The 9 players who debuted for Geelong in 1998

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LITTLE MALOP STREET: Concrete jungle where dreams are made of.

AS I trotted down Little Malop Street earlier this week in my retro Neville Bruns jumper on the way to get a breakfast Slurpee from 7/11, I was accosted by a Mall Rat wearing a Newcomb Secondary College jumper whilst punching a durrie.

“Oi,” he said as he flipped his rats tail like he was in a Pantene commercial aimed at people who had made questionable life choices.

“You’re that prick that does that Hickey Stand shit online hey?”

Suppressing the need to enquire as to whether that was a question or a statement, I replied in the affirmative with a confident but non-threatening nod.

“You should do one of them debut stories on the year I was born. 1998,” he said while blowing smoke into my face.

Carefully doing the maths in my head while trying not to stare at his school logo, I smiled and told him that would be a great idea.

“It’s funny isn’t it,” I said, “just how bloody wrong they got recruiting and drafting back then,” making sure I threw in a swear to show that I was comfortable with this interaction.

“Shit mate,” he said as he inhaled heavily from his cancer stick, “the draft was still a fairly recent concept in 1998 and clubs were likely still coming to terms with the significance of recruiting young talent in a league that had moved fast from somewhat amateurish to professional, meaning coaches often put credence in the value of older, proven footballers to keep them from bottoming out at a time when several clubs were facing the real threat of merger or extinction.”

Old mate exhaled his putrid smoke into my face again.

“But Gary Ayres was still a shit bloke.”

Gracefully tossing his fag into the gutter, the Mall Rat spun on his heel and walked through the automatic doors into Market Square, asking random people along the way if he could use their phone because he’d run out of credit on his.

And with that a beautiful friendship – and this article – was born.

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BRETT SPINKS: Debuted Round 1 – (19 games, 34 goals)

IT’S easy to forget big Brett Spinks only played one season at Kardinia Park because he packed so much hope and drama into those 19 games.

One of a string of key forwards plucked from West Coast’s rubbish dump out the back of Subiaco, Spinks – who had already played 21 games at the Eagles with mixed results – flirted heavily with Geelong fans in 1998 before slapping us in the face and screaming “NEVER CALL ME AGAIN”.

In his first nine games in the hoops, Spinks booted 27 goals and 13 behinds, whilst also coping a three-game suspension after Round 2 for rearranging his Tigers opponent’s face.

The hype around him had reached fever pitch, with many supporters believing Gary Ayres had finally found the Ablett replacement we’d be searching for. But in his next 10 games the big fella – who had a North Geelong entertainment venue named after him – could only manage another 8 goals and 8 behinds. While it was enough to top the club’s goalkicking that year, it was also his final farewell to Kardinia Park as a rickety hip kept him from ever playing AFL again.

While we’ve searched far and wide to figure out what Spinks is up to these days – with contrasting reports placing him in Sydney’s northern suburbs and on a farm south of Perth – we have no idea what he’s up to 20 years after he briefly woke Sleepy Hollow from its slumber.

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TIM FINOCCHIARO: Debuted Round 2 – (10 games, 1 goal)

PICKED at No.61 in the 1997 National Draft, Finocchiaro came to Geelong having won the Larke Medal for Vic Metro as the best player in the Under-18 Championships – a medal which would later be won by the likes of Tom Hawkins, Stephen Coniglio and Christian Petracca.

A prolific ball-winner at junior level, Gary Ayres put aside his blueprint of only giving games to outcast duds from other clubs to instead hand rookie Finocchiaro a starting spot in Round 2 against the Tigers.

Averaging more than 10 touches a game, the Eastern Ranges recruit was hardly off the pace in the big league, but was dropped after a five disposal shocker against the Dockers in Round 8, and was unable to force his way back into the team that season as he battled glandular fever.

Snagging his second chance in Round 18 of 1999, Finocchiaro struggled to find the ball as much as he had the previous season, culminating in a one disposal match against the Hawks in Round 21 – his final game at AFL level.

Finocchiaro is now the managing director of Pavers Plus at Maroondah Highway, Ringwood, where you can also keep your eyes open for a bargain … CAR CITY.

(This article is in no way sponsored or endorsed by Car City, Marrondah Hwy, Ringwood, LMCT 8399)

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HAMISH SIMPSON: Debuted Round 5 – (18 games, 0 goals)

WE often joke about Geelong’s patchy record recruiting key forwards but their effort through the 90’s to secure a decent tall defender also deserves to be taunted and booed until our throats are sore.

When they weren’t shipping Stephen O’Reilly off to Fremantle or desperately trying to make Ben Graham kick goals, Geelong was handing games to guys like Hamish Simpson.

A born and bred Queenslander who moved to Woodville-West Torrens in the SANFL before getting his shot at Geelong, Hamish Crampton Simpson (yes, that really is his middle name) earned his first shot in the AFL in Round 5 against Adelaide.

A lockdown defender, Simpson was serviceable at full back in his first season but really started to hit his straps in 1999, averaging more than four marks and 10 disposals a game.

