GEELONG comes into the 2021 off a disappointing campaign which yielded two wins, both of which came against expansion sides. Under coach Paul Hood, the Cats will be itching for a return to finals and have a wealth of young talent raring to make splash on the competition. While inaugural skipper Melissa Hickey has called time on her career, the Victorian side is in good stead to improve on last season’s effort.
The Cats finished fifth at 2-4 among the weaker Conference A, meaning they missed out on backing up a surprise finals appearance in their inaugural season by half a game. After going down in their first three outings, they got on the board in a high-scoring encounter with Richmond and backed it up with another win against Gold Coast. The sting of good form came to an abrupt halt at the hands of North Melbourne thought, seeing Geelong’s season ending on the sour note of a 44-point drubbing.
Green shoots appeared in the form of best and fairest winner Olivia Purcell, with the 20-year-old midfielder establishing herself as one of the premier ball winners in the competition. She was the only Cat named in the final All Australian team. Rebecca Webster was a big improver and 2021 skipper Meghan McDonald showed her class upon an early injury return, while Nina Morrison gave a glimpse into her talents before another heartbreaking ACL tear in the closing stages of the season.
Geelong was again able to extract great value from the draft with a terrific haul headlined by outstanding local talent. Darcy Moloney was the Cats’ first choice at pick 10 and was followed by fellow Geelong Falcons product Laura Gardiner at number 20. Both showed terrific appetites for finding the ball as juniors and promise to add great balance to Geelong’s emerging midfield, while also taking a load off Purcell at the coalface.
Dynamic tall Olivia Barber was another high-value country selection, with the Murray Bushrangers graduate nothing short of a steal at pick 21. Able to rotate through the ruck from her usual key forward post, Barber is an athletic type who can not only take over in the air, but has clean hands and skills at ground level. Electric forward Stephanie Williams hails from the Northern Territory but was somewhat another local pick having attended Geelong College, while former Falcon Carly Remmos also joined through the draft, coming from an elite basketball background.
ONE TO WATCH IN 2021
While a second ACL tear sustained late in the 2020 season will again hamper her campaign, Nina Morrison remains the one to watch for Geelong. Fans were able to catch a good glimpse of her last year and she looms as a crucial midseason inclusion this time around. The Cats are taking somewhat of a cautious approach with their young star and have ruled out a Round 1 appearance despite her strong progress, so expect the 20-year-old to come in raring to go. Having mostly been employed on the outside, Morrison has the flexibility to remain there or provide some spark at the centre bounces, with plenty of stock in support to help make her return as smooth as possible.
WHY THEY CAN WIN IT
Youthful exuberance. The Cats have some of the best young talent going around and have only added to it at this year’s draft. The likes of Moloney and Gardiner should be knocking on the door early and will take a good amount of heat off Purcell through the middle, while Barber is another who can impact early and provide a focal point.
Millie Brown settled into the defence well in 2020 and Webster came on leaps and bounds, with the best yet to come from Morrison and the returning Denby Taylor. That’s not to mention Sophie Van De Heuval, who is primed to have a big impact in her third season. There’s young talent around the ground, all of which are game winners capable of taking Geelong all the way.
With so much youth at their disposal and their inaugural captain now retired, are the Cats too inexperienced to make a real finals impact? Purcell is already arguably their best player at just 20-years-old, while much is also expected from the returning Morrison and Taylor. Improvement is another expectation, with hopes high on Van De Heuval and Rene Caris one who should be looking to soon take over the primary ruck post. Geelong has some established leaders in new skipper, McDonald, Aasta O’Connor, and Renee Garing, all of which will have plenty on their plate in aiding the on-field development of these young stars.
Many fans will be high on Geelong given just how well the Cats have drafted each year, with the pieces of the puzzle seeming to come together nicely heading into 2021. Their young guns have some good experience under their belt and while it may not quite be enough yet, expect the hoops to push for finals this season and better challenge some of the top sides.
Image Credit: Geelong Cats