They've used nine lives - the time is now for experienced Cats

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IF YOU'RE an AFL romantic without a horse in the race this September, it's likely your sympathies are going to be with either the Western Bulldogs or Melbourne, and understandably so.

The Bulldogs have won just two premierships in their 96 years as part of the league competition. Melbourne hasn't won one since 1964. Between them, they have one flag to boast from 112 combined seasons of sweat and toil.

But if you believe in reward for consistent performance and just deserts for a good decade of repeatedly backing up and giving oneself a chance, even the fundamental belief that if you keep doing the right things, eventually the breaks must go your way, Geelong is your team in 2021.

In the modern era particularly, we've seen very good teams not make the most of golden periods. Essendon from 1999 to 2001 probably should have emerged with more than one premiership. Port Adelaide, like the Bombers immediately before them, finished on top of the ladder three years in a row but could land only one premiership out of it in 2004.

But has any team as good as Geelong has been for this long failed to win even a single flag? I can't think of one. Consider, for a moment, the numbers.

Since their last premiership in 2011, the Cats (including this season to date) have won 148 of 210 home and away games, 14 more than the next-best performed club, and a strike rate of more than 70 percent.

They've appeared in finals eight times in nine completed seasons, five times making it all the way to a preliminary final, and finally, last year, converting that to a Grand Final spot.

Sure, we seen other clubs lose more Grand Finals. Collingwood, between 1977-81, played in five (including a draw). St Kilda in 2009-10 played in three (another draw) in just two years, lost one through the agency of a toe-poke and drew another after the strangest bounce of a football in history. But consistently going so close for a full decade?

You simply have to admire Geelong's persistence in going back to the well, year after year.

How many times now over that period has the Cats' demise been predicted? There was 2012, when they were bundled out of an elimination final by Fremantle in a shock loss. And again in 2014, when they won a double chance but went out in straight sets, the suspicions seemingly all but confirmed when they for once failed to make it to September the following year.

Instead, they've since reached four of a possible five preliminary finals, and even been written off again in between, when they lost the 2018 elimination final to Melbourne.

And Geelong, remarkably despite its ever-ageing list profile, still continues to reach the highest of standards on a weekly basis.

Its defence is the rock-solid foundation of every campaign. Including this season, it has ranked No. 1 for fewest points conceded in three of the past four years, and ranked top three five of the past six.

So reliable have been the constants of Mark Blicavs, Tom Stewart and Jake Kolodjashnij, that any newer blood invariably slips seamlessly into the mix, the latest example Tom Atkins becoming the small defender, while Harry Taylor's retirement has barely been felt thanks to the continued growth of Jack Henry.

It might be Melbourne pair Steven May and Jake Lever who have commanded much of the attention this season when it's come to individual defenders, but it's the Cats again who have the No. 1 ranking.

Geelong's forward set-up has certainly had plenty of publicity via the recruitment of Jeremy Cameron to slot alongside Tom Hawkins, and with Gary Rohan in career-best and clearly most consistent form.

But while that gives them a more dynamic look, scoring has never really been an issue, Geelong ranked at least top four for points scored every year since 2016. And the midfield continues to tick over nicely, the Cats currently holding the No. 1 ranking for contested ball differential for a third year in a row.


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So, if they're that good, why haven't they won a flag? Well, in 2016, it came down to just one disastrous quarter of a preliminary final against Sydney in which they conceded seven goals to zip. The following year, the lost finals to two teams in Richmond and Adelaide they'd beaten during the regular season but who were in slightly better form when it counted.

A shock qualifying final loss to Collingwood (by just 10 points) put them on the wrong side of the finals draw and up against a red-hot Richmond in a preliminary final. And last year, of course, they again met their recent finals nemesis in the big one.

You don't need to be Einstein to work out that this, then, is their time. Richmond, for now at least, is out of the running. And Geelong's biggest asset in 2021, given the likely later finals opponents, may well simply be experience.

The Cats, collectively as a list, boast 349 games finals experience. The Bulldogs have 119, Melbourne 79, Port Adelaide 123, Brisbane 130 and Sydney 158. Geelong has half-a-dozen players - Patrick Dangerfield, Mitch Duncan, Hawkins, Rohan, Joel Selwood and Isaac Smith - who have all played 20 or more finals. Those other five clubs have two between them.

Of course, the Bulldogs defied the experience handicap when they won that famous 2016 premiership. But who else in recent times, remembering that Richmond in 2017 took on an Adelaide on grand final day not necessarily a lot more finals-hardened than it was.

Increasingly, this is looking Geelong's premiership to lose. That prospect may not send neutral football fans into raptures. But after this long slogging away year after year in search of that elusive goal, I can't think of too many prospective premiership teams who will have been as deserving.

You can read more of Rohan Connolly's work at FOOTYOLOGY.