‘We don’t want to be scared’: Selwood urges Cats to exorcise prelim demons

Geelong captain Joel Selwood has urged his team not be scared of the prospect of making it to yet another preliminary final in season 2022.

The Cats have been one of the most consistent sides of the 21st century, playing off in 12 preliminary finals in the last 18 years.

Selwood has featured in 11 of those grand final qualifiers, but the Cats’ conversion rate hasn’t been overly impressive, with only five of those dozen appearances ending in victory.

Joel Selwood, left, celebrates a goal with Jeremy Cameron during the 2021 semi-final against GWS. Credit:Getty Images

Geelong’s recent history in the penultimate weekend of the season is even tougher to swallow for the blue-and-white faithful, with five of their last six preliminary finals ending in defeat.

The latest of those unsuccessful attempts to qualify for the grand final was particularly brutal as eventual 2021 premiers Melbourne smashed the Cats by 83 points – their biggest loss in seven years and biggest finals loss since 1969.

But rather than fear another final-four showdown, Selwood wants his players to embrace it as they chase the club’s elusive 10th premiership which has tantalisingly evaded them for over a decade.

“We have been in a number of those prelim positions, it’s affected everyone differently, no one’s the same,” Selwood said.

“We just don’t want to be scared of that position. Let’s go and give it a crack and be ready. We’ll prepare ourselves as well as we possibly can, and we just need it to be good enough.”

Despite the dramatic beat down that the Cats received from the Demons in last year’s preliminary final, Selwood took a philosophical approach to the result and the final margin wasn’t a source of considerable alarm for him.

“I might sound naive, but games like that where you actually keep trying to win can make it look a lot worse than what it is, and they can blow out quite easy,” Selwood said.

“We can look three weeks before that when we got Melbourne in Geelong, and we’re up by 40 points five minutes into the third quarter, and we took the foot off a little bit, and they come steamrolling back.

“It doesn’t take much to turn that around, so I don’t read too much into that final game. We would’ve loved to have been playing right off, we would’ve loved to have been in front that game, we weren’t, but we kept trying to win it, and then it can look a lot messier than what it actually is.”

One man in particular ripped the heart out of Geelong on that famous night in Perth and that was Melbourne ruckman Max Gawn, who produced one of the all-time great finals performances, kicking four of his five goals in an unforgettable third quarter to emphatically shut the door on the Cats.

Gawn well and truly had Rhys Stanley’s measure on that occasion, and while the Geelong ruckman did have an impressive second half of the 2021 season, new recruit Jonathon Ceglar from Hawthorn could provide the added support Stanley needs.

Geelong skipper Joel Selwood exchanges words with the Demons’ Ed Langdon during the 2021 first preliminary final. Credit:AFL Photos

“At different times they’ll be battling it out competing [for the same spot], at some stages we’ll play both of them,” Selwood said.

“We have Esava [Ratugolea] still coming through that’s a raw [talent], just needs to play more footy, and he’ll be a great ruckman too, we think.

“We’ve got a young bloke, Toby Conway, who’s a bloody good player [who] may even spend some time in the ruck this year, don’t be surprised.”

The Cats, who are the oldest team in the league for the second year in a row, have finished in the top four 12 of the last 15 years, but Selwood admitted it would be a “challenge” for them to earn another double chance in 2022.

“We understand sides are getting better, they are always coming up, [we] expect that to happen again, you just can’t have week off,” he said.

On a personal note, heading into his 16th year in the AFL, and 11th as Geelong captain, the Cats’ longest-serving skipper was feeling “really good” and “really hungry” and was excited by the prospect of a normal season with fans at every game now that the worst of the pandemic is seemingly in the rear-view mirror.

“You can play it up and try and get through, [but] it’s just not as fun rocking up [without crowds],” Selwood said.

“Even fighting traffic, we won’t complain about that anymore coming to a ground when it’s going to be full. We’re excited.

“We had a game against Richmond [on February 26] and even to get the 6000 people back I think they were surprised being in a crowd sitting together and the sound of, ‘Ball’, and the simple things of footy, we look forward to it all coming back.”

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