The Geelong Football Club secured five key players for the future on Tuesday afternoon.
Shannon Neale and Ollie Dempsey have signed a one year extension. Max Holmes and Mark O’Connor have signed a two year extension and Toby Conway will stay at the club until 2025.
Geelong has the most experienced and oldest side in the AFL this year, with an average age of 27.6. There has been much speculation on whether the club has what it takes once their older players retire.
The performance that youngsters like Holmes, O’Connor, Sam De Koning and Brad Close have put in as key members of the best 22 are putting these concerns to bed.
These five players range from being an essential piece in the first team to coming up in the VFL. Regardless of where these players are now, the club will be hoping they continue to develop as superstars of the future.
Geelong General Manager of Football, Simon Lloyd was pleased that the players wanted to come back to the club and ecstatic that they would accept contract extensions.
“It’s a fantastic sign that Max, Mark, Ollie, Shannon and Toby see their futures here at the Cats,” Lloyd said.
“Max and Mark both have outstanding character and take ownership over driving our club standards. They play influential roles within our senior team and are consistently striving to improve the Geelong Football Club.”
Originally drafted with pick 20 in 2020, Holmes has appeared 23 times in the Cats guernsey so far in his career. The midfielder-forward played 12 games last season after coming back from an ankle injury.
Standing at 189cm tall, Holmes has managed to average 13.9 disposals, 3.2 marks and 2.2 tackles this season. He has been a critical part of the Cats midfield and had his best game against Collingwood in Round 3 with a 20 disposal and five tackle performance.
“It’s very exciting and I’m looking forward to the next couple of years,” Holmes said when asked about staying with the Cats.
“I’m just happy to be on the ground, getting games and we have got some really good players which has been great. A lot of people have doubted our future, I think it’ll be pretty good and I’m excited for it.”
Recruited from Ireland, Mark O’Connor has become an essential part of the Geelong backline. After battling injury last season, the respected half-back has consistently played well each week.
Currently in his sixth season, he moved into the leadership group during the 2020 and 2021 AFL seasons. The two year extension is well deserved and he will look to be a huge part of their finals campaign.
“It’s exciting times ahead and we are always giving ourselves the chance to win. That’s always enticing and the friendship group out here has been really good,” O’Connor said.
While these two players have cemented their spot, the three other players to re-sign don’t yet have a lot of AFL experience.
“For Ollie, Shannon and Toby, while limited in their AFL experience so far, they have all shown strong signs at VFL level and we are excited to see them take the next step in their development,” Lloyd said.
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As the finals campaign approaches, Dempsey may have to play a key role. He will be one of the first choices to come back into the side if Geelong have any injuries in the forward line.
The medium-forward has played two games so far this season and was even able to register his first goal. In his debut against North Melbourne, he gathered 16 disposals, one goal and 11 handballs.
Just like any medium-forward, he is able to provide the Cats with pressure in the forward 50. As he develops his game he will soon become invaluable alongside Jeremy Cameron and Tom Hawkins.
“I’m happy to be here for another year which is good,” Dempsey stated.
“We’ve got a really good young core group this year and we have been playing some good footy.”
Selected with pick 33 in the 2020 AFL draft, Shannon Neale was able to make his debut in the Cats uniform this season. The impressive ruckman stands at 203cm tall and is incredibly athletic for his size. His ability to push forward and be an aerial threat got him called up to face Adelaide Crows in Round 11.
In his one game this season, Neale managed just an average performance of seven disposals, two marks and three tackles. He showed glimpses of brilliance as a key forward but was unable to showcase his ability in the ruck.
“I’m really enjoying my time here and stoked I’m here for a bit longer, just learning off the best and hopefully progressing my career,” Neale said.
“A lot of the first, second, third and even fourth years are a tight knit group, so to have a few of the other boys to sign on is really good. Knowing that I’ll be here with them is a great feeling and building that chemistry out on the field is really good.”
Toby Conway is the only individual out of the re-signed players to not yet register a game in the AFL. Picked up in the 2021 AFL Draft, the ruckman is still developing in the VFL. He made headlines three years ago in the AFL U16 Championships where he achieved All-Australian honours.
The Cats have high hopes for the 19-year old as they have extended his contract all the way until the end of 2025. Standing at 205cm tall, Conway is looking to follow in his mentor Brad Ottens’ foot steps.
Last season he averaged 13.8 disposals, 2.8 marks and 27 hit-out. If he is able to continue to perform like this, the Cats have found a hidden gem.
“It’s a great club and I’m happy to be here for a couple of years longer,” the young ruck said.
Geelong will play Port Adelaide on Saturday afternoon at 4:35pm to keep itself alive in the top two.
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