OPINION

Preliminary final loss a reality check for stunned Cats

SEASON OVER: A dejected Geelong leave the ground after its preliminary final loss to Melbourne. Photo: Daniel Carson/AFL Photos via Getty Images

SEASON OVER: A dejected Geelong leave the ground after its preliminary final loss to Melbourne. Photo: Daniel Carson/AFL Photos via Getty Images

Geelong has defied gravity in the past decade with its enviable ability to stay in premiership contention, but surely the Cats' feeble capitulation to a hungry Melbourne in last Friday's preliminary final was a stark reality check.

While losing All-Australian defender Tom Stewart with an injury late in the season and midfielder Brandan Parfitt in the semi-final were huge blows to their finals campaign, it is clear the Cats' premiership window is rapidly closing unless they modernise their game style and regenerate their list with an emphasis on youth.

It is easy to understand why the Cats were so bullish about their chances this season, despite being overrun in the second half by Richmond in last year's grand final. But the strategy of adding the experienced trio of Jeremy Cameron, Shaun Higgins and Isaac Smith to an already ageing list was a huge gamble that appears unlikely to pay off.

Whether the Cats can come back from such an ignominious finals exit and challenge again next season is problematic, given that a third of Geelong's 2022 list could be aged 29 and over, depending on retirements and delistings.

Coach Chris Scott has stuck steadfastly with his method of stifling the opposition with a slow, controlled style of uncontested marks and possessions, complemented by classy midfielders and a potent attack headed by Cameron and Tom Hawkins.

This style works well enough in the home and away season as the Cats' lack of leg speed is camouflaged, particularly at their home ground in Geelong, but this has unravelled quickly too often in finals under extreme pressure from the best teams.

Under Scott's tenure, the one position the Cats have failed to fill adequately since the retirement of Brad Ottens at the end of 2011 is in the ruck.

The athletic Rhys Stanley battles manfully and Esava Ratugolea shows some promise, but they are a class below the game's leading ruckmen, such as Melbourne captain Max Gawn.

Ruckmen are so influential, particularly at this time of the season, and Gawn played a major role in setting up the Demons' triumph with a sublime display, including a career-high five goals.

The Cats had a solid ruckman in Nathan Vardy, but they traded him to West Coast at the end of 2016 and he played in the Eagles' 2018 premiership team.

Putrid Port exposed badly

While Geelong was insipid, Port Adelaide's putrid performance the following night against the Western Bulldogs was even worse.

The Power's defeat in a home preliminary final for the second year in a row underlined glaring weaknesses that they will need to address to take the next step.

Port Adelaide enjoyed a much easier road to the preliminary final than the well-travelled Bulldogs, winning its first final at home to earn a week's break, and deserved to finish in the top four.

But the Power lack the ruthless mindset and toughness to handle the heat and execute under pressure - key ingredients to winning a flag.

While Ollie Wines and Travis Boak are wonderful competitors, Port Adelaide's lack of midfield depth was badly exposed by the Dogs again, as it was in other losses to West Coast, Brisbane and Melbourne this season.

Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge took the honours in the tactical battle with Ken Hinkley, who should have started Willem Drew on key Dogs playmaker Tom Liberatore.

Beveridge's decision to assign Josh Schache to All-Australian Aliir Aliir was another master-stroke, negating the Power defender's ability to intercept, with Schache engaging him in the air.

Port's undersized defence was exploited by high-flying Aaron Naughton and Mitch Hannan, while Darcy Byrne-Jones was not tight enough on the damaging Bailey Smith.

In attack, the Power missed the impact of impressive teenager Mitch Georgiades, with too much left to key forward Charlie Dixon.

Remarkable rise

Emma Raducanu has come a long way since being ranked at No. 338 in the world before this year's Wimbledon championships.

VICTORY: Emma Raducanu is the new queen of British sport after winning the US Open final in New York. Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

VICTORY: Emma Raducanu is the new queen of British sport after winning the US Open final in New York. Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

Remarkably Raducanu has lost only one set in her two Grand Slam tournaments this year - to Australian Ajla Tomljanovic in the fourth round at Wimbledon before she was forced to retire from the match in the second set.

The teenager is the new queen of British sport after her triumph over Canadian Leylah Fernandez in the US Open final in New York.

Raducanu, the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam final, showed amazing resilience and composure to win her 10 US Open matches in straight sets, but Fernandez lost no friends with her gritty performances.

The rapid ascension of nimble, powerful youngsters such as Raducanu and Fernandez will make it tougher for WTA veterans such as 23-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams, who is more than two years older than the combined age of the teenage pair.

Williams, who withdrew from the US Open because of a persistent hamstring injury, is destined not to equal Australian Margaret Court's record of 24 Grand Slam titles.

The generational change in tennis continued in the men's final, with Russian Daniil Medvedev finally breaking through to win his first Grand Slam.

Medvedev, 25, thwarted Novak Djokovic's bid to become the first male player since Australian Rod Laver in 1969 to win all four Grand Slam titles in a calendar year, dispatching the Serbian great in straight sets.

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