Herald Sun, Edition 1 – FIRST SAT 14 JUL 2012, Page 040

ONE of the most interesting things in the next eight weeks will be seeing if Geelong can rekindle its premiership-winning form.

The Cats sit seventh on the ladder, with a respectable nine wins, but in the past three weeks two of those victories have been against Port Adelaide and Gold Coast. In the other game, they lost to Sydney by six points.

I saw the Swans game three weeks ago and, to be frank, for three quarters the Cats were horrible.

Then their stars stepped up.

This is the team that has dominated for the past five years — at times it has been an unbeatable force that ruled in almost every statistical category.

The Cats were harder, more skilful and better organised than any other team.

At the moment they are a mile off, but they have the talent to turn it around.

The stats offer little explanation for their 9-5 record. Unquestionably, it is their individual brilliance that has dragged them over the line in many of those victories.

Selwood, Bartel, Chapman, Johnson, etc, have all taken it upon themselves to exert their substantial influence at various times.

However, the Cats are playing as individuals and not as a team.

Geelong has been in front for just 48 per cent of game time — the only side in the top eight that is below 50 per cent.

Further illustrating the reliance on individual performance, the Cats have won 10 final quarters, the second most of any side.

We are used to seeing a side that excels in all aspects of the game but this is no longer the case. When the ball is now in dispute the Cats are nowhere near as hard as they used to be and their ability to win 50/50 contests has dropped dramatically.

They failed to win the contested possession count in any of their opening nine matches.

They have addressed this somewhat since but still rank 11th in this category.

With hard-ball gets they are ranked 17th — behind even the fledgling GWS Giants.

The one consolation is that the last placed team is the Eagles — who are second on the ladder.

Often the way to overcome this problem is if you are a very good running/spreading team.

The Eagles are third in uncontested possessions but the Cats are middle of the table, in eighth. Couple this with the fact they are 16th in handballs received and their problem is they are neither a hard inside team or a hard-running outside team.

The problem is also compounded by the fact they are 15th for clearances and, most importantly, 11th from scores from stoppages.

This is an incredible statistic, given their talent.

As an opposition coach, I was impressed by their high possession, high octane game. They had an incredible ability to run the ball from the length of the field and were without peer in both decision making and skill execution when in possession.

You knew if you turned the ball over you were unlikely to see it until the umpire was bouncing the ball to restart the game after they had kicked a goal.

Last year they were No.1 at scoring a goal from inside 50 (28.5 per cent), this year they are ninth (23.5 per cent).

The most worrying statistic of all is points against, as we know premiership teams are very difficult to score against.

Last year after Round 22, the Cats had conceded the second fewest points, behind only the miserly Magpies.

This year, after 14 games, they are eighth, a long way off the great defensive teams of the past.

Despite the loss of some key players, the talent is there. But has the desire and commitment of this exceptional side disappeared?

I suspect we will find out more, as we generally do, when the Pies take on the Cats tonight.

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