Geelong has been one of the most active teams of the inaugural trade and free agency period, acquiring young gun midfielder Josh Caddy from Gold Coast, ruckman Hamish McIntosh from the Kangaroos and seasoned defender Jared Rivers from Melbourne as an unrestricted free agent.
At first glance, the arrival of these players at the Cattery would seem to be astute recruiting. Although irreplaceable, the retirement of defensive stalwart, and arguably the best key defender ever to play the game, Matthew Scarlett, means that smaller-bodied players Harry Taylor and Tom Lonergan will have to take on the task of curtailing opposition forwards.
Having Rivers in this defensive unit will provide some relief for the likes of Taylor and Lonergan, as well as giving the Cats some run and carry out of defence.
The recruitment of Caddy will also provide some grunt and inside pressure to the Cats’ silky midfield, whilst McIntosh will provide able support for the Cats band of young ruckman.
However, acquiring these players could have more of a downside for Geelong than the positive it was hoping it could be.
There are two main reasons for this. The first is that the recruitment of McIntosh comes as somewhat of a surprise. In a team already boasting three young ruckmen in Trent West, Nathan Vardy and Dawson Simpson, as well as the older but still inexperienced Orren Stephenson, it is difficult to see the need for another ruckman.
The intentions of the Cats may be to play McIntosh and Vardy as first-choice ruckman and then rotate West forward to assist Tom Hawkins. However, none of these players is a first-choice forward, which casts doubt on the futures of Simpson, West and Stephenson.
If West and Simpson are pushed aside at the expense of McIntosh, the Cats would be relying on an injury-prone 28-year-old to lead their ruck division. It is apparent that the Cats are looking to stay in premiership contention by bringing in McIntosh, but they must not neglect the future of their developing ruckmen either.
The second reason is that, with the acquisition of Caddy, McIntosh and Rivers, and the need to keep the mandatory three free spots on its list for the NAB AFL Draft in November, Geelong must now delist or trade some of its young talent.
The Cats are in the envious and somewhat unusual position of having too many Category A rookies on their list. According to new AFL rules, clubs can only have four rookies on their Category A list – Geelong has 5: Cameron Eardley, George Burbury, Jackson Sheringham, Josh Walker, and Jonathon Simpkin.
With former rookie Jesse Stringer having already been elevated to the senior list for next season, the Cats are facing the prospect of having to delist some of their young talent.
Burbury, whilst failing to play a senior game in 2012, was superb in playing every game for the Cats’ VFL team, including the premiership. Eardley also impressed in his VFL games this year, whilst Sheringham, Walker and Simpkin all played a handful of AFL games, and looked to be players of the future for the Cats.
The secret to Geelong’s recent success, and indeed the approach that took the Cats to the 2011 premiership despite being ruled out, has been gradually introducing youth into a team of experienced, seasoned players. Allen Christensen, Mitch Duncan, and Steven Motlop are examples of this from recent years.
This approach has ensured that the Cats have not bottomed out, despite the retirement of some of their older players. The recruitment of McIntosh, Rivers and Caddy seems to belie this tactic.
Whilst Caddy will slot seamlessly into the Cats’ midfield, and has the potential to be a long-term player, McIntosh and Rivers are only short-term solutions. Whilst recruiting them means that the club will not bottom out in the sprint, it also means they will both take the position of a younger player in the marathon.
From what we have seen, any of Burbury, Sheringham, Simpkin and Eardley could be groomed and developed into very good defenders and midfielders, with Walker being a potential forward target.
The Cats would be better served continuing their successful policy of injecting youth into their experienced backline and midfield, rather than ‘topping up’ with more experienced players.