I’m not really into sport, but found myself watching the Cats go up against the Magpies; both of them were undefeated this season. For some reason everyone loves to hate the Magpies, and despite disappointments I still support the Cats.
This was a highly anticipated game, with record crowds of over 81,000 people in the stadium and countless more watching on TV. It was also the first game I have watched for 17 years (the last one being the catastrophic Grand Final loss in 1994).
Geelong started aggressively, with the ball in its forward half 70% of the time and 10 behinds, but low on goals, with the scores close. Collingwood defended hard, keeping scores incredibly low, and the Cats’ aggression proved brittle when the Magpies slipped past most of the players and landed a few easy goals, propelling them into the lead: 11 points at halftime, and then up to 17 in a nasty third quarter. Geelong had numerous goal opportunities, but in the wind and rain, and under pressure, kicked behinds or out of bounds, whittling at the two goal gap very slowly. The defence-heavy game led to scrimmages after scrimmage, lots of tackling, fumbling with the ball, and trying to scoop it off the ground and get it out of the pack. One of Geelong’s players excelled at this, and I think he contributed a lot to his side. Unfortunately the Cats made a habit of wild kicks that went to outnumbered teammates, and leaving their defences bare, and they suffered for it.
The Cats’ captain injured his arm in a scuffle and had to leave the field; one of the Magpies was involved in a nasty collision and the game had to be stopped while he was carried out on a stretcher. At last one of Geelong’s younger players managed a mark, and then a tough goal that outshone the easier attempts by more experienced players so far; another player who had missed straightforward goals twice so far finally drove one in.
The goals invigorated the Cats, but Collingwood fought back hard; however they scored several close behinds instead of goals, and Geelong didn’t relent. After lots of close back-and-forth, Geelong edged out a 3 point lead, and stalled the last minute to take victory.
Despite not following the sport, I was on the edge of my seat for the entire game. It was incredibly close, and incredibly dramatic. After the first quarter, I thought the Cats’ push past the Magpies would give them the game in such a low-scoring environment, but their technical sloppiness, poor judgement when passing, and poor strategic coordination (leaving big gaps that let Collingwood score without a fight) reversed their lead and had me despairing. A few solid goals later, the Cats were in front again, and if they could hold their lead… But then Collingwood kicked an easy goal and were on an offensive – until the Cats came crashing back and held on to victory.
I was impressed by the Cats’ coach; he seemed like a very calm man who prized consistency of play, emphasised practice, and specifically didn’t criticise his players’ skill errors.