Footy Fix: Chris Scott’s bold selection gamble backfired – and it let the Blues in for a midfield massacre

When you’re a senior coach, any major decision you make is closely scrutinised – and their success or failure nearly always depends on the result.

Have a famous, backs-to-the-wall win? Then no matter what moves you’ve made to get there, they were the right ones. Got pumped by anyone, from the bottom-placed battlers to the premiership favourites? Then it was a blunder, a game-destroying error that should have your job placed firmly under the microscope.

Chris Scott has more than enough credits in the bank to avoid the latter fate for his call to head into Geelong’s clash with Carlton on Friday night without a recognised ruckman: but after four quarters of near wall-to-wall dominance from a faster, stronger, tougher and meaner Blues midfield, it’s clear to anyone watching that the gamble backfired on the two-time premiership coach.

Playing the young, developing Toby Conway or the experienced but limited Rhys Stanley were unlikely to move the needle much the Cats’ way – there’s only so much Geelong’s shallow on-ball brigade, even with Patrick Dangerfield back in action, could have done against Sam Walsh and Patrick Cripps in the sort of mood they were in at the MCG; but they could hardly have been dominated more comprehensively than Sam De Koning was by older brother Tom.

The elder De Koning, to be fair, is in devastating form – since Marc Pittonet’s finger injury forced him to go solo in the Blues’ ruck department, the 24-year old is showing just why Sydney were so keen on throwing a monster contract his way before he re-signed with Carlton.

And from the moment he literally rag-dolled his younger brother at a forward 50 ruck contest before snapping through the game’s first goal, Tom De Koning was on the way to the best performance yet of his burgeoning career.

How good was he? Well, by half time not only was he the top-rated player on the ground, but set a new season high in Champion Data’s ranking system for the first half. Better than anything Marcus Bontempelli, or Nick Daicos, or anyone from Sydney has managed before half time. Yowza.

Tom De Koning marks in front of Sam De Koning. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Those whopping numbers passed the eye test, too: De Koning might not have beaten his younger brother for every hitout, but he won a significant portion of them, and when he didn’t his follow-up work to hunt the ball at ground level, throwing his light but growing frame around to both win the footy and create space for the midfielders at his feet, was even more impactful.

By the main break, his 15 contested possessions were far and away clear of anyone else on the field, while his six clearances was equal second behind Cripps, who feasted on both his bigger teammate’s taps as well as a Cats midfield, and tag from Mark Blicavs, that simply had no answer for his stoppage supremacy.

His one mistake in a 25-disposal, 34-hitout, seven-clearance, 20-contested-possession beast of a performance? Gifting Sam a goal with an ill-judged hanger attempt on his younger brother in defensive 50.

Tom really went for the hanger on his brother ????

Sam slots his second AFL goal as a result!#AFLBluesCats

— AFL (@AFL) June 21, 2024

The lion’s share of the damage was done in the first term: three of Carlton’s five goals, including De Koning’s ultimate sibling bragging rights moment, were generated from clearances, compared to zero from the Cats.

The Blues’ clearance dominance – 32-14 up at half time, and 50-39 ahead by the final siren – is all the more impressive considering, in their other clash nearly two months ago, the Cats appeared to have worked out how to clamp them, winning the clearance count by three across the final three quarters of that match.

Stoppages have been an understated weak link in the Blues’ armour this season – while they’ve been among the best teams at scoring from them, they’ve also leaked goals going the other way. Even in the last five weeks when they’ve shot up the latter, heading into Friday night their average score per match from stoppages – 38.2 – was exactly equal to what their opposition were scoring.

But the Cats simply don’t have the cattle in midfield, even with Dangerfield in there, to cope with the weapons the Blues have; and any chance they had of breaking even went with De Koning, who, while an exciting prospect, has averaged just 3.3 per cent of game time in the ruck this season.

In short, he was thrown to the wolves against his now-fearsome older bro.

Early bragging rights go to Tom in the battle of the De Koning’s!#AFLBluesCats

— AFL (@AFL) June 21, 2024

The Blues’ stoppage dominance led to control of territory, manna from heaven for their lethal, Charlie Curnow-led forward line. With Alex Cincotta keeping Tom Stewart’s intercepting under wraps, and the Blues consistently able to equalise ahead of the ball to prevent an extra Geelong number behind the footy, as is there wont, the result was carnage inside 50.

The Cats conceded a goal from 38 per cent of Carlton’s inside 50s to half time, far and away their worst effort of the season. Making matters worse? Their tallest key defender, the one who was such a crucial cog in their premiership team of 2022, was being thrashed in the ruck.

It would do the Blues a disservice to say that was the only reason for their dominant win: the Blues bagged eight goals turning over the Cats’ defensive 50 disposal chains. Once a huge strength of Geelong’s due to their outstanding foot skills coming out of defence, just 14 of such chains escaped being intercepted by Carlton at some stage.

By the end, even defenders Nic Newman and Lachie Cowan were pressing high enough to turn said intercepts into rare goals.


Lachie Cowan launches for his first AFL goal ????@Toyota_Aus | #AFLBluesCats

— AFL (@AFL) June 21, 2024

That, plus the clearance dominance, led to 21 goals, a season-high score, and a celebratory feeling among the Carlton faithful that they are indeed properly, truly formidable right now.

All up, the Blues are a fearsome unit, and De Koning’s emergence into a genuinely elite ruck is just another string to their bow. There can be no question now of pairing him with Marc Pittonet; the latter’s strengths in contested ball-winning and tapwork are now well and truly superseded by everything his younger, more mobile teammate can provide.

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I wrote, after the Cats’ triumph over the Blues in their last match, that Geelong remained one of the best teams in it; the specific word I used was ‘inevitable’.

Sydney’s presence ahead of them means I can’t be quite so confident about Carlton; but this is a team that lacks for nothing. And if any team disrespects them enough to try something as left-field as Scott did by leaving out a ruckman, the Cats won’t be the last team to feel the wrath of a team on the brink of something awe-inspiring.

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