‘Too old, too slow, too good.’
It’s a motto the Cats and their fans have embraced following Geelong’s resounding 81-point grand final thumping of Sydney, and one that epitomises the defiant nature of this premiership.
Geelong made history before the first bounce on Saturday, taking to a capacity MCG with the oldest team in AFL/VFL history, its average age coming in at 28 years and 173 days. If fielding a team that old was unheard of, then winning a premiership with a team that old was unfathomable.
But the Cats like to defy expectations.
In the AFL’s world of equalisation, where premiership windows come with an expiry date, and rebuilds are a perceived necessity, Geelong’s been in contention for the best part of 16 years, missing finals just once throughout that period.
Incomprehensibly, discontentment began to foster among the Cats faithful, such was their lack of premiership success despite the frequency of their finals forays. A disgruntled minority even called for Chris Scott’s head following an 83-point preliminary final thrashing at the hands of eventual premiers Melbourne last season. Scott himself revealed on Monday night that he considered giving the job away following that loss.
Fortunately he didn’t, for he’s now a two-time premiership coach, with an extraordinary career win rate of 69.9%. For perspective, Alastair Clarkson’s is 58.5%, while Mick Malthouse’s is 56.6%.
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The famous line of Geelong’s theme song labels them “the greatest team of all.” And in 2022, they were the greatest team of all, by some stretch. They finished the season 16 games unbeaten, were two games clear atop the ladder with a percentage of 144.2%, and won their prelim and grand final by a combined 152 points.
The phenomenal season was made possible by a smattering of exceptional talent, with plenty of feel good moments to match.
Patrick Dangerfield was one of the Cats’ best - on the day and throughout the finals - finishing second in the Norm Smith voting following a display which included 27 disposals, 19 contested possessions and nine clearances. He also took home the Gary Ayres Award for best finals player. It was a stark contrast to 2020, where Dangerfield was uncharacteristically quiet in the decider, picking up just 12 disposals.
The only man better than Dangerfield on the ‘G’s hallowed turf was Issac Smith, who took home the esteemed Norm Smith Medal with 32 disposals at an 84% efficiency, three goals, and 771 metres gained. It was the 32-year-old’s fourth premiership, and he’s now reaped the rewards of a move for which he copped plenty of stick, having crossed to the Cats from arch rival Hawthorn.
And how about Tyson Stengle? Delisted by Adelaide at the beginning of the 2021 season following drug-related and drunk driving incidents, his career hung in limbo. The Cats took a punt on him, and he repaid them tenfold, climbing to All Australian in his first season at Kardinia Park (and becoming the first delisted free agent to do so). Stengle didn’t shy away from the big stage either, bagging four majors from 15 touches.
But one man is head and shoulders above the rest: Joel Selwood. And not just for a remarkable career on the field, but for the way he carries himself off it.
Moments before the bounce, Selwood was selfless enough to carry Gary Ablett’s son Levi through the banner with him. Levi, who suffers from a rare degenerative illness, was clearly overridden with joy in Selwood’s arms.
And just minutes after the final siren, Selwood found the club’s waterboy, Sam, in the crowd and brought him onto the ground to join the celebrations. In some of the most significant moments of his life, Selwood was willing to think of others before himself.
A rare character, and a deserving soul.
The four-time premiership player has his crowning moment on the field too, launching a spectacular banana from 45 metres under pressure. Symbolically, it sailed perfectly through the sticks, capping off a perfect career.
Although Selwood’s retirement wouldn’t be made official until days later, there was a feeling it was the end.
Selwood played 355 games (the most for Geelong), is a six-time All Australian, three-time Geelong best and fairest, has played the most finals of any player, has the greatest winning percentage of any player, has captained more games than any other player, and is now a premiership captain.
In his first and last season, he won a premiership. It's the stuff of fairytales.
The most touching praise of all for the Geelong champion came from Swans co-captain Dane Rampe, who paid tribute to Selwood in his post-match address.
“I just want to touch on Joel Selwood’s record as well,” Rampe said.
“Sometimes you just have to pinch yourself when you share the field with the giants of the game, mate, and you’re an absolute giant – congratulations.”