Geelong coach Chris Scott at training.

IT has become an annual pre-season question posed by to Geelong coach Chris Scott.

Can you win the (insert year) flag?

Most coaches dance around the question and tiptoe into a nothing response. It's easier to be non-committal publicly; less backlash if bold plans fail to materialise.

Scott doesn't play those games because he's not interested in three and five-year plans which require delicate public-expectation management. He simply sets out to win a premiership every year, and he is prepared to answer the question every time.

In 2022, coming off an embarrassing 83-point loss in a qualifying final the previous season, and to much industry amusement, he predicted the most unlikely of premierships.

"Yep, I am very confident of that (winning the 2022 flag)," Scott said at the time. Seven months later, he had secured a second personal premiership as Geelong coach, and a fourth premiership for the Cats since 2007. 

The 2024 version of the question was posed late last week, as Scott monitored a fast-paced, highly skilled Geelong scratch match at GMHBA Stadium.

"I feel that if things go well for us we are going to be as good a chance as anyone," he said, again unafraid of putting himself and his club out there.

"And you can frame that different ways. Looking at it through the optimistic lens, I think we can improve on what our best footy has looked like in the past two years. Last year we were inconsistent for reasons we think were pretty obvious."

Among the "pretty obvious" to which Scott was referring were severe injury and unavailability issues with key players, including Jack Henry, Cam Guthrie, Mitch Duncan, Rhys Stanley, Jed Bews and Gary Rohan. Paddy Dangerfield and Jeremy Cameron, after a blistering start to the season, both regularly played hurt.


The injuries, which were messily impactful on the 2023 season that saw the Cats miss finals and finish 12th, provided meaningful game-time and opportunities for some talented younger players who Scott believes will be crucial to the next premiership push.

Among those potential future Cats stars are Max Holmes, Ollie Henry and Tanner Bruhn. Three players, respectively taken at No.20, 17 and 12 in the 2020 AFL Draft, the latter two by opposition clubs, Collingwood and GWS.

"It's exciting for us, and I will group them together here – Ollie Henry, Tanner Bruhn and Max Holmes were all first-round picks, from the 2020 draft – and it's been rare for us to have early picks, and to have three first-round picks from the same year on our list is really exciting for us," Scott said.

"They are starting to get to the point where they don't need to be classified as young players. They have done their apprenticeship and they're ready to be judged on their performances against every other player in the competition."

GEELONG, AUSTRALIA - JULY 15: Max Holmes of the Cats in action during the 2023 AFL Round 18 match between the Geelong Cats and the Essendon Bombers at GMHBA Stadium on July 15, 2023 in Geelong, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos)

Holmes' future beyond this year is yet to be determined. Many rival clubs, including Collingwood – quite possibly strongly mindful of the Cats' effective approach to Henry at the end of 2022 – have pitched to his management.

"We take the interest in our people as a compliment, that other clubs are seeing what we are seeing," Scott said of Holmes. "Now Max hasn't yet done it on the field the way some other highly credentialled, in-demand younger players have, but I think everyone can see the talent is there.

"So yeah, my involvement is: do we want to keep him? Yep, that's easy. And yeah, I do have influence on the management of our TPP (Total Player Payments). Our list management structure is different to some others. I don't run it all. I am passionate about it and have a real interest in it but the most important thing to me is our football strategy is congruent with our TPP strategy.

"We traded up for Max Holmes, and in my view that was one of the riskiest list management moves we have made. Dangerfield was a risk because of the length of the contract and what we had to give up in terms of the trade, Jeremy Cameron was a risk, but trading up for Max Holmes … trading your future first-round pick is really risky, because if you have a bad year, and really the laws of probability say we had been up there for a while, and history shows when teams fall, they fall hard.

"So it was a risky move, but it wasn't as if we didn't understand the risks.

"I guess the question with Max, and one of the reasons we are excited about him, is that he really looks to be a flexible player. Everyone knows about his speed. The concern sometimes when you take a player with great athletic attributes, (is) that they're athletes who might be able to play football. He is a footballer. He's got really good footy instincts. He can play in a variety of spots."

While Holmes will be entering his fourth season, Tom Hawkins is up to his 18th, and Dangerfield his 17th.

"(On Dangerfield) I'm trying to avoid the big statements that everyone seems to make (about fitness) at this time of year, but the takeaway for me is, with the work he has done and the shape he is in, I just don't see any reason why he can't play at his best," Scott said.

"And maybe it is a new paradigm, maybe it has taken us a while to get to it, but we have been there for a while, too, in that we don't start writing players off before their performances show it.

"We have a management philosophy that is different to where the game was 15 years ago, so I am not going to sit here and say he will play every week no matter what, but he is not that different to Max Holmes."

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Applying American sports vernacular to Scott's record, he has had 12 "winning" years from the 13 he has coached Geelong. The only season where he failed to accumulate more wins than losses came last year, and even then there were 10 wins. Finals have been reached in 11 seasons. There have been eight preliminary finals, three Grand Finals, two flags.

It is a record which allows Scott to always approach a new season with premiership hopes.

"We have to be different to '22, the game moves on, and the way the game has been engineered, for it to be tight, means there are so many teams that should be thinking that if things go right, we will be hard to beat," Scott said.

"I don't spend too much time thinking about it. But I'm pretty happy I'm us."