As the Geelong Cats of 2020 head towards another finals series, fans of the Navy Blue & White hoops will fondly remember the club's golden era from 2007 to 2011, where they appeared in four grand finals, winning three.
In that five year period the Cats won a remarkable 104 out of 125 games, winning the minor premiership twice (2007 and 2008) and producing two Brownlow Medallists in Jimmy Bartel (2007) and Gary Ablett Jnr (2009).
The most amazing thing about that great Geelong dynasty was the bulk of those premiership teams were built from the ground up by legendary coach Mark Thompson. Of the 29 premiership players involved in the 2007, 2009 and 2011 flags, all but three were home grown. i.e. drafted by the Cats. Thompson oversaw the 2007 and 2009 triumphs, with current coach Chris Scott putting the icing on the cake in 2011.
Of the three that started their careers at other clubs, only Brad Ottens made his mark at his previous club, Richmond, where he played 129 games and was an All Australian. The other two in dual premiership captain Tom Harley (one game at Port Adelaide) and gun forward Cameron Mooney (11 games at North Melbourne), along with the other 26 premiership stars, were products of the Thompson school of building tough, hard nosed footballers who combined the trademark Geelong flare and skill, to be part of the best era in the club’s proud 161 year history.
With free agency and each AFL club’s desire for instant success, it is much harder for clubs to do what Thompson did and build from scratch.
However Scott is doing a stellar job at Kardinia Park. Despite some of the ridiculous criticism that has come his way from disgruntled and high maintenance fans, the 2011 premiership coach has done a remarkable job keeping the Cats at the top of the tree, with the bulk of the squad being drafted by the club.
In the nine seasons since 2011, Geelong have missed the finals only once, have finished in the top 4 five times, made four preliminary finals and won the minor premiership last year. 2020 will be the Cats’ 12th finals campaign in the last 14 years. This is despite the club not having a top 10 draft pick since 2006.
While credit also goes to recruiting manager Stephen Wells and CEO Brian Cook, Scott has continued the legacy of Thompson using the same values and principles that has seen the Cats become the prototype for sustained success.
Of the 22 that will take on Port Adelaide in the game of the season tonight - perhaps the Grand Final preview - 17 of them will be home grown players. Of the five that came from other clubs, the standout is obviously former Adelaide player and 2016 Brownlow Medallist Patrick Dangerfield, who ironically was drafted by the Crows from the Geelong Falcons, the unofficial nursery for many Cats stars from now and yesteryear. Dangerfield's Brownlow was won in his first season at Geelong.
The likes of Brandon Parfitt, Tom Stewart, Cameron Guthrie, Jake Kolodjashnij, Jed Bews and Mark Blicavs all have the potential to go down as club greats one day. There are a few more in the pool that will make a name for themselves in the coming years.
While the modern day Cats have narrowly failed to repeat what the great teams from 2007 to 2011 achieved, they have gone close. The Cats blew a 21 point half-time lead last year in the preliminary final against eventual premiers Richmond, with the second half fade out costing them a flag.
While its too soon to be talking premierships, with six rounds remaining until the finals, Scott is building a team with the mental resilience to take that extra step. The last six games, all on the road, has seen the Cats chalk up four impressive wins. Two of them have been against top four contenders Brisbane and St Kilda. One of the two losses was in Perth against West Coast, where despite the Eagles raucous fans, the Cats fell short by only nine points after looking the goods for most of the night.
Tonight under the prime time lights will be the biggest test for Scott and his team. Whatever the result, the Cats are well on target for another top four finish. A potential 10th flag for the club will likely seal Scott's own home grown legacy at Kardinia Park.