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Time for Cats to capture AFL flag cream

Chris Scott is unequivocal on the subject.

When questioned on Geelong’s unwavering policy of targeting mature recruits instead of entering a full rebuild, the self-assured coach makes no apologies for choosing the former.

Even if it leads to finals heartbreak – and subsequent criticism – more often than not.

“It would be a lot easier to be part of a middling team, or one that is promising to contend in five to six years and has a development plan,” Scott said on the eve of the season.

“It probably magnifies disappointment when it doesn’t quite work out but that is the risk we are willing to take.”

At some point the philosophical stance has to pay off, or blow up and prove the critics right.

Geelong have played finals in all but one of Scott’s dozen seasons in charge.

But since the 2011 premiership – in his first year at the helm – the trophy cabinet has been gathering dust.

The Cats have played six preliminary finals and one grand final in that time without achieving the ultimate.

Last year’s preliminary final thumping from eventual premiers Melbourne brought about more predictions of Geelong’s demise.

But yet again the Cats, with the oldest list in the competition, have defied the critics.

This year they enter the finals deserved flag favourites.

Minor premiers with a buffer of two wins, plus percentage, they’ve rattled off 13 consecutive victories on the road to September.

“I don’t think we could have given ourselves a much better chance (at the premiership) with the cards that we’ve been dealt,” Scott said after the Cats’ torching of West Coast rounded out the home-and-away campaign.

“We’re just really excited to be in this position where we can have a crack at it.”

As always with Geelong under Scott, there’s a sense that it’s now or never.

More than a dozen players on the Cats’ list are the wrong side of 30, including experienced core Joel Selwood, Tom Hawkins, Isaac Smith, Zach Tuohy, Patrick Dangerfield, Rhys Stanley, Mark Blicavs and Mitch Duncan.

But many senior players have put together seasons that fit the old adage “age is just a number”, with Hawkins and Blicavs chief among them.

They led a group of five Cats – along with Jeremy Cameron, Tyson Stengle and Tom Stewart – named in the All-Australian team.

Hawkins, Cameron and Stengle have each kicked more than 45 goals.

Cameron is set to return from a low-grade hamstring issue in week one of the finals, with important teammates Duncan, Stanley, Cam Guthrie and Sam Menegola all cleared to play after minor injuries.

Dangerfield appears to have overcome his latest calf issue and the squad is healthy, the team humming.

Dismissing the recent history of near misses as irrelevant to Geelong’s current premiership push, Scott is urging his in-form side to embrace the pressure of yet another finals campaign.

“When you’re really well prepared, the next moment’s kind of the most important one,” he said.

“The position we’re in at the moment gives us great confidence because we’ve been executing.

“It hasn’t been perfect for us throughout the year (but) we’ve run into some obstacles and been able to think our way through it.”

Scott’s home-and-away winning percentage (72.5) is better than any coach in AFL/VFL history to have led a team in more than 100 games.

Yet his finals record stands at 40 per cent.

The 46-year-old couldn’t put a finger on specific differences between Geelong’s finals preparation this time around compared to previous years but is confident the Cats are taking steps in the right direction.

“We do things differently all the time because we really value gradual improvement,” he said.

“We’ve been quite focused on that this year and trying to be optimistic about what we can do better in the next moment.

“Reviewing is really important but rarely going back to 12 months ago is a good idea to compare it to because the situation is just so different.”

Geelong’s raids of rival clubs’ stocks in recent years have netted the likes of Cameron (GWS), Smith and Jon Ceglar (both Hawthorn), Tuohy (Carlton) and Gary Rohan (Sydney), while Stengle and Menegola were picked out of state leagues after being de-listed by AFL outfits.

All were recruited with the aim of helping the Cats win a premiership.

But what has so far been a fruitless pursuit is best illustrated by former Adelaide superstar Dangerfield, who was lured home to Geelong in a bombshell move at the end of 2015.

The 32-year-old champion’s career finals record (9-14) includes five preliminary defeats – four with the Cats – and the 2020 grand final loss.

After a Brownlow Medal, eight All-Australian blazers and countless other accolades across his 300-game career, all that’s really missing is a premiership.

“I think it’s the finishing piece, if you will, but I don’t think it necessarily defines players,” Dangerfield said this month.

“It’s what we all play for, but there’s so much of our game that you take enjoyment from, not just the final game in September.

“Clearly that would be a wonderful thing to achieve, and we’ve given ourselves a shot this year. We’re in a good position.

“But there’s so much enjoyment externally to just that.”

CHRIS SCOTT’S COACHING RECORD FROM 2011-22:

Games: 283 (197 wins, 84 losses, 2 draws)

Finals: 25 (10 wins, 15 losses)

Premierships: 1 (2011)

Grand finals: 2 (2011, 2020)

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