IN years gone by, the Geelong debut of Aaron Black a couple of weeks ago would have been met with a ticker tape parade down Moorabool Street, for nobody can do tall forward hype like Sleepy Hollow.
Spoiled for choice in the early 90s with Billy Brownless and Ablett Senior lurking around the forward line like alpha males at Eureka after midnight, Cats fans became used to a certain level of goalkicking luxury.
But when Billy buggered off for a career in the media and Gazza decided to pursue being a bit of a weird unit full time, the goals stopped.
Thankfully, Tom Hawkins and Cam Mooney shrugged the key forward curse in 2007, but it’s been an interesting ride of unfulfilled talent and unwarranted hype along the way.
Henry Playfair — (52 games, 29 goals)
THERE must be times at Sydney Swans training sessions where Buddy Franklin looks at forwards coach Henry Playfair and says “sure Henry, we’ll do it your way” and rolls his eyes.
It’s not that Henry was a bad forward. It’s just that he’s not a 100 goals in a season, once in a generation forward.
Taken at pick 41 in a draft that nabbed the Cats Jimmy Bartel, Gary Ablett, Steve Johnson and James Kelly, Playfair definitely had his moments, particularly in 2005 when he managed to chalk up 20 games.
But a broken jaw in that year seemed to sap him of his budding confidence, and while a move to defence briefly prolonged his career, Playfair never reached the potential he’d shown early on.
Josh Walker — (33 games, 35 goals)
LAST spotted playing key position defence for the Lions in the NEAFL, Walker’s another big lad that showed sparks of potential.
Highlighted by a 2015 season in which he punched through hauls of five goals and four goals against the Lions and Suns respectively – earning a Brownlow vote along the way – he was offloaded to Brisbane at the end of that season as Geelong sold high.
Now down the pecking order behind Josh Schache and Eric Hipwood, he faces a battle to notch his 50th AFL game.
Brett Spinks — (19 games, 35 goals)
AND so begins a long and storied tradition of West Coast sending Geelong their dud key forwards.
Spinks, who had played 21 games and kicked 14 goals for the Eagles between 1994 and 1997 before being traded to the Cats in 1998, started with a bang at Kardinia Park.
In his first four games for Geelong he kicked 17 goals, with bags of four, two, six and five. In his next 15 games, he’d only kick 18 more.
Injury would eventually bring the end of the career of Jason-Biggs-on-steroids, with his first season in the hoops (or the navy blue if you’re looking at the picture above) also being his last.
Mitchell White — (23 games, 21 goals)
MITCHELL White was a good player once.
An All-Australian half forward in 1996, White kicked 103 goals in 151 games for the Eagles, swinging between defence and attack.
But by the time he reached Geelong in 2001 his legs were as flexible as the Tin Man, and nobody at Kardinia Park had an oil can.
There were glimpses of form – like his 3 goals, 3 behinds from 18 disposals against Collingwood mid-2001 – but Cats fans will mostly remember him as being a part of the 2002 VFL premiership team that included names like Gary Ablett, Steve Johnson, Paul Chapman and Jimmy Bartel.
Derek Hall — (74 games, 74 goals)
OH West Coast, you little scamps. You premiership-stealing, dud-sending, powder-sniffing little scamps. Just once couldn’t you send us a bonafide star tall forward? Josh Kennedy, for instance?
To be fair, Hall was more of a broken down car by the side of the road dumped by Mick Malthouse rather than a trade-in.
Nominating for the pre-season draft in 1994 after two underwhelming games for West Coast, Hall showed glimpses of genius as a third banana forward next to Ablett and Brownless, whilst also rotating through the midfield.
His first game in the hoops was a disaster with one mark and one disposal in a loss to the newly-minted Fremantle Dockers – the clubs’ first ever victory that wasn’t against a club called Fitzroy.
His next match – against Footscray – he had 21 disposals, snagged 7 marks and kicked 2 goals to lead the Cats to a stunning 88-point victory. The next week he was shit again.
Hall would eventually retire at the end of 2000, before moving to northern Victoria to coach country footy and eat tinned fruit.
