This is a weekend of celebration for the Geelong Football Club and how special it is for the Cats to have Gary Ablett play his 350th game and Joel Selwood his 300th at the same time.
Having the game at down at Kardinia Park, at GMHBA Stadium is totally appropriate, and given Ablett’s seven seasons with Gold Coast, seems a suitable opponent.
But given there will be no fans at the game, what the AFL should have done is held its nerve, backed the pair to get through the first few games of the season and scheduled Hawthorn as the opponent this weekend.
As consistently outstanding as the pair have been throughout their magnificent careers, both lifted a further notch whenever they crossed paths with the Hawks.
Indeed this week, when asked to reflect on his younger brother’s career, Troy Selwood, the former Brisbane player who now works for the Cats, said the games against the Hawks loom large.
“It’s those games, where he gets beaten up, picks himself dusts himself off and gets going once again that I’ll always remember,” he said.
There will be a fair bit of story-telling this weekend. Ablett arrived at the club in the shadow of his celebrated father and might have been a better player. Two flags and two Brownlows – Gary snr win neither – might be the key statistic there.
Selwood’s ridiculous courage, his ability to turn a game with a few hard ball gets or a clearance or two, is the stuff of legend at Geelong.
The tale about Selwood that keeps getting told is how when the Cats were 2-3 in 2007, fresh off the searching review that retained Mark Thompson as coach, a few hard truths were told at a team meeting after a loss to North Melbourne. And it was Selwood, with just five games to his name by that stage, who led the discussion.
Nigel Lappin was still a Brisbane player at the time, but joined the Cats a few years later as an assistant coach. He’s heard all the stories.
“When this guy walked into this footy club he lifted standards at a time when the standards were already pretty high. For a first year player to train the way he did, he wasn’t scared to pull senior players up. It was pretty amazing,” he said.
It’s also a big week for…
Carlton and St Kilda: This is the time since 2011 that the Blues and Saints have met with neither side having a negative win-loss record. Carlton have been the heart-scare specialists of the competition, with their last three matches each decided by two points or less. But they've showed considerable resolve to win their last two games and the long-overdue climb up the ladder might be beginning. The Saints were outstanding against Richmond and they deserve plenty of credit for sticking with the run-and-gun approach despite it failing against Collingwood the week before. It is great to see these clubs meeting in prime-time once more after their ill-fated attempts to kick-start Monday night football a few years back. Carlton’s coach then was Brett Ratten. Now he’s a Saint and you get the feeling that clashes against the Blues might be a touch personal. This should be a fun Thursday night.
Victorian football: In one respect, it doesn't really matter because Victorian fans haven’t been able to go. Matches at the MCG, Marvel Stadium and GMHBA Stadium have been invitation-only, made for TV events. But given the spike in COVID-19 numbers, this might be the last weekend of games played in the game’s heartland for a considerable period. Players from the 10 Victorian clubs have their bags packed and are ready for immediate departure. But it’s a bit like a Sunday competition at the local tennis club; you might not know who you’re actually playing until you get there.
Collingwood: It has been the week from hell for the Magpies. It started with the likely season-ending knee injury to defender Jeremy Howe, arguably the best rebound defender in the competition. And that led to Steele Sidebottom reportedly breaking up to three of the AFL’s COVID-19 rules with a chain of events that started with the star midfielder spending time visiting Howe the following afternoon. Sidebottom has been in great form and the starting point when playing the Pies is whether or not to run a hard tag on him. But he won’t be playing against the Bombers on Friday night and perhaps for a few weeks after because these seem to quite serious breaches. Adam Treloar’s return for Collingwood could not have come at a better time, but with Howe and Sidebottom absent, the Pies won't be playing with a full hand for the next little while.
Matt Rowell: Let’s face it. The kid is going to be a star and how he plays against Geelong at GMHBA Stadium on Saturday will in no way define what sort of career he is going to have. But after four home games, he hits the road for the first time to take on the Cats. He’ll be facing a hard tag, Cats coach Chris Scott has already guaranteed that, and Cam Guthrie seems to be the No.1 candidate. But how good will be the inevitable clashes be with Joel Selwood? The Cats skipper has already tweeted his admiration for Rowell, but that doesn't mean he wants to come off second best, especially on such a momentous day. Bring the popcorn.
Brisbane and Port Adelaide: Playing their first game of real significance since the 2004 Grand Final. Cue the montages of Alastair Lynch going at it with Darryl Wakelin, and of Mark Williams pretending to choke himself with his tie. It is third hosting first and premiership favouritism will likely sit with the winner.
Richmond: The spin from the Tigers in their media release that they were disappointed about not being able to play live in front of their Queensland fans on Thursday night was understandable. But there would have been a fair-bit of fist-pumping internally that instead of West Coast on a five-day break they get Melbourne at the MCG with eight days to properly address what has gone wrong in 2020. It seems foolish to totally dismiss the Tigers, but in a 17-game season, they’re in some strife if they lose again this week.
Leon Cameron: In two games against Hawthorn last year, the Giants attack was totally dismantled and could manage just nine goals combined. Granted, the second clash was the now-famous ‘Snow Game’ in Canberra, but the Hawks still managed to kick 13 goals themselves on that frigid evening. The Hawks have generally been terrific from a defensive standpoint this year and they have the famous ‘Clarkson Cluster’ going again, albeit with new personnel and some fresh wrinkles. The Giants got back on the winner’s list last week, but Cameron and co are going to have to think their way very carefully through the confident and in-form Hawk defensive unit.
Carlton v St Kilda (9)
Collingwood (11) v Essendon
West Coast (7) v Sydney
Geelong (18) v Gold Coast
Western Bulldogs (6) v North Melbourne
Brisbane (6) v Port Adelaide
Adelaide v Fremantle (7)
Melbourne v Richmond (13)
GWS Giants (10) v Hawthorn