Is Geelong primed to strike when just about everyone had written them off?

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JUST HOW DOES a team manage to sit second on the AFL ladder, win five games in a row and yet somehow still, as the phrase goes, "fly under the radar"? Simple. When it's Geelong.

The Cats have been quietly going about the business of contending for premierships for what seems like forever. They've also continued to fall short. And the football world has long grown tired of talking about it.

Can't they just fade off into the sunset gracefully like a team of their age and repeated "almosts" is supposed to? Well, no. They're up there again. Perhaps, dare we say it, with their best chance since 2011 of going all the way.

Here we are with eight games remaining and the Cats, after spending much of the season knocking around the middle of the top eight, are second on the ladder, this week with percentage-boosting on their minds against bottom side North Melbourne at home.

Meanwhile, as Geelong quietly goes about its work, other contenders are running into trouble.

Melbourne, which takes on the Cats at GMHBA Stadium next week, has only just emerged from a three-game losing streak. There's question marks again over Brisbane's physical and mental strength. Fremantle was very disappointing last week against Carlton after a couple of close shaves at home prior to that.

If reliability was your measuring stick of a potential premier, Geelong might not just have had this flag, but several others in the bag. And yet, as has been so regularly documented, its trophy cabinet has remained undisturbed for more than a decade.

How many different explanations have the critics offered as to that shortfall? We've been calling the Cats too old for years on end now. Or too slow. Too lacking in durability to be at their best at the end of a long season. Too cautious with their ball movement. Too dependent on a massive home ground advantage which allegedly artificially inflates their standing. There's others.

But Geelong, year after year, just keeps presenting. And its win-loss ratio over that journey is by some margin the best in the AFL.

In his 12th year as senior coach and after 275 games in charge, Chris Scott's strike rate is a phenomenal 69 per cent. No other coach in history has that good a record having coached that many games. And those 11 completed seasons have yielded a premiership, two grand final appearances, and no fewer than seven top four finishes.

Scott and his coaching team have diligently attempted to address any deficiencies, working hard to find the players and areas in which they lack, usually successfully, as with the introduction this season of Tyson Stengle, whose average two-goals-plus per game and forward half pressure have been invaluable.

Jeremy Cameron is having an outstanding season, and his partnership with Tom Hawkins is thriving, the pair having booted 78 goals between them already. Importantly, with that pair on fire and with the addition of Stengle, Geelong is scoring more than a goal per game more than last season, its points scored ranking having climbed from seventh to fourth.

Ball movement has been a greater priority this season. And the Cats look more prepared to switch up the tempo now, even at greater risk, It was notable during the final term of that thrilling win over Richmond last Saturday.

That's far from the only difference, though. Sam De Koning's progress as a key defender has been remarkable. At either end of the field, the likes of Brad Close, Zach Guthrie and Tom Atkins have become more important to the mix. Kids like Max Holmes continue to be given regular opportunities.

There's more depth and there's more flexibility. Last week, it was a regular defender in Jack Henry, playing forward, who kicked the match-winning goal against Richmond. And the benefits of that increased flexibility may become very clear over the next month as critical defender Tom Stewart serves his four-game suspension.

Stewart's untimely injury on the eve of last year's finals cost Geelong big time. His absence for several weeks now will be a good measuring tool as to how far the Cats have come.

It does look like there are a few more options in terms of replacing his role, however, Gary Rohan, for example one obvious candidate with the strength, skill and smarts to do the job in defence Stewart normally does.

Geelong will just have to hang in there until Stewart returns. But hanging in is something they've done repeatedly very well now for an incredible length of time.

Think how many times now there have been potential "end of an era" moments for the Cats. Like 2015, when they missed the finals altogether after bowing out in straight sets the year before. Or 2018, when they were sent packing in week one by Melbourne. Not to mention last year's 83-point preliminary final shellacking at the hands of the same opponent.

But here they are again. Second on the ladder. Another top four finish more likely than not. And yet another chance to go all the way.

Of course the doubters will expect a repeat of previous September reversals. But the Cats just keep showing up at the finals well. Maybe, just maybe, this is the time they get to take a sip.

And ironically, given we've long run out of things to say about Geelong, what we'd then have is one of the most remarkable tales of persistence Australian football has ever seen.

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