Charlie Gardiner — (51 games, 25 goals)
IF they were handing out superpowers at the Super Draft of 2001, Gazza and Jimmy would have been given the awesome shit like flying and invisibility.
Charlie Gardiner, on the other hand, would have been able to accurately predict people’s middle names nine out of ten times.
It’s pretty cool, but ultimately pointless and comparatively rubbish.
Another forward who showed glimpses of talent, Mark Thompson persisted with Gardiner for 51 games before he was off-loaded to the Saints in 2008.
David Mensch — (158 games, 173 goals)
BEST known as the bloke who hit Brownless on the chest with a pinpoint pass in the 1994 qualifying final against the Bulldogs, Mensch was serviceable without being spectacular.
Leading the club goalkicking in 2000 with 39 sausage rolls, he kicked 30 or more goals just twice in his 11 seasons at Kardinia.
He was last spotted doing a coaching tour of duty around various G-Town clubs, including Grovedale, Winchelsea and Anglesea.
Mitch Clark — (9 games, 14 goals)
IF you’ve never experienced depression and the overwhelming feeling of sadness for no obvious reason, then find the footage of Mitch Clark weeping after Geelong’s win over the Magpies in 2015.
Clark was a giant in that game, kicking two goals while assisting with two more as the Cats trounced Collingwood by 41 points.
As the siren sounded he celebrated with teammates, he laughed, he shook opponent hands. And then he started crying.
Photos show coach Chris Scott with his arm around the big bloke, leading him away from people, away from the spotlight. A joyous occasion turned miserable by a chemical imbalance that not even the strongest of us can control.
Screw mental illness.
Nathan Ablett — (32 games, 46 goals)
SOME blokes just don’t want to be league footballers. And that’s alright with us.
Big Nathan didn’t have the brute physicality of his father or the brilliant elusiveness of his brother, but he had something that made him special. It might have simply been his last name and the fact he was wearing the hoops.
Lucky enough to be a part of a forward line that had Bartel, Gaz Junior and Selwood kicking into it, Nathan formed a one-two punch with Cameron Mooney that took the Cats all the way to premiership glory.
His three goals for Geelong in their 2007 premiership demolition of Port Adelaide would be his last act as a Cat, retiring from the game aged 22.
(We don’t talk about his two games for the Suns)
Cameron Roberts — (11 games, 2 goals)
PHIL Walsh strode confidently into the Geelong change rooms and looked around for anyone who would listen.
“Fellas,” the strength and conditioning coach declared. “We’ve just found the next Wayne Carey.”
It was pre-season, 1997, and Cameron Roberts had just burst his way through packs to put in an impressive faux-debut for Geelong.
The South Australian, who found his way to Sleepy Hollow in a deal that saw Port Adelaide give him up as a zoned player for Shayne Breuer and pick 37 (Adam Kingsley), was going to be the next big thing. In reality, he was barely a thing at all.
His real debut, against the Saints in Round 1 of 1997, netted a solitary disposal. His next two games of that season weren’t much better.
While the Cats would persist with Roberts in 1998 by handing him 8 more games, he was cut at the end of that season and headed home, to dominate country leagues in South Australia and the Northern Territory.
Clint Bizzell — (75 games, 72 goals)
SPEAKING of gratuitous comparisons …
Clint Bizzell was a fine footballer. I mean shit, he took that mark in the photo. But you know what he wasn’t? He wasn’t like Gary Ablett Senior, despite what Garry Hocking would have you believe.
Bizzell made the move to the Geelong forward line in 2000 and was an instant success, snapping six of Geelong’s 13 goals in Round 11 against the all-conquering Bombers.
While some lean games would follow, his five majors against Collingwood in Round 14 of 2001 – the game in which he took the above mark – led teammate and Cats legend Hocking to declare Bizzell had a bit of Ablett about him.
Following that most unnecessary of analogies, Clint would play just eight more games for the Cats before being offloaded to Melbourne, where he carved out a solid but decisively un-Ablett like career.
Ben Graham — (219 games, 145 goals)
ALRIGHT everyone, let’s not go Ken Bruce here. Ben Graham is and was an outstanding servant of Geelong, an exceptional full-back, and by hell could he boot a ball a long way.
