The Bendigo Bank Cats have finished their Smithy’s 2022 VFL season on a high note, recording a resounding 32-point victory over Port Melbourne.
The strong play of AFL-listed Cats Ollie Dempsey (29 disposals, 13 marks), Luke Dahlhaus (31 disposals) and Cooper Stephens (30 disposals, eight clearances) propelled Geelong to the 10.14 (74) to 5.12 (42) win.
Despite a finals spot already off the cards before the match got underway, Geelong showed they came to play early as they scored two quick goals in the opening two minutes of the match.
The Cats’ pressure across the ground showed plenty of improvement after a tough couple of weeks as forced turnovers played a big part in their defensive effort.
The strong pressure continued into the second quarter, along with some quality team defence that conceded just 11 points from 17 inside 50s in the half.
The Cats couldn’t quite slam the door shut on Port Melbourne until after the third term siren, when Francis Evans ended a run of Borough goals by pushing the lead to 18 points.
After a great start to the season and a tough second half, head coach Shane O’Bree said that there are still plenty of positives to come out of season 2022.
“From a VFL program we’ve been able to play 42 guys throughout the year and overall we tried 60 players,” O’Bree said.
“For us to finish the way we did I thought was a really good team effort.
“It was exciting for the club the amount of players we did see play.”
Cats fans will be excited to hear the praise of O’Bree towards the crop of young guns selected from the 2021 AFL draft.
“I think our AFL first year boys have had a really good year,” he said.
“We’ve learned a lot from them, they’ve played different positions and they’re only going to be better next year with another preseason under their belt.”
“They’ve been exposed to a lot of VFL football against a lot of senior bodies - Ollie Dempsey and Mitch Knevitt played on the wing for the whole game [today] against mature players and they were tired but did really well.”
“There might be some younger guys in our AFL list [who have] an opportunity to do an extra preseason before they go away too.”
Out of all the young AFL-listed players, none stood taller through the 2022 season than Shannon Neale.
“Shannon Neale, the year he’s had as a key forward in his second year he’s looking like he’s a class above VFL now,” O’Bree said.
“Next year he should be a bigger and better version of himself and it’s exciting for him”
Neale says that his development has been greatly helped along by a few other star key forwards at the football club as he hopes to work his way into a consistent role in the senior side.
“It’s been great to learn off [Hawkins and Cameron] and keep developing off them,” Neale said.
“It makes my job harder trying to crack the ones but you’ve got to look at the positives and I’m very fortunate to be in their presence.
“My weakness is my ability to stand next to my opponent and body them out of the way whereas that’s [Tom Hawkins’] strength so being able to learn that is really good for me.
“My work with Harry Taylor has been huge for me too and I think the feedback I’ve got throughout the year, it’s starting to come along.
“Going into next year I have the focus of going to play a few more games but it only comes off the back of my work so I’ve just got to keep chipping away at that and hopefully the reward comes.”
From a VFL perspective, O’Bree was impressed with all products that came through the program, with the defenders and a particular young prospect front of mind.
“You look at our VFL list, Jye Chalcraft had an amazing year as an inside mid,” he said.
“Our whole VFL backline, they are the older players in our VFL but they’re still young in games played so it’s pretty exciting to keep those guys around.”
Finishing the year on eight wins and 10 losses wasn’t the ideal goal for the Cats’ VFL coaching staff.
Despite the season’s record, having 60 players pull on the hoops for the squad was incredible for the club and its ties to local football.
GOALS: Neale, Worme 3, McLachlan, Higgins, F. Evans, Herbert 1
BEST: Dempsey, Dahlhaus, Lloyd, Stephens, Worme, Neale
GEELONG 3.4 4.7 7.10 10.14 (74)
PORT MELBOURNE 1.2 1.5 3.9 5.12 (42)