Following a longer-than-usual pre-season after a rare finals non-appearance by Geelong, assistant coach James Kelly is confident the extended lead-in to the 2024 season will hold the club in good stead.
The Cats finished 12th with ten wins and a draw in their worst return since 2015, becoming just the fourth reigning premier in the past 20 years to miss the finals.
Injuries to key players, including reigning best-and-fairest Cam Guthrie, who played just six games, contributed to the slide.
However, Kelly believes there is a silver lining to the disappointment of missing the finals for just the second time in 17 years.
“We’ve had a lot of players who have come back fresh and got a lot of work in,” he said.
“We always want to bat deep in finals – that’s always our aim.
“But, in terms of how we can rebound into 2024, that’s the benefit for us, and we’re feeling positive that we’ve had a solid 6-8 weeks, and the boys are in good shape, and they’re happy.
“That’s all we can ask for at this stage.”
Fans can expect a tweak to Geelong’s game style in its push to make up ground on the likes of Collingwood, Brisbane and Carlton.
The Cats will have a practice match against Carlton at Ikon Park on February 22 before facing Essendon in an official pre-season game the following Friday, March 1, to implement those changes.
Round 1 is a meeting with St Kilda before the newly opened Joel Selwood Stand.
“We want to follow the game trends …. if we’re playing the same footy we played last year, we’re probably making a mistake,” Kelly said.
“What that looks like going forward? We’ll constantly evolve, and I think that happens across the competition.
“Collingwood won the premiership; I’d be surprised if they’re just rolling out the same business as usual.”
As for what the Round 1 team will look like compared to 2023, Kelly says Geelong’s coaching staff is still working through the best mix from a relatively healthy mix.
“I wouldn’t say major changes,” Kelly said. “But, the honesty of that situation is that we’re not sure yet either.
“We always like to think it’s a bit of an evolution of our team constantly.
“We’d like to think the team in Round 1 is different to the team in Round 24.
“What we want to be able to do is to give everyone an opportunity to put their best foot forward – whether that’s a first-year player or an older player who’s is closer to the end.
“We want to make everyone feel like they can contribute, they can play, and they can put their best foot forward.
“Where that lands? We’re not really sure just yet.”