Was 2012 the beginning of the end for the Cats?
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Can the free agents paper over the cracks?
Players like Brad Ottens and Matthew Scarlett aren't easily replaced but Geelong aren't ready to let go of their golden era just yet. The Cats haven't missed the finals since 2006 and despite the departure of much of the premiership core, they still have more than enough midfield talent to challenge the current-day powerhouses. Former Melbourne defender Jared Rivers and ex-North ruckman Hamish McIntosh have been recruited to add experience in key posts, and hopefully give Joel Selwood, Jimmy Bartel, Joel Corey and James Kelly enough support. Rivers looks a safe bet, having given the Demons excellent service over the past five years, but McIntosh is less certain. Achilles and knee problems have ruined the big man's past two seasons but if he can get fit again, he should free up Nathan Vardy to have an impact up forward.
Will Josh Caddy prove his worth?
For the second year running, the Gold Coast midfielder was one of trade week's hottest commodities and this time, he was willing to entertain deals from clubs other than Essendon. After failing to lure Travis Boak, the Cats set their sights on Caddy and duly landed their man. Who wouldn't want to learn the midfield craft from Selwood, Bartel and company? His 2012 stats suggest he will be a fine addition to the Geelong engine room, despite averaging just 15 touches across 22 games. The Suns midfield was routinely clobbered and their young players were asked to carry too much of the load. That won't be a problem at the Cattery and Caddy should thrive as a result.
Was the Freo final the beginning of the end?
For the best part of six seasons, the Cats were the ones beating up on their opponents with a mix of aggression, flair and team-first ethos. In 30 bruising minutes of their elimination final against Fremantle, it was Geelong left to look second-rate. The Dockers moved the ball quicker, made better decisions and - most gallingly for the Cats hierarchy - were first to the ball, and harder when they got there. Freo led by six goals at the first change and it could easily have been more. Given the character of the group, it's unlikely that sort of performance will be the new reality but Geelong fans can expect those sort of in-game beltings to become more common this season.
Which youngsters will step up?
Geelong's sustained excellence over a long period has, to an extent, obviated the need for the club's youngsters to take a leading on-field role. The last one to do so was Travis Varcoe in 2011 but even then, his contributions tended towards the sporadic rather than sustained. Before that, it was Joel Selwood - and what a champion he has become. But the time is fast approaching for the new generation of Cats to make their mark. If Daniel Menzel can recover from his two knee injuries, he will shoot to the top of this list but there is no guarantee he will play again, let alone return to his best. Otherwise, utility Billie Smedts and ruck-forward Nathan Vardy appear the two most likely while George Horlin-Smith's development in the VFL has been encouraging. If at least one of that trio becomes a top-10 player this year, the Cats will be far better placed. If not, the search for a new star will become a little more desperate.
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