Swans undone by Cats' coaching masterstroke
IT'S hard to recall a coaching move, or the placement of a player, that could be more consequential to the outcome of a final than Chris Scott's placement of his weapon of mass destruction, Patrick Dangerfield, in the goal square.
Scott, subject to a mountain of misguided criticism this week, up-ended the recent history of Geelong v Sydney. In doing so, he ensured that his team progressed to a preliminary final against the Crows in Adelaide on Friday night with a 15.8.98 to 5.9.39 win over the Swans.
Scott, not usually a gambler in the Kevin Sheedy mould, bet the farm - actually, he bet Geelong and Victoria's western districts - on Dangerfield at full-forward. The impact was immediate and profound.
For Geelong, Dangerfield became the central figure in a suddenly dynamic and unpredictable attack. For Sydney, he became a source of panic, uncertainty and a riddle that John Longmire struggled to solve in the game's formative period.
Moreover, this was a move that created a positive, bold psychology for the Cats, who hitherto had been dunces against a more complete Sydney team. The Swans, used to playing on Geelong on their own gritty terms, were knocked off balance by the Dangerfield ambush.
Dangerfield drew players to the contest, allowing team mates such as Rhys Stanley and Sam Menegola - to mark unimpeded. He also drew free kicks, two of which resulted in goals in the first half.
He drew a different Geelong.
This version was led by Joel Selwood, as ever, but Mitch Duncan found himself assuming a more prominent role as a leading man in the midfield. Zac Smith rose to another level in the ruck. Sam Menagola, too, relished greater responsibilities.
The Swans, so adept at defending in their back half, didn't know how to defend a forward line that contained a 189cm cannonball, who could leap up and mark, yet recover much faster than Callum Mills, Dane Rampe or indeed anyone in red and white.
By half-time, the 2016 Brownlow Medallist had booted 4.3 and had barely played a minute in his natural domain, the midfield. The move also held the possibility that, by preserving some energy, he could be fresher on the ball when needed.
But the Dangerfield placement was by no means the only chess piece that worked for Scott and wrong-footed Longmire.
Sydney captain Josh Kennedy has been perhaps the game's most outstanding finals performer and is so often the ignition switch for the Sydney midfield.
Scott sent 198cm Mark Blicavs - once an aspiring Olympic middle distance runner - on to the powerful Kennedy and thus curtailed Kennedy for most of the formative first half.
In addition to shutting down Kennedy, Blicavs also laid an astounding 14 tackles.
The withdrawal of Tom Lonergan with food poisoning might have seen his long-time opponent, Lance Franklin, have the proverbial leather poisoning, or at least a bag of goals.
But in Harry Taylor, who foundered as a forward against Richmond's Alex Rance last week, Buddy still found a defender who wore him as tightly as Lonergan. Franklin was ineffectual, albeit Sydney's delivery to its champion was neither plentiful nor polished.
Dan Hannebery and Kieran Jack fought, as they always do, without asserting much influence.
When Steven Motlop - a non-factor this year - found zip and touch in the second and third terms (running down Gary Rohan), it was clear that Sydney's season was over and that the punter who'd bet $100,000 on the Swans (at $1.38) had done his dough.
And so the most successful punter in this game was the Geelong coach, who delivered a timely riposte to his numerous critics, most of them Geelong supporters (and the odd ex-player) who don't seem to recognise that Scott isn't coaching the Cats of 2007 or 2011, and that he makes the most of the cattle in the paddock.
This time, he'd put the prized bull in the square. Check mate. The Swans had no answer.
On Friday, the Cats will face Dangerfield's old team, and the premiership favourites, on hostile terrain, for a berth in the grand final. It will be the eighth time they've played in a preliminary final since 2007.
They shouldn't win. But that's what we thought about what quickly became a 'Danger' game for the Swans.