IN the past couple of decades, Geelong recruiters have been known for putting footballers before athletes.
Players like Matthew Scarlett, Steve Johnson, Cameron Ling and Paul Chapman – all of them three-time premiership players – seemed to know how to kick a footy before they knew how to run. And in Stevie J’s case, we’re still not sure he’s got the whole jogging thing nailed.
But with a string of injuries keeping some of Geelong’s first pick defenders on the sideline this season, the boys in the blue and white have had to get a bit creative with the blokes running around in the backline.
Coming off a game in which they kept a genuine flag contender to just 50 points, we thought we’d have a quick look at the patchwork of unlikely heroes keeping the Cats alive in season 2018.
THE GAELIC FOOTBALLER – ZACH TUOHY
THE rock of Geelong’s defence for the past couple of seasons, Tuohy grew up in County Laois on a healthy diet of Guinness and Gaelic Football.
Winning the Leinster Minor Football Championship with Laois in 2007, the 18-year-old caught the eye of AFL recruiters, who told the lad to put down the Guinness and handed him a frosty, highly-overrated and all too easily available pint of Carlton Draught, shipping him off to Australia to play Aussie Rules.
Slaving away with Carlton for six years, someone down the road at Sleepy Hollow realised Tuohy was wasting away at Princes Park, so they packed up the Ford Falcon with an esky of Furphys, popped down the highway, and brought back a happy – if not success starved – Irishman.
Tuohy has since become one of Geelong’s most valuable players anywhere on the ground, bringing a no nonsense attitude, some sweet tatts, and a love of good old-fashioned torpedoes from full-back.
THE STEEPLECHASER – MARK BLICAVS
NO offence to Mark Blicavs, but steeplechasing is a bit shit. Granted, I’ve never caught a steeple and wouldn’t know what to do with one if I ever did, but the whole thing feels a little bit like ‘how can we make long-distance running even half interesting?’.
And for those of you who don’t know if they succeeded in doing so, spoiler alert – they didn’t.
Steeplechasing bashing aside, Blicavs’ story is pretty bloody interesting. The grandson of Latvians and Jerseyians (or whatever someone from the Isle of Jersey is called), the big guy’s parents were both basketballers, with dad Andris playing at the 1976 Montreal Olympics and mum Karen playing in the 1983 World Championships.
His sister, Sara, plays in the WNBL for Dandenong, and his brother, Kris, has also played at a reasonably high level – because basketballers are tall. Get it? Yeah, alright, it’s rubbish.
Somehow avoiding the drudgery of playing hoops, Blicavs came to Australian Football after being selected at No.54 in the 2012 rookie draft, having not played any TAC Cup football and having only blipped on Geelong’s radar because Cam Guthrie’s dad told recruiter Stephen Wells that Blicavs was a bit of alright.
Since then, the Mack Horton lookalike has won a club best and fairest, played 115 games, and is holding down a key defensive role like nobody’s business.
THE POLE VAULTER – JED BEWS
OF all the blokes in Geelong’s defence, you’d think it was the son of a Cats legend who would make the most natural footballer.
But for anyone who has seen Jed belting out of the back 50 after a superb defensive effort, only to spray it halfway up the Brownlow Stand, you’d know that’s not the case.
To be fair, we are being overly harsh on the son of 282-gamer Andrew, because so far Jed has proven himself as Geelong’s premier lockdown small defender.
A junior national pole vault champion, Bews has been raising the bar his entire life (yes, we said it), and had to work hard to lock down a spot in Geelong’s best 22.
Since being recruited at No.86 in the 2011 National Draft, Bews has notched 55 games and claimed the scalps of AFL champs like Eddie Betts and Mark LeCras along the way.
THE DECATHLETE – JACK HENRY
THERE’S something about Geelong defenders with backgrounds in the less glamorous track and field events.
And by ‘less glamorous’ we mean anything but the 100m sprint.
Henry – the No.16 pick in the 2016 rookie draft – finished third in the under-18 men’s decathlon at the Australian Combined Event Championships in 2015, doing whatever it is that decathletes do pretty bloody well (give us a sec, we’ll Google it).
But it was around that point that the 17-year-old from St Joeys had to decide whether he wanted to pursue football, or whether he wanted to become a decathlete. Sort of like deciding between becoming a CEO or an intern.
In the end it was a no-brainer, and while Henry has only just started his career at Kardinia Park, he’s shown he has the talent to spend many more years as a lock in the back six.
(Googled it, and a decathlon involves all the sports you only care about every four years).
THE UKRAINIAN TWIN – JAKE KOLODJASHNIJ
THIS one is a bit more a stretch in terms of an unlikely footy career, but only one generation separates Jake Kolodjashnij (pictured right with twin brother Kade) from a Ukrainian past, in which his grandparents fled the Soviets shortly after World War II.
And we think that’s pretty bloody cool.
On top of that, the Kolodjashnij boys are just the 21st set of twins to play VFL/AFL footy in 111 years, with Cats coach Chris Scott and his brother Brad one of the other pairs.
THE SUBURBAN DEFENDER – TOM STEWART
THE Geelong Football League is hardly a competition filled with magoos, but it’s still rare for a player to jump from that level almost straight into the top-tier like Tom Stewart has.
A Matty Scarlett clone, Stewart was plying his trade in defence for South Barwon before Scarlett convinced him to try out for Geelong’s VFL side in 2016. Finishing second in the club best and fairest that year, the Cats senior squad used pick No.40 in the next national draft to nab the medium-sized backman, and he’s put up 26 solid games in the AFL since.
A chippy by trade, Stewart has built a reputation of being hard as nails and hammering the opposition forwards – and there’s no better way to bring the article to its conclusion than with another shit joke.