21/02/2024

Geelong's persistent pressure will break through. (Photo: Geelong AFLW/Twitter)

Geelong's pressure heavy style is forcing its opposition to commit more turnovers than usual, and will deliver a win in 2022 sooner rather than later.

Another heartbreaking loss will be hard to move past for Geelong – but with its current game plan, it’s only a matter of time before a win arrives.

The Cats are yet to register a win under Dan Lowther, but after coming within two points of reigning premier Brisbane, it’s clear that their manic, pressure-heavy style, is working.

Facing three of the 2021 finalists, Geelong hasn’t been further than two goals away from them.

What is driving this is a team-first, defensive mentality. The Cats are averaging 55.8 tackles, seventh in the competition, and of the sides they’ve lost to, only lower than the Lions.

A key statistic in these games is how they’ve put a stranglehold on these finals-quality outfits.

Against North Melbourne, Collingwood, and Brisbane, Geelong has forced a drop in each of this side’s disposal efficiencies, both by hand and foot.

Playing other sides, North Melbourne’s disposal efficiency has been 69.5 per cent. Against Geelong, that dropped to 65 per cent. The same can be said for Collingwood and Brisbane, facing four and five per cent drops respectively.

This squeezing of the opposition and rushing of disposal once in possession starts straight out of the centre bounce, with none other than 2021 club best and fairest Amy McDonald.

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A fearless contested ball winner, McDonald is averaging nine tackles a game – equal third in the competition – and 11.3 contested possessions, seventh for all players.

She’s barely a shade behind champion midfielders Maddy Prespakis, Emily Bates and Anne Hatchard in the latter statistic. Criticised in parts for being primarily just a handball-distributing type, she’s worked on being more damaging by foot, with 10 kicks against Collingwood and eight against Carlton.

McDonald isn’t the only one putting in work in the guts, with teammate Rebecca Webster averaging 5.5 tackles and nine contested possessions, in the top 30 in the competition for both. First year player Georgie Prespakis is also in the top 30 for average contested possessions, with 9.3.

This constant pressure out of the middle works perfectly to the advantage of Geelong’s strong aerialists in the backline, all of which have contributed at various points throughout the season.

Maddy McMahon is continuing her career best form, taking six marks against Brisbane. She was named in The Inner Sanctum‘s Team of the Week for her 15 disposal, five mark performance against Collingwood.

She currently leads the competition for intercept possessions, with 7.5 per game, ahead of the likes of Melbourne stalwart Libby Birch and West Coast’s Belinda Smith.

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They’ve shown versatility in defence too, with 172cm Georgie Rankin racking up five tackles against the Lions, bringing that pressure all over the ground.

The downsides

Of every area of the ground playing this desperate game style, the forward line has perhaps been the only one failing to deliver.

The Cats’ forwards only laid one tackle inside 50 against the Lions, having to wear 18 of the opposition’s conversely. They’ve won the tackles inside 50 count twice and lost it twice, going +5 and +1 against the Roos and Blues respectively.

Rachel Kearns is one of the few bucking this trend, bringing the pressure every time she’s near the footy, or an opposition player in possession.

The other major downside of this style is that it doesn’t work particularly well towards putting high scores on the board.

Geelong has kicked 84 points so far in 2022, the lowest of any side to have played four games. This is also lower than North Melbourne, Brisbane, Richmond, and equal with Carlton, all having played three.

The hard-running, hard-tackling, breakneck game style also commonly results in late fadeouts.

Today’s game against Brisbane bucked that trend, with the fourth quarter Geelong’s highest scoring. But in the other three matches, Geelong has only scored two goals in the last term, while giving up four.

While it has made Geelong a strong defensive team, ninth for points against with many of the teams above them holding games in hand, it’s not quite leading to wins.

This could bode well for Friday night’s home match against West Coast, however.

West Coast is one of the competition’s best rebounding sides. In fact, the Eagles often rely on the likes of Smith, Evie Gooch, and Mikayla Bowen to launch their scores. Gooch and Smith are in the top 10 players for rebound 50s.

A weak side for contested ball, this could finally be Geelong’s breakthrough for its first win in 2022.

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