“It was really disappointing and put us on the back foot a bit.”
The key forward, who finished second in last year’s Coleman Medal, has had a wretched season, kicking just eight goals in the first eight games before being dropped for the match against Adelaide.
His injury was a decisive moment for the Kangaroos, too, as they had opened well when the Cats conceded a goal seconds after the first bounce for the second game in a row as Kangaroos forward Jack Mahony scored.
But Geelong are not ones to let such events worry them too much, and they soon asserted both attacking and defensive dominance, proving until midway through the third-quarter that if you don’t score against the Cats from a centre clearance, they are very hard to penetrate.
The Kangaroos’ first four goals to that point of the game came via centre clearances and free kicks, with Kangaroos first gamer Lachie Hosie earning both to kick two goals in the first-quarter for a dream debut.
By contrast, the Cats can score either on the rebound or via forward-half turnovers, with cheeky forward Gryan Miers cashing in with three first-half goals and four for the match.
The Cats have more upfront than Miers however, with Tom Hawkins and Patrick Dangerfield creating chances their teammates could not capitalise upon. Geelong kicked 1.6 in a wasteful period during the second quarter; the experienced Mitch Duncan and the less experienced Tom Atkins were the guilty parties, too casual in front of goal when it mattered.
Cats’ coach Chris Scott said their conversion rate was the only blemish in an otherwise satisfying match for the team.
“I thought we played pretty well early on. They got the first goal really quickly, looked like they got some momentum and really after that we controlled the game,” Scott said.
“The biggest disappointment with the way we played for the most part was our conversion … I thought it was a pretty dominant performance.”
A reverse torpedo from Zach Guthrie, which dribbled through for the 22-year-old’s maiden AFL goal, was the highlight for the Cats in the first-half, while Miers found a cure for the inaccuracy that had struck his team, kicking a goal in the third-quarter to straighten Geelong up.
The Kangaroos battled on but they could not reduce the margin enough to really challenge Geelong, who responded when they needed to in order to win, with Dangerfield stepping up when North Melbourne threatened.
Shaw said the Cats were too good but he thought the Kangaroos took a step forward after their win over Adelaide on Saturday although he would have preferred to win.
“I love the fight that we are showing and continue to show from a group that is really young in some parts,” Shaw said.
Cats’ depth shines through
Short breaks lead to positional shifts as well as changes at selection, with powerful Cats midfielder Dangerfield playing deep forward alongside Hawkins until he needed to go into the midfield when North Melbourne threatened to get the margin below double figures. The move handed more responsibility to Jack Steven, who was good in the opening half and Lachie Fogarty, who showed his clean hands while Cam Guthrie and Sam Menegola have been outstanding all season, stepping up when needed.
Rhys Stanley quells Todd Goldstein
Geelong chased Goldstein during last year’s trade period but when push came to shove the North Melbourne ruckman wanted to stay close to home at the Kangaroos. It made his match-up with Stanley intriguing, as the Cats clearly had their doubts about his capacity to lead them all the way. Stanley was good without being outstanding but he broke even with Goldstein, who could not have his usual influence. “It was an intriguing battle,” Scott said.
North Melbourne creating versatility
Brown’s injury was unfortunate but the Kangaroos are developing a bunch of talls who can play at either end of the ground with Josh Walker, Majak Daw and Ben McKay all capable of playing in attack and defence. It was fortunate because Walker was forced to move forward once Brown was injured after starting the match on Dangerfield. The group has some experience but it will allow North Melbourne to give young midfielders experience with protection all over the ground.
GEELONG 4.2 5.8 8.11 13.12 (90)
NORTH MELBOURNE 3.1 3.2 5.2 9.3 (57)
Geelong: Cam Guthrie, Menegola, Henry, Stewart, Fogarty, Miers, Zach Guthrie, Hawkins.
North Melbourne: Higgins, Simpkin, Anderson, Tarrant, Polec.
Geelong: Miers 4, Hawkins 3, Zach Guthrie 2, Simpson, Duncan, Menegola, Stanley.
North Melbourne: Hosie 2, Walker, Mahony, Simpkin, Scott, Daw, Hall.
Stephens, Fleer, Gianfagna.
CROWD 2282 at the Gabba.
Peter Ryan is a sports reporter with The Age covering AFL, horse racing and other sports.