It isn’t always apparent at the beginning of the year which player has the potential to be a missing link in their team’s hunt for premiership glory, but the moment that Nathan Vardy unfortunately went down with a season ending knee injury, it crystallised that Hamish McIntosh, who spent the majority of 2013 on the injury list after being traded from North Melbourne is integral to the Cats’ hopes of remaining at the top end of the ladder.

Athletic young rookie Mark Blicavs has been promoted to the senior list, but despite showing great potential, he lacks the experience to bear the full weight of Geelong’s rucking duties on his broad shoulders. Similarly, 25-year-old Dawson Simpson, who has only managed 11 games in his four-year career, will also need consistent support from an experienced ruckman.

Hamish McIntosh is the man for the job. He was a top 10 draft pick in 2002, and like most big men of the game, it took him a few years to develop physically and to break into North Melbourne’s team — between 2002 and 2005, troubled by ankle injuries and inconsistency, he managed only 18 games. In 2007, McIntosh had his breakout year, playing 25 games, averaged 15.7 disposals and 18.5 hitouts, and was close to All-Australian selection.

McIntosh played regularly until 2010, when he formed a very effective partnership, rotating between ruck and forward with fellow big man Todd Goldstein. Unfortunately this blossoming relationship was cut short by a further spate of injuries, and in 2011-2012, McIntosh only managed to add a further eight games to his career tally of 107.

There are big questions over McIntosh’s fitness; whether his body is capable of playing at an AFL level for a sustained length of time. Geelong offered the big man a three-year contract when he was traded, and 2013 passed without seeing him pull on the hoops a single time. Yet it’s entirely possible that Geelong were playing the long-term game, not rushing McIntosh back from injuries too quickly, giving his body time to heal from surgeries and strains in order to give him the very best opportunity to relaunch his AFL career.

McIntosh’s first hitout will be against Adelaide’s Sam Jacobs, who after a scintillating 2012, was well off the mark in 2013, so he will undoubtedly be looking to make a big statement against the long-absent McIntosh. If McIntosh can rise to the challenge, hold his own, and provide his midfielders with access to the ball, while offering a big target when rotated up forward, then he could very well be the answer to some of the questions surrounding Geelong in 2014.