came up trumps.
Lachie Henderson topped the field for intercept possessions.
Henderson as the spare back and Sydney’s inability to make their loose player count
The role of the loose defender at either end also helped shape the contest. Chris Scott’s plan was clear: drop Geelong player Lachie Henderson back to mop up Sydney’s tendency to kick long all night. The Cats smashed Sydney in marks – taking 129 compared to the Swans’ 53, with 114 of those being uncontested.
Henderson had 22 touches, with 13 of those possessions being an interception. No player on the field had as many intercept possessions, with Harry Taylor being the closest on nine. The former Carlton defender also took 13 marks, well above his season average of seven.
But where Sydney broke down was not quelling Henderson’s interest, rather not being able to capitalise on having Sam Reid as a loose defender at the other end.
The Swans wingman only had nine touches for the night and just three of them were intercepts.
Coach Longmire moved Reid into the middle for the final term, where he had five of his nine touches, but the damage was well and truly done by then. Geelong had kicked 13 goals to four and Sydney were sent packing from this year’s finals.
Sydney struggled to deal with the loose defender on Friday night. Picture: Channel 7
The above play illustrates Sydney’s problem with the spare defender all night. They tended to have little option but to go short when Henderson was a loose player in the defensive half. Here, Franklin turned it over after looking up and seeing minimal meaningful options in the forward 50. The game was won by this point, but Henderson was still able to dominate – highlighting just how badly Sydney were beaten both on the field and in the coach’s box.