Unheralded Cats stepping up as Eagles test looms

Jordan Clark is one of a handful of shrewd acquisitions Geelong made over the offseason. Michael Willson/AFL Photos

They're top of the ladder through five rounds but it's not the dominance of Patrick Dangerfield, Gary Ablett, Joel Selwood or Tom Hawkins which has been the key to Geelong's strong start to 2019.

After stuttering to a disappointing elimination final exit to Melbourne last season, something which just about beggared belief considering the top-liners in that squad, it's a new-look Cats outfit which is staking its claim as one of the league's premiership favourites almost a quarter of the way through the year.

It's those who aren't the first picked each week who are exerting their influence on the park - the so-called depth players. Too often last year the Cats relied on Dangerfield, Selwood and Hawkins while not getting enough out of those further down the teamsheet.

But in the offseason, Chris Scott and his team went about upgrading those foot soldiers who make up the game day 22, and the difference has been stark.

Gary Rohan (four goals against Hawthorn) was a shrewd acquisition from Sydney. Luke Dahlhaus is a big tick as a second string midfielder and half forward, while draftees Jordan Clark, Charlie Constable and rookie selection Tom Atkins (from the Geelong VFL side) have all made an immediate impact. Add in the importance of second-year player Gryan Miers, who provides a spark across half forward, and the Cats have added dynamic contributions from those who might not be locked into a spot each week.

Speaking to ESPN this week, No. 15 pick in the 2018 draft Clark said the mentality at the club was one which puts heavy recognition on the impact the role players have in-game.

"That's how we've been coached this year - do your role," Clark said. "And as a group we praise boys who do their roles, we don't praise the bloke who gets on the end of a goal, we praise the blokes who smother and create that goal as well.

"We just put in a big focus on celebrating the little things and not just the end results all the time, and that gives all the boys confidence to play their role.

"Not many people outside the club realise it, but within this group, everyone will understand and praise the small things they do and how important each and every player is."

Reminiscent of the famous 'goal assist competition' which Cam Mooney and Steve Johnson had during Geelong's glory years from 2007-2011, Clark said he wasn't aware of any bets within the group about doing the unselfish things on game day, but admitted it "wouldn't surprise" him.

"There's been no talk of anything like that," Clark laughed. "It wouldn't surprise me if someone has a little conversation like that every now and then.

"But it's good that we have a team that shares the load. You know you can rely on each and every one of the boys in this team, and even the boys that are out [of the team] are fairly good players as well."

This week, the Cats have another tough ask in host reigning premiers West Coast at GMHBA Stadium, and they'll be hoping to avoid a second straight loss at their Geelong fortress.

Clark said while the Round 4 loss to the Giants was disappointing, the side was just four points away from being the AFL's only undefeated team through five rounds.

"It was disappointing to lose (to GWS), but at the end of the day we lost by four points, it's not like we got belted," he said.

"To play not as well as we did that day and be beaten by just four points, we'll take that and take a lot out of that. [We] know that our best footy will beat most teams, so we just have to improve and try and play at our best every week.

"No doubt West Coast is a good team, but everyone in the comp is a good team. It's a pretty even spread as you've seen."

Sitting at 4-1 with a league-leading percentage, the Cats have stormed into premiership calculations, but for five-gamer Clark, he's just happy to be a part of the ride - playing his role.

"I don't think there is (a ceiling for this team) at the moment," he told ESPN. "I just hope I get to play for a lot longer yet.

"[Footy] is amazing. It's such good fun to play, I just have to get that fix every week. I've had the first taste so I just want to get more of it."