For a team that has three premierships and eight consecutive finals appearances under its belt in the last eight years, Geelong has been a team used to producing sustained excellence over the best part of the last decade. However, the lustre of the Cats slipped just a little last year after their straight sets exit from the finals series, after recording an impressive 17-5 record in the home and away season.
In order to address a potential slide down the ladder, the Cats have worked on some areas over the off-season which needed addressing, including providing support up forward for spearhead Tom Hawkins. Enter Mitch Clark.
The issues Clark has faced in recent years have been well documented, from his move from Brisbane to Melbourne, his persistent injury concerns that restricted him to just 15 games at the Demons, and finally his struggles with clinical depression that forced his premature retirement from the game midway through last year.
However, Clark is ready to give AFL football another crack in 2015, and the Cats have taken a chance on him, winning his services via a three-way trade that saw Heritier Lumumba join Melbourne and Travis Varcoe leave Geelong for Collingwood.
The initial form showed by Clark this pre-season for the Cats has been excellent during this year’s NAB Challenge, as his numbers have shown he has not lost the ability to make an impact, despite missing the best part of the last two years of senior football.
Clark booted 11 goals in three matches, averaging 12.3 disposals and 3.7 marks, including an average of 2.0 contested marks per game and 2.3 marks inside 50, while also winning 4.7 hitouts and laying 2.3 tackles per game. Importantly, Clark averaged 87.7% time on ground during the NAB Challenge, giving every indication he will be ripe for round one.
The added bonus Clark provides is that signs of forming an impressive forward partnership with Hawkins are emerging, as they combined for eight goals together in the Cats’ last NAB Challenge hitout, a 19-point win over Carlton at Etihad Stadium.
Hawkins gave his all last season to kick 68 goals, as he shouldered the burden as the Cats’ main tall forward option. However, the Cats have been lacking a foil to ease the pressure on him since James Podsiadly left for the Crows at the end of 2013. Proving this, the versatile Jimmy Bartel was the next highest goal kicker for Geelong in 2014 with just 27 majors.
While Clark only managed 15 games for the Demons in his two and bit years at the club, he managed a healthy tally of 36 goals, and now at the age of 27, the time is ripe for Clark to grasp this golden chance with an established finals side to reboot his career.
He has shown the ability in previous years to be a strong marking forward, and is capable of kicking multiple goals with 10 of his 15 games at the Demons seeing him kick two goals or more.
If the form Clark has shown for the Cats is a true reflection of what he can deliver to Geelong up forward this season, then he could well be the missing link that enables Geelong to once again see Grand Final action in 2015.