Geelong’s greatest challenge on Friday night is not the dimensions of the MCG, or even Buddy Franklin, but instead their state of mind.
For the Cats, this game is all above the shoulders. Chris Scott said on Wednesday if his side went into the match thinking they needed to “pick themselves up off the canvas” they might struggle. For him the messaging is all positive. But while that is quite understandable from a coach, I’d be taking a different approach into this do-or-die clash against Sydney.
Given the Swans sent them packing from September last year, the Cats players should be shown that game again as a warning for what’s to come. They need to be reminded just how hard the Swans were in that preliminary final.
The Cats shouldn’t just be bracing for the same treatment they copped 12 months ago, but in fact, they need to be expecting this fight to be even tougher. It’s that type of mental approach that could prove key.
I’ll never forget the advice former North Melbourne champion Wayne Schimmelbusch gave us before an under-19s grand final back in the late ’80s.
“Schimma” told us to prepare like it would be the toughest match we’d ever play. He told us not to dream of big marks, or flashy goals, but instead to visualise ourselves facing intense pressure, being tackled and scragged. Prepare for a dogfight. If you did that you were ready for anything, and from that headspace, the challenge only gets easier once you set foot on the field.
You might get a couple of early kicks or get on the end of a lead, and suddenly you’re thinking: “gee, this isn’t so bad”. Mentally, you were prepared for much worse
We saw with Richmond last week that the grind normally comes before the reward. Even Dustin Martin was dour in the first half, before he came to life, dominating the second.
That has to be the mindset for everyone at Geelong. It might sound simplistic, but the Cats must come determined to match the Swans’ hardness, particularly given John Longmire’s men have blown them away in the opening term of their past two encounters. As we’ve said time and again, they can’t rely on the likes of Joel Selwood, Patrick Dangerfield and Tom Hawkins to get the job done.
In September, it’s often your bottom five who can win you matches. We know Geelong’s best is as good as anyone’s, so there should be no reason why they can’t reach that level tonight. To do that, every last Cat needs to want the football.
What makes the great players great is the fact they don’t just hope to get the footy in big moments, they demand it. They thrive on standing tall when it matters most.
In September, some players can shy away from those challenges. They’re intimidated and can avoid making a contest theirs, simply so they don’t make a mistake. For Geelong to win, that can’t be the case. They need to rise as one, solid unit. Of course, there are a number of factors that will go into the result. Sometimes you can be mentally switched on and still get beaten.
But the talk of being exposed for pace on the ‘G shouldn’t concern the Cats too much. There are still four posts at either end and the coach is too smart to be preparing his side to play on the one-sized ground only.
Yes, facing a straight sets exit increases the pressure, but everyone can play a bad final. The Swans got thumped by GWS in a qualifying final last year, before bouncing back against Adelaide and ultimately reaching the grand final.
Each individual deals with the outside noise that comes with losing differently. Some will harness it, while it can send others further into their shells. But as Scott touched on this week, the Cats finished in the top two for a reason and if they can topple the Swans we know they have no fear of the Crows.
A week is a long time in football, just as your fortunes can change in a single contest. Being mentally prepared to put your body on the line and win the footy just once can provide the confidence boost your team needs.
As with the Dogs last year, confidence sometimes builds at a rapid rate. And we all know how that story ended.