Chris Scott is coaching very well. When hasn’t he, it could be argued, given that he won a premiership in his first season as coach of Geelong and backed it up with a finals appearance the following year?
While there were plenty of opinions proffered to suggest the great Cat era was coming to an end, Geelong sits undefeated after four rounds, its extraordinary ability to win games from seemingly hopeless positions handsomely enhanced.
Scott, as is his nature, will deflect credit for their position, preferring to point to the players’ unbelievable resolve and their faith in one another. It is indisputable that the winning culture that permeates every part of the football club was well and truly established before he arrived to take over from Mark Thompson.
But to maintain it, and to infuse a new group of young footballers with a similar mindset, was always going to be a mighty task. It helps that there is a leadership group of rare quality that inspires, and demands, nothing less from its peers, regardless of age or experience. It would be a very brave, or dumb, footballer who defies the example set by his captain, Joel Selwood. To get a simple nod of approval from Selwood would be enough to nourish a youngster’s career for a year.
Taking all of that into consideration, Scott’s coaching still deserves recognition. And the thing that I’ve enjoyed most about the way he is managing his side is the proactive nature of the way he is going about it.
In recent times, Hawthorn’s Alastair Clarkson has provided the best example of an AFL coach being ahead of the game, with his radical decision to implement an aggressive, zone-based defence that was pivotal to the Hawks’ unlikely 2008 premiership.
Scott’s ability to maximise the exceptional talents of key defender Harry Taylor in recent weeks has been a joy to observe. Taylor has long been recognised as one of the elite defenders in the competition. What we are coming to appreciate is that he could be equally effective at the other end of the ground. He should be acknowledged as one of the most valuable footballers in the competition.
Last week, against the Swans Taylor continually went on searching forays deep into Geelong’s attacking 50-metre zone. To be able to do this, Scott has to first trust that Taylor picks the right time, so that he is not left with the embarrassing sight of his opponent taking an uncontested mark, with him 100 metres away at the opposite end of the ground.
Taylor picked his moments perfectly. It was fascinating to watch the mind games being played out between him and his direct opponent. Whether it was Lewis Roberts-Thomson or Adam Goodes, you could see them wrestling with the notion that they were the attackers; therefore Taylor was obligated to chase them.
What happened was actually the opposite, for Taylor is such a dangerous marking option that to risk not chasing him was to flirt with disaster. The fact that he ended up kicking 2.4 from centre half-back would suggest that his opponents lost the mind game.
But Scott provided Taylor with the perfect safety net. It appeared that every time he ran forward it was a signal for James Podsiadly to head back and provide cover, picking up Taylor’s opponent. It provided Taylor with the confidence to run, and then to spend extended time in the forward half, secure in the knowledge that Podsiadly had his back. The effect was twofold.
Taylor, obviously, posed an enormous attacking threat. But it also gave Podsiadly a focus, other than the need to hit the scoreboard. The ”J-Pod” has been a terrific story, but he can go for long periods of a game without exerting a great influence. The momentary change of focus, to be able to lock down on an opponent, can be a stimulating match-day experience. It can free the mind of concerns about winning possessions or kicking goals.
The change of on-field scenery for a player can lead to dramatic results, and should be exploited more. The Cats now know that they have a goalkicking weapon up their sleeve in Taylor, and may continue to explore Podsiadly’s ability to defend. Luke McGuane, at the Tigers, is filling the role of the third tall in the forward line. Kyle Hardingham started as a high-flying forward for the Bombers and is now an integral part of their back six. Daniel Merrett went from forward to back with great results.
Travis Varcoe was going to be another of Scott’s successful, proactive decisions. Varcoe gave every indication, in the pre-season and the couple of games he played before injuring his shoulder that, by the season’s end, he could have been the most dangerous running half-back in the game.
The Cats are, and have been, all about ”team” for a long time. Scott has been happy for Jimmy Bartel to play in the back half this year. Last week, in the second half, he played in the back pocket. If there has been a more decorated or skilful back-pocket in the modern era, I’d like to know who it is. But Bartel was happy to play his role.
George Horlin-Smith played his best game for the Cats, winning a Rising Star nomination for his 23-possession game on Swans superstar Josh Kennedy. He was one of seven Cats who made his debut last season under Scott, and one of 12 who have played their first game under him.
Scott has moved Joel Corey from the midfield, but still found an important role for him, primarily as a defender, or defensive run-with player, while injecting some pace through the middle with increased responsibility handed to Mathew Stokes and Allen Christensen.
While coaches are ultimately judged on their ability to win games, they are also judged on their ability to develop talent. What we have witnessed from Mark Blicavs in the first four weeks of the year has probably not been fully appreciated. This former Olympic aspirant, with just a handful of football games under his belt at any level, has held down the No.1 ruck position in one of the great sides of the modern era. And yes, injury to the rucking stocks played its part, but Scott has said that Blicavs was shaping as preferred choice regardless.
With seven home games to come in the back half of the year, the 4-0 start to the season has the Cats well placed. They play the struggling Dogs on Saturday night, and Taylor will be darting forward, Bartel might be patrolling the back half, Horlin-Smith might be running with Matty Boyd and ”The Blitz” will be running Will Minson from one end of the ground to the other.
I suspect Scott will be thinking, proactively, about what else he can do to make this outstanding side even better.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.