Monday, May 16, 2011

Geelong, like Manchester United, are the "Crap Invincibles"

Geelong's unbeaten start to the AFL season has surprised many. Even so, their gritty three-point victory on Friday night perhaps stamped them again as a viable Premiership threat. Pre-season the Cats were daubed old, one-paced and vulnerable not for any lack of skill - they still boast players such as Enright, Corey, Chapman, Scarlett and golden child Joel Selwood - but because they'd lost their best player and their fabled "window" was closing. Rumours of their demise have been greatly overstated. While many expected the Cats to fall from contention this season, they've done quite the opposite.

This is hardly a different viewpoint to some reports emanating from Victoria. The Cats still bear (most of) the fruit of a decade's intelligent drafting and their core, though nearer retirement than debut, may eke out another triumph or two. The Premiership may be a bridge too far, but it is now firmly on the Cats' radar.

This isn't the first time such successful renewal on the fly has happened at the Cattery. In 1995, nearly broken from three Grand Final defeats, Malcolm Blight walked away from coaching Geelong to be replaced by his assistant Gary Ayres. The former Hawthorn defender wanted to toughen a notoriously freewheeling and attack-minded club and got immediate results. The Cats hardened up and were rewarded with another Grand Final appearance that year only to be demolished by an irresistible Carlton unit. They made the finals again in 1997 - with a team many thought much improved over their mid-90s teams - and were eliminated after losing in Adelaide amidst the drama of Leigh Colbert's phantom mark.

These memories have been re-awakened this year. Rookie coach Chris Scott - in his playing days an uncompromising defender like Ayres - has revitalised some aspects of the playing group, most obviously David Wojcinski. He has empowered others, like Taylor Hunt and Daniel Menzel. But more than that, he and the club don't subscribe to 2010 tactics that then-coach Mark Thompson admitted were flawed. The Cats have begun to grind out results as if they've become so accustomed to winning that they have simply just continued this learned behaviour, albeit in a different style.

A parallel can be drawn from the land of tea, Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who and Pippa Middleton. Manchester United were crowned English Premier Leauge Champions on Saturday, capturing their fourth title in five years. This triumph has been touted rightly as one of Sir Alex Ferguson's greatest achievements: his team - missing Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez and (mostly) Wayne Rooney's form - clung onto top position relying on an ageing squad sprinkled with youth.

In 2010, United lost the title to Chelseas and pundits predicted a fall-off. The squad - with only one new player really contributing - went unbeaten into February, the equivalent of the AFL's Round 16. The ESPN Soccernet podcast dubbed Ferguson's mob "The Crap Invincibles" for their ability to avoid defeat yet look totally uninspiring doing it.

Although the AFL's answer to Sir Alex is working in his lab preparing to mastermind an orange outfit into season 2012, it sounds familiar, doesn't it? While the Cats have been impressive so far, the high-scoring juggernaut of 2007 is gone. Like United, Geelong has the enviable gift of being able to win despite their skills not being at their peak. They are the AFL's "Crap Invincibles". This isn't an insult - quite the opposite - their ability to get results such as Friday night's win (against a Magpie outfit they at times looked unable to cope with) is testament to their determination and smarts. They are achieving not because of what they can do physically, but because of strength of character.

Neither club's time-derived ability to win has died. In fact, though their squads are unquestionably weaker than during their pomp of 2007-08, their collective nous has perhaps increased. Injury time has become synonymous with a United rally and goal, while the Cats have made a (slightly annoying but understandable) habit of being able to overpower their opposition with a quarter and a half of devastating play. The popular adage states that success breeds success. It couldn't be more true than in Geelong or Manchester United.

Chris Scott image courtesy:

Sir Alex Ferguson image courtesy:

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