Experienced Cats gearing up for flag tilt

Jeremy Cameron is among a trio of prominent recruits who will keep Geelong in AFL contention.
Jeremy Cameron is among a trio of prominent recruits who will keep Geelong in AFL contention.

Critics who thought Geelong - after another near-miss with the oldest team on record during last year's finals - were coming to the end of their time in AFL premiership contention got a rude shock over the off-season.

While Gary Ablett waved a tearful goodbye and Harry Taylor followed him into the sunset, plans to improve the playing list were well and truly in motion as Stephen Wells and his team went to work behind the scenes.

The first bomb dropped when classy wingman Isaac Smith exercised his free agency rights to join the Cats from arch-rivals Hawthorn.

Smooth mover Shaun Higgins was traded in from rebuilding North Melbourne, effectively replacing Ablett.

And the biggest fish landed when Wells completed his protracted pursuit of Jeremy Cameron by satisfying GWS with a hefty trade offer for the star forward.

On paper, at least, the gun trio's arrival has the Cats well-placed to launch another serious assault on Richmond's crown in 2021, after they came up short in the second half of last year's grand final.

"Those three are going to add a fair bit to this group in different parts of the ground," Geelong assistant coach Matthew Knights told AAP.

"We've got Jeremy up front and the other two are extremely experienced around stoppages and ball movement, so they're going to help that part of our game.

"They've been fine additions and fitted in seamlessly with the way we want to play our footy."

How Cameron fares alongside Tom Hawkins in a threatening new pairing of the competition's two most recent Coleman Medal winners will play a huge role in determining Geelong's fortunes.

It gives Chris Scott and his coaching group two elite tall targets at their disposal in the front half of the ground, both capable of winning matches off their own boot.

"It's exciting to see the two guys work together and they've certainly got different attributes as players, so that will naturally complement," Knights said.

"At times they're going to get it really right and then at times they might clash, but that's OK. It's part of the integration.

"We're going to see some exciting stuff because Jeremy flies at anything and on the ground he shows a willingness to compete, and Hawk has that mix of marking and his forward-50 stoppage work."

Last year, Cameron Guthrie and Sam Menegola took big steps to join Patrick Dangerfield, Joel Selwood and Mitch Duncan as top-end midfielders.

But there are some lingering question marks over the age of Geelong's best 22 and the development of their younger players.

The Cats held onto Brandon Parfitt and Esava Ratugolea despite interest from rival clubs, and have re-signed young tall Sam De Koning.

Jordan Clark has to fight to win back his spot in the team, Cooper Stephens is highly rated internally, and the jury is still out on whether Quinton Narkle and Charlie Constable will become regulars at the top level.

Geelong enter 2021 with the oldest playing list - at an average age of 25.3 - and are more experienced than any other group in terms of games played.

They've missed the finals just once in Scott's decade at the helm, but haven't hoisted the premiership cup since his first year in charge in 2011.

Critics claim the bubble has to burst at some stage, but the bold strategy of targeting experienced recruits to top up the list is still putting the Cats in contention season after season.

"We want to have a crack at it every year," captain Selwood told AAP.

"That's the simple answer to that, but we do. We want to win every year."

Australian Associated Press