Geelong’s round 18 game vs Brisbane saw Steve Johnson put in a vintage Stevie J performance. 20 disposals, seven inside 50s, three goals – including the one that took him to third on Geelong’s all time list – and a week’s suspension for belting Allen Christensen.
It was a characteristically enigmatic display from Johnson, and one that gave no clarity to the question of where his future lies.
It’s clear Johnson isn’t the player he used to be. He’s now 32 years old, was never quick, and has defied ankle injuries for his entire career. However, he’s still a triple premiership player and, crucially, a creative presence in a side that often lacks ingenuity.
The ideal scenario for Johnson and Geelong is probably for him to stay, but to play a high half-forward role with little (or at least less) midfield time.
This leads to a broader discussion about Geelong, who is shaping up to be one of the more intriguing clubs in the off-season. With a list that’s neither contending nor bottoming out, the Cats are interestingly placed.
The rumours swirling about their list management reflect that, with Geelong’s off-season shaping up to be more like a transfer window than a trade period.
The biggest rumour, of course, is that Patrick Dangerfield is going to move back home from Adelaide. Given Dangerfield’s reticence in regards to contract talks – and the precedent set by similar intransigence on the part of Gary Ablett and Lance Franklin – it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the deal is a fait accompli.
Any team would be silly to pass up the opportunity to sign Dangerfield, but Geelong in particular are desperate for what he provides. Dangerfield is a contested possession and clearance machine, ranking second and seventh respectively in those statistical categories competition wide. Geelong as a side ranks 16th for contested ball and 17th for clearances.
One thing Dangerfield doesn’t bring to the table, however, is efficiency by foot. This is in stark contrast to Steven Motlop, whose classy ball use and x-factor in the forward half has been so important for Geelong this year.
Motlop is in a similar position to Dangerfield: being openly courted by other Victorian clubs – Richmond foremost among them – and reluctant to commit to the Cats.
It seems unlikely Geelong will manage to keep Motlop and pick up Dangerfield, which in a way supplants one problem for another. Geelong would be shattered to lose Motlop, but the issues Dangerfield solves arguably outweigh those brought up by losing the 24-year-old goal sneak.
If Motlop is to leave, the hope will be that pace and class of Jordan Murdoch and Nakia Cockatoo will be able to fill the void.
Another deal that sounds almost a certainty is West Coast’s Scott Selwood joining brother Joel at Kardinia Park. Selwood has had two years of injury frustration in Perth and isn’t certain to hold down a spot in the Eagles’ midfield given its improvement this year. The Cats would use Scott Selwood at the coalface in a further effort to take some of the responsibility off Joel.
Another area of concern for Geelong is the backline. The spread of ages is worrying – at 29, Harry Taylor is the only defender between the ages of 23 and 30.
It is with this in mind that Geelong is chasing Carlton’s Lachie Henderson. He plays primarily in the forward arc for the Blues, but it is as a key position defender that Geelong see his fitting in. At 25, Henderson will be coming to the peak of his powers next season, and would be earmarked to replace one of Jared Rivers (30) or Tom Lonergan (31).
The other reality of Geelong’s defensive age profile is the unfortunate fact at least one of Andrew Mackie (30), James Kelly (31) and Corey Enright (33) will have to be squeezed out of the side.
The unlucky tap on the shoulder is most likely to go to Kelly. Mackie is still Geelong’s best user of the ball coming out of the defensive half, and Enright is a club champion who has earned the right to retire on his own terms. If he wants to stay on, he will.
The other player rumoured to be heading down the highway is Brisbane ruckman Matthew Leuenberger. The chances of that seem slim though – Geelong aren’t hurting for tall options, unless Hamish McIntosh’s retirement leaves the Cats short on some kind of injury prone ruckman quota.
With some clever manoeuvring at the trade table in this off-season, the Cats can potentially jettison themselves back into premiership contention – but it is surely this list’s last chance.