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VFL: Cats take down soaring Hawks

Jack Hollmer locks up a Box Hill player in the Cats win.
Jack Hollmer locks up a Box Hill player in the Cats win.
An undermanned Geelong continued their winning streak at Simonds Stadium on Saturday, overcoming the high-flying Box Hill Hawks to claim victory, 12.17 (89) to 12.12 (84).

Though the lack of big men left the Cats on the back foot, a stellar final quarter allowed the kittens to continue in the beloved tradition of the ‘Kennett Curse’.

An abundance of missed opportunities from both sides dominated the initial quarter as the increasingly scrappy contest unfolded. A series of Box Hill mistakes allowed goals from Corrigan and Hamling, securing an early lead for Geelong. While Port Fairy import Sandy Robinson tried valiantly to create a rucking contest against the towering 204cm ruckman Luke Lowden, the Box Hill big men were clearly controlling the air through the centre and forward. Returning hero Daniel Menzel seemed keen to attack the contest this week, after making his 2013 debut last week against Sandringham.

Though the Cats maintained dominance on the ground, the scoreboard often sat idle, leading to a 22-point stalemate at the first quarter siren.

An unruffled Matthew Knights applauded the structural work of his men at the break, imploring them to ‘maximise disposals’ as they entered the second term.

A determined Cameron Guthrie proved invaluable in the second quarter, providing plenty of class through the backline and midfield to keep Geelong in the contest. Menzel made his presence known with a reported knee in the back of Box Hill backman Daniel Pratt shortly followed by a resounding first goal, much to the delight of the Geelong supporters. The ensuing arm wrestle provided plenty of entertainment, with the lead switching hands several times throughout the quarter. Jack Hollmer showed resilience and versatility as he endeavoured to provide presence in both the ruck, forward and back line. The Geelong backline tried courageously to respond to the pressure of the towering Box Hill forward line, as the Hawks once again took unprecedented control of the air.

However all eyes turned to a frustrated Menzel as he limped gingerly off the field at the end of the second term, as Geelong fans collectively held their breath.

The silence of the Geelong rooms at half time spoke of the utmost respect and admiration for Menzel, as the team grappled to come to terms with the plight of their fallen team mate.

The kittens returned to a tense atmosphere at Simonds Stadium, with the loss of Menzel further depleting the Geelong stocks. However, another determined Selwood captain refused to allow his team to fall as the second half of the match ensued.

Disposal efficiency continued to be a prevailing issue for both sides. The Hawks were forced to assume the bulk of the defensive game as Corrigan, Selwood and Schroder gallantly fought to bring the game back to a Geelong advantage. After numerous consecutive behinds from the Cats and several missed opportunities from the Box Hill tall forwards, the contest looked to continue in the same fashion as the previous half. However the experience of Josh Hunt finally triumphed to claim Geelong’s first goal at the 21 minute mark, closely followed by a bouncing goal from Schroder to narrow the margin to just 2 points. But the Box Hill Hawks were not to be allayed, as the small form of Amos Frank and big man Lowden quickly responded with two unanswered goals. However, the increasing intensity of the Geelong forward line saw the atmosphere lift quickly for the Cats, as the crowd responded accordingly.

Both coaches appeared positive at the three-quarter time break. Damian Carroll stated that his men needed to ‘back our structures’ and ‘disrupt this contest’, whilst Matthew Knights conceded that a greater forward attack was needed for his men to successfully see the game out, as both teams walked determinedly into the final term of the match.

Former Geelong Premiership player and Hawthorn recruit Jonathan Simpkin started the final quarter in fine form, as he sent an unqualified message that the Hawks were not going to go down easily. However an increasingly vocal Geelong crowd was the lift that the Cats needed to begin what would be an intensely contested final term. Once again, Guthrie’s cool skills through the middle provided plenty of opportunities for the Geelong forward line, while a Box Hill miskick into the boundary umpire provided a rare moment of comic relief for the nervous Geelong faithful.

The quick thinking of Guthrie, Corrigan and Flanagan through the middle, along with the forward pressure of Jordan Murdoch, Hollmer and Jackson Sheringham allowed Geelong to finally break through to gain the lead midway through the final period. The combination of the aggressive Geelong forward press and the robust defensive skills of Hunt lifted the skill level and shifted the intensity of the match from concern to delight. The determined ‘never say die’ attitude that has become famously synonymous with the Geelong name finally prevailed, as the Cats clutched the win in the final minutes by a mere 5 points.

Ben Raidme (29) and Mark Corrigan (22) dominated possessions for the day, whilst Shroder lead the goal kicking with 2. Geelong also prevailed in the forward press, winning the inside 50 count 52-35.

Understandably discussion turned to Menzel as the game concluded, as Geelong VFL coach Matthew Knights conceded that the injury was ‘obviously disappointing’.

‘He’s… obviously hurt his knee, and with Menz’s history we’ll take all precautions. He’ll go for scans this week just to see what damage there is there… It’s important we discover what… the extent of the injury is. At this stage it’s nothing more than that. It’s disappointing he couldn’t get through the game, we’ll just wait now to see the extent of the injury.’

When asked about the effect Menzel’s injury had on his team mates, Knights acknowledged the difficulty an injury like this can have on a playing group, but highlighted the importance of staying positive.

‘It’s hard for players I guess to that extent because they are so close with Menzel. Not only great team mates, but good friends. They would be hoping he’s ok. It is difficult for players, but… I guess they’re just positive as well. They’re just, like all of us, waiting to see the extent of it in the next few days.’

Though Menzel’s injury is clearly a shadow on what was a hard-fought win, thoughts now turn to Geelong’s clash with the much improved Frankston Dolphins at Frankston Oval next Sunday, the 28th of April at 2pm.

Geelong VFL 12.17 89 def
Box Hill Hawks 12.12 84

Goals: Schroder 2, Menzel, Murdoch, J.Hunt, Sheringham, Thurlow, Gleeson, Measures, Corrigan, McFarlane, Hollmer.

Best: J.Hunt, Schroder, Guthrie, Sheringham, Selwood, Flanagan.

Reports: Menzel (rough conduct)
Injuries: Menzel (knee)
Crowd: 745 at Simonds Stadium
The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs