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CAT SKINNING by George On The Outer


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When they defeated the Geelong Cats in the 2021 AFL Preliminary Final on Friday night in Perth, Melbourne proved that there is more than one way to skin those cats. 

They did it in the ruck and in the middle, they did it in the forward line, they did it in defence and around the ground, but importantly, each and every player a Demon guernsey spent his night at Optus Stadium skinning an opponent.

Following the after-the-siren win against Geelong in Round 23, there was an expectation of another close finish. After all, the history of recent matches has seen similar outcomes with barely a goal separating the sides at the end. Strangely, this was not to be the case in the Preliminary Final.

To the contrary.

Even looking at the opposition through Red and Blue coloured glasses, there were obvious problems for Geelong. They had lost to Port Adelaide in their first finals game and followed that with an unconvincing win against a severely depleted and wounded GWS Giants. Then those ageing legs had the misfortune of coming up without a break against the youthful, rested and highly motivated Demons. 

Even as they ran onto the ground, the Cats hardly bounced with a limping Henderson falling well behind, most likely covering a suspect hamstring. As the teams lined up, the Melbourne players embraced arm in arm as one, while Geelong stood apart perhaps pondering over the execution that they was about to occur in the game ahead.

Geelong opened their account with a major from a Cameron snap, but Melbourne’s response was swift from Ben Brown after a Petracca clearance from the middle. In typical Demon 2021 style, they began to take the opposition apart by applying relentless pressure all around the ground. Goals to James Harmes and Alex Neal-Bullen after a telling Brown contested mark were followed by more majors to Christian Petracca and Charlie Spargo after more contested marking. In the blink of an eye the Demons held a 4 goal lead at the first break.

But there was a concern for Demons supporters. Steven May had came off the ground with a hamstring twinge after receiving a push from Tom Hawkins in a marking contest. He returned and was able to play through before he substituted in the third quarter. With a 15 day gap before their next appearance and with a seemingly low level of damage (no icing and smiles post match), every effort will be made to get him through for the Big Dance.

The second term returned to more of the typical grind seen in finals between two top sides. Melbourne remained in control of the ground ball game and around the packs. Dangerfield and Selwood were being denied access to the ball and, as a result, the Cats were without an engine room to drive the ball forward. Jack Viney was playing the game of his life in the first half with 22 touches including 11 contested posssessions while alongside him Petracca was putting on a clinical display with 20 disposals of which nine were contested. 

The Demons held a four goal break at half time but as a result of two timely goals that came late, the Cats would have already been completely skinned.

It didn’t matter because the dam wall broke early in the third quarter and it completely enveloped them! Max Gawn went on a goal kicking rampage to match his dominant work in the ruck and this only seemed to lift his team-mates to an even higher level of performance. Goals to Brown, Bayley Fritsch, Kysiah Pickett and Tom McDonald were scattered around the four-goal-quarter massacre from the Demon big man. With the game getting away from the Cats, Selwood tried some not unexpected stong arm tactics on Langdon that backfired and gifted Fritsch a 50m penalty which guaranteed him a goal. 

When the siren sounded to signify a temporary end to Geelong’s misery, Melbourne had piled on eight goals for the quarter and a place in the Grand Final had been locked in. 

The final term was just a matter of running down the clock, and while the Demons put through another couple of majors from Pickett and Fritsch, the Cats managed their first only goal for the second half in its dying minutes by which time, May had been subbed off and Petracca, Clayton Oliver, Jake Lever and Max were resting while the game petered out to its inevitable end. 

The Cat skinning was occurring everywhere. Gawn had taken the lead by destroying Stanley in the ruck with 33 hit-outs and five clearances to pair with his five amazing goals. His ruck craft in conjunction with his mids that was the real difference between the two mid-fields.

Ironically, centre clearances were actually 16/11 in Geelong’s favour, but the statistic was deceiving as most of theirs came from the back of the centre square with the ball finishing out on the wing or kicked high to contest. By contrast Petracca, Oliver and Jack Viney were damaging as they came out through the front of the centre to deliver deep and accurately to the forwards, or just kick the goals themselves. 

Viney was dynamic, and played a very different game to what the Cats would have expected. He just kept getting the ball and delivering, which probably had a bit to do with the tag that Guthrie had on Oliver. You can stop one, but you will not stop the other, and Viney did exactly that. Still, Clarrie finished with 27 touches and proved that tagging him is a near pointless operation.

Down back, even without May in full effectiveness, the defence re-calibrated and locked down the Geelong forwards. This back six plus probably does a better job of lockdowns than the State government, since nothing gets past them.  A solitary goal after half time was all they would concede and even when the ball was bouncing around the Geelong goal-square with a certain score coming, they would not give in. 

Lever was intercepting everything with seven for the game, to pair with his eight spoils. Harrison Petty and Christian Salem also claimed seven intercepts, but Jake Bowey in only his seventh game chipped in with five and Hibberd and Rivers rounded out with four and two respectively. A remarkable statistic was that Petty covered over 14 kilometres in the game, only behind Langdon in numbers, while Salem had a remarkable 29 touches at 72% disposal efficiency. With the ball is in this team’s hands, it will inevitably skin the opposition.

Up forward the Demons broke the back of the Cats defence. Brown started the damage with his strong contested marks early on.  When he is on one of his lead and jump escapades he is next to unstoppable, and he has obviously been following Health Department advice as his hands are so clean. Pickett was a nightmare for the Cats, and why he was unattended at multiple stoppages is unfathomable. Little wonder he finished with three goals for the game. 

It’s now onward to the Grand Final and this Melbourne team deserves to be there. After finishing on top of the home and away ladder, it demolished two formidable opponents in finals. The coaching staff have built a game plan that obviously stacks up under finals pressure. Their opponents will be hard pressed to find a way to overcome the Demon juggernaut, because there is every chance they will be run over and skinned on that one day in September.

MELBOURNE 5.3.33 9.6.60 17.8.110 19.11.125

GEELONG 1.0.6 5.1.31 5.2.32 6.6.42

GOALS

Melbourne Gawn 5 Pickett 3 Brown Fritsch Spargo 2 Harmes McDonald Neal-Bullen Petracca Sparrow

Geelong Cameron 2 Hawkins Miers Smith Stanley

BEST

Melbourne Gawn Petracca Oliver Viney Salem Pickett B Brown

Geelong Dangerfield Smith Selwood

INJURIES

Melbourne Steven May (hamstring)

Geelong Gary Rohan (hamstring)

REPORTS

Melbourne Nil

Geelong Nil

SUBSTITUTES

Melbourne Jordon (replaced May)

Geelong Higgins (replaced Rohan)

UMPIRES Chris Donlon Simon Meredith Jacob Mollison

OFFICIAL CROWD 58,599 at Optus Stadium

ReportPF2021.png

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