FOOTY has never been so heavily analysed and scrutinised.
Dozens of analysts, armed with most obscure numbers and measurements, pick apart hundreds of players to provide millions of fans around the globe with answers.
But sometimes, a game of footy is won and lost by that big thing in between the ears.
And this was quintessentially evident at Simonds Stadium on Friday night.
Six days earlier, Geelong had laid 12 tackles in a half against Essendon. Of the 22 players on the field, 12 had failed to register a single tackle – an effort labelled as “disgraceful” by coach Chris Scott post-game.
Fifteen minutes into their clash against the Western Bulldogs at their new-look home ground and the Cats had already superseded that count. By half-time, they’d laid 71.
“(What) we need to see for things to change at Geelong is Selwood and Dangerfield to run down, chase, tackle. Your leaders drive the attitude of a football club,” Fox Footy analyst David King said pre-game.
“Denis Pagan used to say ‘defence is an attitude’ – that’s what I’m looking forward to tonight. Can this club reverse their form? And it’s always a defensive action that starts it.”
Geelong forward Daniel Menzel said on Fox Footy’s AFL 360 two days beforehand that his side’s on-ballers “haven’t been laying that first tackle and then it’s gone through the rest of the group and it’s really impacted us over the whole ground”.
If that was a focus for Scott during the week, the message certainly got through to the players at the source.
By the main break, Patrick Dangerfield laid nine tackles, Mitch Duncan seven, Zac Smith five and Joel Selwood four.
The Cats went on to thump the Bulldogs in the tackle count, recording 134 to their opponents’ 104.
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Duncan finished the night with a remarkable 18 tackles, the returning Scott Selwood had 17, Dangerfield recorded 12, Smith 10 and Joel Selwood and late inclusion Jordan Murdoch eight.
“I think our tackle numbers were outstanding tonight,” Harry Taylor — who had five tackles of his own — said on Fox Footy after the game.
“We’ve copped a bit of flack over that, the last few weeks. But I thought our ability to put pressure on the Dogs was as good as it’s been.”
IF THERE is one tactic that has come under serious scrutiny this season, it’s been Chris Scott’s steadfast determination to play Harry Taylor up forward.
Cats fans and the media alike have queried the decision to change-up the gun defender’s position, with the move largely failing to bear fruit in the form of goals.
At quarter-time against the Bulldogs, Taylor didn’t have a disposal to his name.
Taylor had nine disposals, three marks and three goals to his name in the second quarter alone – the primary beneficiary of Geelong seizing the midfield ascendancy.
“The thing I really liked about the way Harry Taylor played was the discipline that big Tom Hawkins showed to give him separation,” Hawthorn legend Dermott Brereton said on Fox Footy.
“How many marks did Taylor take there where he only had one opponent and each and every time, he played goal side of him.
“So with big Marcus Adams playing on Tom Hawkins, it leaves a 187cm Easton Wood or a 190cm Dale Morris to play against Taylor, 195cm, playing behind – not jumping, just outstretching and outmarking an opponent.”
Despite that dominant second quarter, Taylor was again quietened in the third quarter, with the Bulldogs’ rebounding defenders getting on top as he failed to get a touch again.
Then, late in the piece, the defender-turned-forward got to ice the game, slotting goal number five to finish his game on a high note.
“We’ve been complimentary of Harry creating space for Tommy Hawkins for the first five or six weeks,” former Sydney and Melbourne coach Paul Roos said on Fox Footy.
“So now it’s (time to) return the favour ... Harry’s been able to separate and now he’s getting a bit of reward, whereas Tommy was getting the reward earlier in the season.”
IT MIGHT be hard to find a more heart-warming story – and more remarkable return – than this one this season.
Exactly 300 days earlier, Mitch Wallis endured the worst day of his life. Against St Kilda on that infamous Saturday night, Wallis kicked his own leg and broke both his left tibia and fibula bones.
The pain was excruciating and the post-game scenes were haunting. Grown men such as Luke Dahlhaus, Matthew Boyd, Tom Liberatore, Bob Murphy and Jordan Roughead were inconsolable.
On Friday night, Wallis returned to the footy field for the first time since his horrific broken leg. And he couldn’t have been more impressive in one of the hottest and most intense games of the season to date.
In fact it was as if Wallis had picked up from his three-Brownlow vote game against the Gold Coast Suns in Round 17 last year, laying tackles and winning hard ball almost with almost utmost ease.
Not only was Wallis among the Bulldogs’ best players, he was clearly his side’s best player.
At half time, Wallis had 13 disposals and four tackles to his name – a more than respectable tally.
But in the third quarter, the 24-year-old showed the football world what it’s been missing.
The bustling midfielder got on the move, and alongside Marcus Bontempelli and Lin Jong, got the Bulldogs moving with him.
His two goals during the Bulldogs’ third quarter comeback were inspirational. The first was a classy finish from the right forward pocket, the second was well-earned after a brilliant stoppage tackle that won him a free kick.
“The kid’s done really well, about two years ago he changed his game to more of a contested ballwinning style,” Fox Footy analyst Dermott Brereton said before the game.
“Prior to that he’d been probably 25 per cent ball-winning and the rest was on the outside. Not a bad kick but he’s got it to about 50-50 over the past two years.”
Wallis ended his night with 26 disposals, 20 contested possessions, 12 clearances, six tackles and two goals — a remarkable output on return.
While his Bulldogs teammates would’ve been thrilled to have Wallis back on the park, several rival players took to social media to welcome the gutsy midfielder back.
It may not have been the perfect comeback for Wallis, with his Bulldogs falling short.
But just like teammate Jack Redpath the week before, it was just good to see him back playing AFL footy — and doing it brilliantly.