WHEN Geelong’s senior side takes to the field next Friday against the Magpies, two former VFL Cats are likely to take their place in the 22.
That will take the count to three former Bendigo Bank Cats playing AFL finals football in the last two years, with Tom Atkins, Tom Stewart and Ryan Abbott all progressing through the Cats pathway.
It’s a testament to the program that VFL head coach Shane O’Bree is building – it’s not just a development pathway for those who have already been drafted.
O’Bree knows what the success stories are doing for his program.
“Obviously having Tom Atkins, Tom Stewart and Ryan Abbott on our list from our VFL program is an easy selling point for us when we’re trying to get guys in,” he says.
“It’s a good program for those guys that want to get full access to our Geelong program. We only get them for a few hours a week, but they still get full access to all our facilities.”
“They still get coached the same as all of our AFL academy players get coached at AFL level. We have guys on our list at the moment who have got the AFL attributes.”
“We’ve proven that the guys we do draft come into our program and blossom really quickly and get that AFL game and opportunity.”
This Saturday the Cats will take on Port Melbourne in a do-or-die elimination final after securing a sixth-place finish with 11 wins and seven losses.
It’s a strong turnaround after the team’s 1-4 start.
“We’re hoping we can go deep but who knows, all signs are pointing to we had a good last couple of months and should be pretty confident going into this week’s game,” O’Bree says.
“We understand that the program needs to keep winning to complement our AFL program, which is an added pressure but also a great opportunity for our younger players to experience a VFL Final and our older guys that are playing VFL at the moment to keep match fit and keep ready in case their AFL opportunity comes with the AFL in the finals period too.”
O’Bree ran Cats Media through some key Cats who will figure prominently if the Cats push deep into the finals series.
“Darcy Fort isn’t one of our younger players but he’s a new draftee, we recruited him as a ruckman, but he’s played forward all year and really added that string to his bow.”
“He’s had a really consistent year and got better as the year has gone on.”
Oscar Brownless and Jacob Kennerley
“As the year has gone on they’ve got a lot stronger with their belief of where they’re at.”
“They’ve played multiple positions too – all our young guys have been able to play forward, back and midfield. It’s been a good developing year for them and as the year has gone on they’ve felt really comfortable with whatever position they’ve played.”
Sam Simpson, Wylie Buzza and James Parsons
“It’s probably one of the more experienced VFL teams we’ve had in a while. We have got a healthy AFL list so you’re dealing with guys that are unlucky not to be playing AFL.”
“The guys like Sam Simpson, Wylie Buzza and James Parsons have all had really good VFL seasons. Unfortunately they probably haven’t had as much AFL football as they would have liked, but they’re well established VFL players now and they’re looking better than VFL.”