But he was not a great full-forward.
Playing in offence mostly because the Cats had an uncanny knack of recruiting tall forward duds (see: just about everyone in this list), Graham’s shift forward came in the middle of the 1999 season, having spent his first six seasons in key defensive roles.
Kicking 17 goals in 12 games of that year, the Geelong coaching staff were salivating at the idea that they’d had a ready-made key forward under their noses all along.
Graham would then kick 14 goals in 23 games the next season, just to fuck with them.
Leading Geelong’s goalkicking in 2001 with 33, he had another two down seasons (15 goals and 20 goals respectively) before he punted 39 majors in 2004, leading Geelong to a preliminary final.
Then, just as he looked set to lead the young Cats into a decade of domination, he decided to leave the bright lights and pulsating night life of Geelong to play a little known football code in the tiny town of New York.
Some people just can’t handle the spotlight.
Marc Woolnough — (6 games, 1 goal)
MARC Woolnough came to Kardinia when the Cats were almost exclusively drafting father-sons, and while Matty Scarlett was taken in the same draft class, Woolnough came with the greater buzz.
Tall, athletic and talented, there was genuine hope that the son of ex-Geelong wingman Michael Woolnough would be the answer to all of the club’s problems – but it wasn’t to be.
He played the first two rounds of the 1998 season before going back to the VFL to learn his craft. Then, in a pre-season match in 1999, disaster struck. Woolnough did his knee for the first time.
Doing everything right in his rehabilitation, the lanky red-head returned to the field in a 2000 reserves match. He did his knee again in the third quarter.
Like Daniel Menzel after him, the Cats stuck with the young gun because he exhibited the values Geelong were looking for at a time that the club’s culture was being brought into question.
Woolnough finally made it back to the big league in Round 3, 2002, but he wasn’t the same player. Playing three more games after his comeback, he met with then Cats assistant coach Brendan McCartney for what Woolnough thought was a review of the video footage of his match against the Lions.
“Let’s go to the pub instead,” McCartney said – a sentence most young workers would love to hear from their boss, unless they’re a league footballer on a Monday night.
Over a beer, McCartney told the 22-year-old that the dream was over.
“He was concerned for my wellbeing. I was at about 15 to 20 per cent of what I was capable of [playing],” Woolnough told afl.com.au.
“I decided just to focus on the fact that I was an employee of the football club and with that comes an obligation to have a positive influence on the group.”
Jason Mooney — (32 games, 50 goals)
LONG time Cats fans probably remember the start of the 1999 season well.
Gary Ayres – or that mulleted twat as he was known in the outer in Geelong – was overseeing one of the biggest playing list overhauls the club had ever seen.
Names like Ablett, Brownless, Couch, Mansfield and Hinkley had been gradually dropping off the list, signalling the end of the brilliant but ultimately unfulfilled Geelong of the late-80s and early-90s.
Seeing an opportunity for a quick fix, Ayres recruited ready-made players instead of going to the draft.
Blokes like Scott Bamford and Tristan Lynch from the Lions arrived, as well as Jason Mooney and Simon Arnott from the Swans. As a result, the Cats won the first five games of the season (yay!) – and then they lost the next nine (booo!).
It would spell the end of Ayres’ career at Geelong (yay!), as Mark Thompson was brought in to lead the rebuild (yay! then booo! then double yay!).
For his part, Jason Mooney was actually a decent get and his 33 goals from 15 games in 1999 was a more than handy return.
If it wasn’t for his dodgy knees he could have ended up doing what his little brother Cameron eventually did – lead the Cats to flag glory.
Marcus Baldwin — (5 games, 5 goals)
MARCUS Baldwin made his debut in Round 1, 2000, with a stat line that read 3 marks, 3 kicks, 3 goals.
Efficient, but not overly promising.
By the time he played his final game in Round 5, 2001, his stats were 5 games, 7 marks, 13 kicks and 5 goals.
Baldwin would eventually turn his hand to fashion, designing clothes, modelling, and dating ultimate noughties dream girl Krista Vendy for a while.
Matthew McCarthy — (22 games, 24 goals)
REMEMBER when Geelong’s forward line read Charlie Gardiner, Henry Playfair, Matthew McCarthy? What a time to be alive.
