Savour tonight – by Paul Roos

As we face the prospect of more one-sided games, tonight’s clash between superbly led Geelong and legitimate challenger Hawthorn is simply not to be missed.
THE bad news first — don’t expect to see many matches between two quality teams in the second half of the season.
The good news is, we can expect to see one tonight when Hawthorn takes on undefeated Geelong at the MCG.
Next week the season turns for home, yet there are at least six teams that can start making alternative plans for September.
It’s a sad indictment on a competition that prides itself on evenness based on the solid foundation of a salary cap and national draft.
In a week when North Melbourne announced it had secured a deal to play games in Tasmania, it was worth contemplating how different our competition would be had the Kangaroos accepted a package to relocate to the Gold Coast in 2007.
I’m not making a judgment on whether the Roos should have gone, but the club’s decision to reject the AFL’s sweeteners and stay in Melbourne has had a dramatic effect on the competition.
The most obvious consequence is we have a 17th club, playing out of Carrara, and next season, with GWS, it will be 18.
As a result, there are about another 100 players in the system.
If North had agreed to relocate to the Gold Coast, I reckon we’d still be at 16 clubs, and the best of those 100 footballers would be spread across the 16 teams.
More importantly, the cream of that crop would be playing with the bottom teams.
In all likelihood, we would have a more even competition and fewer lopsided and irrelevant matches in the second half of the season.
Instead, we need to savour the class contests when they come along, starting with what should be a ripper tonight.
These are two teams playing great football.
Hawthorn always appealed as a legitimate challenger heading into this season — the Hawks have enormous talent and all they needed was a healthy list and a good pre-season.
There is no doubt that, despite injuries to Ben Stratton and Stephen Gilham, Hawthorn is much better placed this season than in the previous two years.
But Geelong is the intriguing team — the Cats strike me as a team that has one last bullet
to fire.
The question over the Cats was always going to be could they maintain their standards and handle teams on the improve?
Unequivocally, the main reason they are on the top is they have great leaders who set high standards. Much is read and spoken about leadership groups and modern trends of empowering players.
Having been involved in a successful program with Leading Teams for years, I have seen how they work up close. Without doubt the one common ingredient with any leadership model is the character of your leaders.
Without Stuart Maxfield driving the Swans group in 2003, when we started our program, we wouldn’t have played in the ’05 Grand Final.
Leadership is first and foremost about producing on the weekend and doing it at a high level for 22 games. This is where the Geelong leaders have excelled. I have no idea who is in the leadership group but I can see on game day who comes to play.
Geelong is undefeated because of the leadership of Jimmy Bartel, Paul Chapman, Joel Corey, Steve Johnson, James Kelly, Corey Enright, Cameron Ling, Matty Scarlett and Joel Selwood. Their ability to produce a sustained effort of excellence is unmatched in recent times.
It would have been easy for this group to feel they had accomplished their football dreams with two flags and succumbed to the natural forces of the AFL’s equalisation forces.
Often clubs change coaches when teams are struggling. It is not often a great team has a change of coach. While Mark Thompson has copped some flak about the way he handled his departure, he should be complimented about making a courageous decision to stand down.
There is no doubt players get worn down by hearing the same voice, but most coaches would charge on regardless of whether they felt they had run their race.
Bomber’s record speaks for itself and he is an outstanding coach. However, he must have felt he could no longer get the best out of himself and hence his team.
Many said his replacement, Chris Scott, was on a hiding to nothing, taking over after a great era, he has provided the impetus for another tilt at a flag.
Far from dramatically changing what he found, Chris’s greatest strength has been to allow the players to play to their strengths, while subtly changing the game plan. A greater emphasis on defence hasn’t taken away dramatically from the attacking flair.
A slight shift from their manic corridor football has meant far less potential for turnovers against the hard-pressing teams.
I love the delicate injection of youth but even Scotty would laugh at how some have fallen for this being the catalyst for the revival.
The reality is the young guys have been great but the team that played the Bulldogs had 17 experienced players. The main goal kickers were Brad Ottens (aged 31) five goals and James Podsiadly (29) three goals, while the leading possession winners were Bartel, Johnson, Selwood, Andrew Mackie and Corey.
Youth certainly brings passion, excitement and enthusiasm, but to win a flag you need top-end talent and experience.
Geelong’s timing has been impeccable and even though it lost Gary Ablett, the diluting of talent due to the AFL’s expansion program means the Cats have enough talent to maintain their standards, while most other teams do not.
The only reason Geelong is not outright flag favourite — a remarkable situation given it is unbeaten on top of the ladder — is because of the talent and depth of reigning premier Collingwood.
So, with fewer pure class match-ups ahead, tonight’s showdown at the MCG is one that is not to be missed.
Paul Roos appears on Fox Sports’ On The Couch at 8.30pm on Monday.

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