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Geelong locals push Cats to AFL success

Geelong’s stunning run of sustained success has been built on a strong connection with the local community.

Just like during the Cats’ premierships of 2007, 2009 and 2011, the 2022 group consists of players with a strong link to the regional Victorian hub.

The club has constantly been able to turn Geelong-born and bred boys into AFL heroes.

Jack Henry was plucked out of the rookie draft in 2016, but has now played 106 games for the Cats to become a valuable and versatile defender.

He grew up within walking distance of Kardinia Park and played his junior footy at St Mary’s, the local club based next to Geelong’s headquarters.

Henry played in the Cats’ 2020 grand final loss against Richmond, but the build-up to this year’s decider has been more what he experienced as a passionate Geelong supporter growing up.

The 24-year-old soaked up the atmosphere at GMHBA Stadium on Monday, as thousands of Cats fan turned out for an open training session ahead of Saturday’s decider against Sydney at the MCG.

“There’s a great buzz around town,” Henry told AAP.

“I remember when I was young that ’07-2011 period, the excitement throughout the town was brilliant and it brings a lot of people together.

“I went to the games (grand finals), got my tickets … great childhood memories coming to watch the Cats.”

Henry has moved out of his childhood home, living slightly further away from Kardinia Park now, but his mum and dad are still there.

“I never really walked to training (at the start of my career), I’d still drive, but everything’s pretty close in Geelong,” Henry said.

He could be joined at Geelong by his younger brother, Ollie, next year as speculation increases the 20-year-old could request a trade away from Collingwood.

“Personally, I would (like to play with Ollie), but that’s not my decision,” Jack Henry said.

“It’s sort of the last thing on my mind this week, I don’t envy (Ollie’s) position.”

Jed Bews, the son of Geelong great Andrew, will enter his second grand final in career-best form.

Playing alongside Henry in defence, Bews made his 150th appearance for the Cats during last Friday night’s preliminary final win against the Brisbane Lions.

Andrew played 207 games for Geelong between 1982 and 1993, captaining the Cats in 1990 and 1991, allowing Jed to be drafted as a father-son pick.

“I got to go to the (grand final in 2011),” Jed Bews told AAP.

“I hadn’t actually been drafted yet but they’d already told me.

“I got to go to the game with mum and I got to see everything, and I was like, ‘Well this is pretty cool, this is why you play footy’.”

Now the 28-year-old hopes to bring a premiership home for the family.

“I actually haven’t spoken to him (Andrew) about it too much, but it would just be huge.

“He would be just as excited for me to get one.

“He only got one opportunity, he only played in the one grand final in ’89, and it wasn’t to be (the Cats went down to Hawthorn by six points).”

Versatile midfielder Tom Atkins is another Geelong local to have done it the hard way.

Atkins toiled away in Geelong’s VFL team, before the Cats took him as a rookie selection, and he debuted as a 23-year-old in 2019.

The St Joseph’s recruit has locked down a spot in Geelong’s 22, something he still has to pinch himself about.

“Obviously we’ve been fortunate to play finals a lot, Geelong,” Atkins said on Monday.

“Now to be on the other side of the fence is pretty crazy.”

Small forward Gryan Miers starred in the Geelong Falcons’ TAC Cup premiership in 2017, booting seven goals in the grand final.

But his journey is more unconventional, supporting the Lions as a child despite playing for St Mary’s and Grovedale as a junior.

“There’s nothing much better than this,” Miers told AAP of the support for Geelong in grand final week.

“It’s been a long time coming to have a grand final back in Victoria for us, and hopefully we can make the most of it.”

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