After three preliminary finals exits and a grand final loss in the past five seasons, 2021 was viewed as the last opportunity for an ageing Geelong list to win a premiership.
The Cats went all out in the offseason last year after its grand final loss, bringing in Jeremy Cameron, while adding more experience to an ageing list, acquiring Isaac Smith and Shaun Higgins to help them past that final hurdle and bring in their first premiership since 2011.
Though it would be a familiar end for the Cats, missing the grand final after going out in in the preliminary final by 83 points, with the side’s premiership window now more than likely closed.
The star recruits for the Cats worked wonders this season, and while Higgins struggled for consistency, both Cameron and Smith were impressive and impactful in their first seasons in the hoops.
Cameron kicked 39 goals from 15 games, only coming into the team in round six after starting the season injured to finish the season as the Cat’s second-leading goal kicker.
With the Cats looking one-dimensional in previous seasons with Hawkins as the main focal point, the use of Cameron as a second key forward took some of the pressure off Hawkins, who had a great season in his own right with 56 goals.
Meanwhile, Smith was influential in his familiar role as an outside midfielder, providing plenty of run in the midfield and showed no signs of slowing down at age 32.
Fellow midfielder Cam Guthrie’s move from the halfback to the midfield also proved to be a masterstroke. Given more playing time in the midfield, following an All-Australian selection on the wing in 2020, he would have a career-best season proving more than capable of playing in his new role.
It’s been an issue for a number of years now and it continued in 2021 as the search for Chris Scott to get consistent form out of his ruckmen continued.
Rhys Stanley played 19 games and while he came into form late in the season, was omitted from the side on two occasions, missing nine games due to poor form.
With Cameron and Hawkins tasked as the two key forwards, Esava Ratugolea then was trialed in the ruck but despite his great athleticism was out of place when not used up forward.
Defender Mark Blicavs would have a stint in the ruck, but left a hole in the Cats backline in his absence, resulting in him reverting back to defence.
With the Cats coach also not willing to give games to Darcy Fort and Sam De Koning, finding a number one ruckman let alone a ruck-duo proved problematic for the Cats.
Not too many players play their best career football at age 29, but that’s exactly what Cam Guthrie did in 2021.
Playing predominantly in the midfield and transitioning away from playing off the halfback, Guthrie had a breakout season, averaging stats this season that was well above his career averages.
Influential in the middle for the Cats, he would average 29 disposals a game finishing the season as the leading ball winner for the side with 616 disposals, which was an astonishing 102 touches more than the club’s second leading ball-winner along with Joel Selwood.
He would also lead the Cats for clearances from stoppages in addition to being the third leading center clearance winner.
He’s put in a brilliant season which should have him poised to be a back-to-back Carji Greeves medalist.
Super consistent since his arrival at the Cattery, Tom Stewart was immense once again in the backline for the Cats with a career-best season.
Seen as the next club captain, Stewart led from the back with the medium-sized defender’s run and carry crucial in launching counterattacks for the Cats.
He was sorely missed during the Cats finals campaign, with the Cats defensive unit not as solid without him.
Isaac Smith also impressed in a stellar first season for his new club after moving across from rivals Hawthorn.
Smith’s endurance and pace proved to be a weapon for the Cats this season, adding a new dimension to a largely one-paced Cats midfield.
He averaged 23 disposals a game and was ranked elite for kicks, averaging 16 kicks per game. No one at Geelong would cover more ground than Smith did, leading the club for meters gained.
After an underwhelming end to his Hawthorn tenure, Smith proved he’s still got plenty of football left in him despite being 32 years of age.
Destined to take the competition by storm in 2021, the Cats started the season underwhelming.
Marred by losing their season opener to Adelaide and just getting over the line against Brisbane and Hawthorn, Geelong was desperate to make a statement at home in round six against the Eagles.
Up by just five points at quarter-time, the Cats would kick 10 goals in the second quarter setting them up for a 97-point victory.
With Cameron playing his first game in Geelong colours, he’d fit in seamlessly, kicking three goals and giving the Cats extra firepower they’d been missing.
The highlight of the game would come through Mitch Duncan who’d kick four goals for the day, his best of the lot coming after the halftime siren from outside 50.
Though their season opener loss to the Crows was a close second, the Cats saved their worst performance for round 14 against the Lions at the Gabba.
Being held goalless and five goals down at quarter time, the Cats night didn’t get any better after and looked well of the pace for most of the night.
While they were more competitive after quarter-time, kicking three consecutive goals in the second quarter to get within three goals, they’d fall away after that, and after playing catch up all night eventually went down by 44 points.
Forward Josh Jenkins has struggled to break into the Cats side having played just two games in two seasons. A largely disappointing tenure with Geelong it’ll be difficult to see him get another go next year.
Midfielder Oscar Brownless would also be on the chopping block after not playing a senior game this year. Brownless has yet to play a senior game with the Cats since he arrived at the club.
Number one off-season priority
Chris Scott will once again need to find a way to re-energize the playing group next if they are to have one last chance at a premiership in 2022.
And though the Cats possess quality all over the park, the key is to find a reliable ruck partner for Rhys Stanley, who’s had struggled for form himself.
Whether it’s through free agency, the trade period, or putting a lot of work in the offseason into developing Sam De Koning, a strong ruckman will help immensely in pushing for an elusive premiership next year.
The Cats didn’t do a whole lot wrong in 2021 and would feel hard done by to ultimately fall short of a premiership.
Though the Cats do have an ageing side that will need to be refreshed at some point in the coming seasons, they are still one of the strongest and most experienced squads in the competition, and it will be interesting to see how they fare again in 2022.
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