Like his counterparts, The Great McCarthy showed flashes of brilliance, illustrated best by his five goals against Carlton in Round 19, 2006.
While his aerial game was on point, his work on the ground left a lot to be decided and he was quickly superseded by Nathan Ablett, leading to his delisting at the end of the 2006 season.
David Haynes — (19 games, 15 goals)
YOU thought we were done with dud West Coast forwards, didn’t you?
Shorter than his fellow Eagle bumblers, Haynes was more of a half-forward than a key position player, but that didn’t stop the hype that spun around him when he arrived in Geelong in 2004.
Having played 46 games and kicked 43 goals for the Eagles, there was a feeling that he was the final piece in the puzzle of a forward line that was promising without being damaging.
Goalless in his first three matches, and kicking just 12 for the 2004 season, that theory was proven wrong, and he was delisted at the end of 2005.
Tom Lonergan — (191 games, 55 goals)
ONCE again, like Ben Graham, great servant, brilliant defender, yada yada yada … not a great forward.
Starting out in offence in 2005, Lonergan quickly made the shift to defence, notably against Melbourne in Round 5, 2006.
Notching 15 disposals and showing a natural ability to stop opposition forwards, we remember clearly sitting in The Hickey Stand that day as a couple of drunk blokes continually screamed “Tommy Lonergan! The unlikely hero!”
Minutes later, The Unlikely Hero (as we’ve called him ever since), ran back with the flight of the ball and copped a knee to the kidney, a hit that would see him put in an induced coma and almost take his life.
Upon his return to the AFL in 2008, Lonergan did provide a handy target for Geelong’s all-star midfield, kicking 36 goals on the way to a heartbreaking grand final loss to they who shall not be named.
By Round 2, 2009, he was shifted to defence again and he never looked back. Or forward. Whatever.
Matthew Spencer — (2 games, 0 goals)
KNOWN for his dashing good looks and not much else, “The Natural” – as he was known to the Geelong faithful – was recruited as a forward but never actually played there in the seniors.
The Cats coaching staff quickly figured out he wasn’t much chop when he had to turn around with the ball, so they pushed him into defence where he showed decent ability at spoiling opposition players’ fun.
Competing with the likes of Matthew Egan, Tom Harley and Matthew Scarlett for key defensive roles, Spencer was surplus to needs and was delisted at the end of the 2007 season.
Nathan Vardy — (25 games, 25 goals)
TAKE that West Coast! We finally sent you a key forward!
I mean, let’s forget that Vardy is exceptionally talented and could become anything if his body lets him. And forget that he was a part of a draft that was meant to thrust Geelong quickly into premierships again. And forget that our current tall forward stocks are limited to Tom Hawkins and the aforementioned Aaron Black.
We got you good you fuckers!
(Please come back Nathan)
Mitch Brown — (15 games, 9 goals)
MITCH Brown basically follows the script of every Geelong tall forward recruited in the past two decades.
Boy meets Geelong hype. Boy experiences nasty injury that saps boy of confidence. Boy gets moved to defence to sort his shit out. Boy does well in defence but can’t crack the seniors. Boy gets delisted.
Shane Kersten — (37 games, 41 goals)
AARON Black 1.0 is now doing his thing at Fremantle.
And by doing his thing, we mean chipping in with a sneaky couple of goals, being a bit of a menace, then having a quiet period where the club faithful will call for him to be dropped.
Enjoy the ride, Dockers fans.
- Author’s note: We can already hear you Geelong fans screaming “what about Kent Kingsley!?”. Kent was no Billy or Gaz, but 227 goals in 110 games is pretty bloody good by our reckoning.
2 Replies to “The 22 Geelong key forwards of the past 20 years that didn’t really work out”
Cam Mooney might have been in this list had he not spend time in defense where he grew in confidence. Like Tom Lonergan, I think some of these guys above might have made it as defenders.
An honest, well written, kept me interested article. A pity some of the “one-eyed” clubs (I won’t mention that it’s Coll….. or ESS….) didn’t do the same thing for the betterment of footy. ( I am a Swans supporter).