That’s not to play down earlier achievements under Chris Scott. Before this season, they’d made preliminary finals in five of the past six years, including a grand final in 2020.
That, to me, is success. You’ve given yourself a chance. Some will argue that those seasons ultimately ended in failure, but there’s also a bit of luck involved when you get deep into finals – whether fitness or suspension.
The new enthusiasm and energy have been generated by the likes of Tom Atkins, Brad Close and Max Holmes through a mix of pace and toughness.
It’s allowed the Cats to play a more attacking game.
I loved hearing Atkins recently speak about the standards he aspires to, and that, even now – with his spot in the team cemented – he feels like he needs to fight for that spot every week.
There are other additions, such as Tyson Stengle, who’s provided class and speed inside forward 50 and then there’s Sam De Koning, who has already taken on some of the biggest jobs in footy. He’s had his moments, like any young player, but what an asset to be able to give a kid like that such responsibility at such a young age.
It’s freed up footy’s “Mr Versatile,” Mark Blicavs, who I wouldn’t be surprised to see sit up next to Western Bulldogs skipper Marcus Bontempelli on Saturday night.
He’s played just about everywhere, but still seems to become more valuable with every role he’s asked to fill.
It says a lot that the Cats have kept winning without Tom Stewart, who returns from suspension this week. He has been the “captain” of that back line combining his aerial prowess, with an ability to win the footy.
Once upon a time, I don’t think the Cats could cover that type of absence for an extended period, whether it be Stewart, Dangerfield, Selwood or Tom Hawkins.
But that enthusiasm and work rate means there’s less reliance all over the ground.
After his lengthy conditioning block, Dangerfield is back to being himself, while Selwood looks fresh every time he comes back from a break.
They mightn’t always like it, but it’s working.
On Hawkins, meanwhile, I simply can’t speak highly enough. Five years ago, you would have said Tom had already had a great career. He got the flags early and has been a constant in the Cats forward line.
But he’s been playing career-best footy in recent seasons, and now he really is not just a Geelong great, but one of the great forwards we’ve seen. His body work in this era, both in marking contests and in the ruck, is quite unique.
I can’t think of too many key forwards who’ve performed as well post-30, with Gary Ablett snr maybe the only exception.
The Cats now make for an intriguing comparison with every other contender. After last year’s grand final – when the Dogs were a kick away from breaking the Demons’ back in the third quarter – it seemed their trajectory was only going up.
The Cats were trending down.
But like Hawkins, Selwood and so many others are defying father time, they’re defying those gloomy predictions. And the scary thing is I still think they’ve got another level to go to.
I’m not worried about them “peaking” too early, and I’m not worried about any supposed finals demons.
In fact, I think it will only make this group hungrier. And what a story it would be if Patty Dangerfield finally got that flag later this year.