A flag or not, Cameron makes giant difference

When Geelong put all their chips in and purchased Jeremy Cameron, the hope was clearly that the Giants forward would be the difference between those repeat top-four entries and a premiership.

It was a risky acquisition, in that the Giants forced the Cats to give up pretty much all the draft return they’d garnered from the sale of Tim Kelly, depriving the oldest team in AFL history of a necessary youth infusion for the eventual list regeneration.

Jeremy Cameron and Tom Hawkins of the Cats celebrate a goal.Credit:AFL Photos

Based on finals form and available personnel, Cameron isn’t likely to close the gap between Geelong’s constant preliminary finals and a flag. The Cats will be clear underdogs against Melbourne in Friday night’s prelim and, if they somehow win that game, they’ll be odds against in the grand final.

But he may well have been the difference between the Cats making the final four again, or exiting, in ignominy, in the second week of September. The team he’s joined is still in the hunt and the team he left is preparing for its sad Monday, maybe a drink on Zoom somewhere.

Consider how this semi-final would have looked had Cameron been suited up in his old orange and charcoal jumper, instead of the famed hoops of the Cats, whose most influential player was obviously Cameron’s forward partner Tom Hawkins.

Consider whether the Cats would have even progressed to a Perth semi-final without Cameron and how the Giants – so bereft of scoring threats in this game – might have fared with a serious key forward in their team. Or just with Toby Greene and Jesse Hogan.

Tom Hawkins booted five goals for the Cats. Credit:Getty Images

Geelong’s two pillars in attack of Cameron and Hawkins – a Lillee-Thompson like pairing, in that they have completely different styles and talents (Hawkins a hulk, Cameron a supple athlete and left-footer) – were highly influential and arguably the reason Geelong reached their umpteenth preliminary final.

While Hawkins did more of the damage – his last-quarter goals dampening and then killing the Giants’ run-on – Cameron’s early influence was important in Geelong’s early lead.

Cameron had an excellent opening, as the Cats assumed control, out-positioning Jake Stein to win a free and convert from a Stevie J hook on the right boot. He booted a sublime goal in the second quarter, playing on from a mark and hooking it across his body from an angle.

In structural terms, this final was heavily shaped by the lack of viable forwards at one end compared to the Hawkins-Cameron combo. Not to mention Esava Ratugolea, who had his moments, too.

And herein lies Geelong’s prayer against the Demons, who have superior form and personnel. Hawkins and Cameron can occupy and even trouble the Steven May-Jake Lever tandem that has proven so difficult to penetrate this season, if – and this is probable – the ageing and less vibrant Geelong mids and rucks can match Melbourne’s troika of Max Gawn, Christian Petracca and Clayton Oliver.

The Giants played with enormous spirit, refusing to buckle, despite the absence of Greene and Green (Toby and Tom) – and not having the rub of it early and the late loss of Hogan, which left them with a pop-gun attack in which Harry Himmelberg, a classic second or third marking forward, was made into the main man.

The forward entries were more or less even. Geelong had a slight edge in the contest. The Giants, in their better moments, had a touch more run and panache.

From the first bounce, however, it was evident that one team had a pair of weapons, in Hulk Hawkins and smooth-operator Jezza. The other had to scrap and scrounge for goals, finally sending their best defender Nick Haynes forward, struggling skipper Steve Coniglio already forced to play in attack, a role that ill-suits him at the best of times.

Geelong will endure for at least one more week. Chris Scott will get another crack at a grand final (We’ve lost count of their preliminary final appearances). They’re the semi-final specialists, as adept at winning in week two as they are at losing in weeks one and three or four.

Whatever comes of the Cameron gamble, it came up trumps in a final that may otherwise have been a catastrophic defeat.

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