Scrapping their way to a win against West Coast might be acceptable next week, but beating North with little flow and plenty of missed opportunities this week – especially given North were without Luke Davies-Uniacke, Luke McDonald and Cam Zurhaar from last round- was not expected.
Tom Stewart was a shining light in defence and played with a single-minded attack and poise his teammates sorely missed.
Sam De Koning, in his first game, couldn’t kick a goal but he showed plenty of promise in the air, and with some smart ground level touch work.
Roos choke the sloppy Cats
North’s early lead was broadly built on blocking the Cats up in their defensive half, and then spring-boarding into attack. They also threw plenty of numbers around the stoppages.
The AFL and its footy boss Steve Hocking might not have liked this return to 2020 and the decade before, with a healthy number of players folding back to flood the 50, but it was effective for the Kangaroos.
The Cats were very rarely clean with the footy, too. Hawkins missed an early set shot he normally would take, Patrick Dangerfield was kicking clanger after clanger, Tom Stewart bombed a ball across goal out on the full, and Cam Guthrie dropped an easy handball receive.
It all amounted to a frustrated atmosphere at Kardinia Park.
Ben Cunnington was also playing like a man possessed. He had 20 touches in the first half, which included six clearances and even one fend-off on his own teammate. Cunnington, who successfully challenged a suspension to play this week, ended up with 29 touches.
He might not be the most fashionable player but there are few, if any, who can cannon into a stoppage like he can, put out the heat he invited, and then get the ball to a teammate. A highlight in a sometimes dour game.
Farewell, from Gazza and Hazza
There were special scenes pre-game, with two of the Geelong Football Club’s greatest ever players Gary Ablett jnr and Harry Taylor bidding an official goodbye to supporters.
The pair, who retired last season, took part in a motorcade around the ground with their children beside them.
One of the great shames of the COVID-impacted 2020 was that Ablett and Tatylor’s final season could not happen in front of fans in Geelong, but Sunday’s farewell was at least a wonderful acknowledgement.
And no, Ablett cannot return in the mid-season draft despite reports to the contrary. There are rules prohibiting players who retire getting picked in the next mid-season draft, plus Geelong don’t have space on their list.
Geelong: Stewart, Menegola, Parfitt, Dangerfield, Stanley, Close.
North Melbourne: Cunnington, Young, Ziebell, Turner, Bonar
T. Stewart (Geelong) 8
S. Menegola (Geelong) 7
B. Cunnington (North Melbourne) 7
B. Parfitt (Geelong) 7
J. Ziebell (North Melbourne) 7
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Anthony is a sports reporter at The Age.
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