Battling injury by the end of that year, Simpson played just one game under new coach Mark Thompson in 2000, as future Hall of Famer Matthew Scarlett became the favoured key defender.

Delisted at the end of 2000, then redrafted, then delisted again at the end of 2001, Simpson ended up moving to the Gove Peninsula in East Arnhem, where he currently directs a football academy for Indigenous players, creating local footy competitions and guiding the development of the young athletes.

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JAMES RAHILLY: Debuted Round 6 – (90 games, 11 goals)

WHEN a bloke who couldn’t muster 100 games for the club is the second best player to debut you know you’ve had a pretty rough year.

But that’s not a knock on James Rahilly, who has become an incredible servant of the Geelong Football Club.

Drafted at No.38 from South Warrnambool, midfielder Rahilly somehow managed to keep his spot in the team after his first four matches brought him a total of just 19 disposals. This, of course, at a time when Gary Ayres considered inexperience a disability of which one could not recover.

Finding his feet in game five with 13 touches, Rahilly was nominated for the Rising Star award in his next match, when he put up 22 quality disposals in a win against Carlton, and managed to keep his place in the team for the rest of the season.

The next year he was on the sidelines for Geelong’s first six matches, which included five wins and a narrow 2-point loss to Hawthorn, but came back just in time for the Cats’ streak of nine losses, which would ultimately – and mercifully – cost Ayres his job.

One of few players to be in the good books of both Ayres and Thompson, Rahilly kept his place in the team for the 2000, 2001 and 2002 seasons, before the younger guys from the 1999 and 2001 drafts jumped ahead of him.

Winning the Norm Goss Medal in Geelong’s 2002 VFL premiership – in a team that was predominantly made up of future premiership stars – Rahilly cemented himself as a senior leader amongst boys.

Finishing up as a player at the end of 2005 having never played an AFL final despite the club making three finals series while he was on the list, Rahilly turned his attention to coaching, where he joined Chris Scott as assistant for the Cats’ successful 2011 campaign.

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JUSTIN WOOD: Debuted Round 9 – (7 games, 5 goals)

HERE’S a fun trivia question. Who kicked four goals for Geelong against the Western Bulldogs in Round 19, 1998, to lead the Cats to victory by a point?

Well yeah, it was Justin Wood. Obviously. Shit question really.

Pick No.54 in the 1997 draft, Tasmanian midfielder Wood came to the Cattery with the reputation of having a massive tank, dominating the club’s pre-season beep tests and time trials.

Impressive at reserves level, Wood eventually earned a start in Round 9 against the Eagles, picking up five touches in a loss before being dropped after a one disposal performance against the Kangaroos the next week.

Earning a recall in Round 18, Wood hardly set the world on fire in a loss to Sydney, but luckily kept his place for the next game against the Bulldogs, where he scored a match-winning four goals from 10 disposals.

Playing through to the end of the season with some more solid performances, Wood’s off-season was a disaster as injury and form problems struck him down. He was delisted at the end of 1999, picked up by the Bulldogs on their rookie list for 2000, copped a broken jaw for Williamstown that kept him on the sidelines for eight weeks, and ultimately never played AFL again.

Wood is currently coach of the Perth-based Ellenbrook Eels in the West Australian Amateur Football League.

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MARC WOOLNOUGH: Debuted Round 13 – (6 games, 1 goal)

ARGUABLY Geelong fans’ favourite player to only play six games for the club, Woolnough – the son of 117-gamer Mike Woolnough – was cursed by the fact his knees were more suited to a sprightly game of two-up in the nursing home rather than Aussie Rules.

An exceptional key position prospect, Woolnough played a couple of games in 1998, before disaster struck in the 1999 pre-season when he did his knee for the first time.

Working his way through rehab, the lanky redhead returned to the field in 2000 for a reserves match, but tragically did his knee for a second time.

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.

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.”

Sadly, none of the six games Woolnough played for the Cats resulted in a win.

These days, Woolnough has courageously forgotten the fact he’s a ginger nut and moved to sunny Brisbane, working for craft beer suppliers Malt Shovel who will kindly send The Hickey Stand a slab of Furphys for giving their company a plug. Please? No? OK fair enough.

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LEIGH BROCKMAN: Debuted Round 14 – (2 games, 1 goal)

IT’D be easy to say Leigh Brockman was the worst No.8 draft pick ever, but to be fair to the Cats, the 1996 draft might possibly be the worst draft in AFL history.

Another Taswegian to make the daunting trip across Bass Strait, Brockman succumbed to the old Geelong curse of being a promising key position player who could never get over injury and was ultimately dumped because of it.

Delisted at the end of 1999 following his two ordinary games that netted a total of six disposals and one goal, Brockman was given a second chance at Sydney on their rookie list in 2000, eventually debuting for the Swans in 2002 where he played 10 solid but unspectacular games before being cut again at the end of that season.

We’re not sure what Leigh is up to now, but we did find a Twitter account with the username @Brocky26Leigh that in 2012 posted “Hello”, then “Dunno what i am doing on this”, then just “100%”.

We could be wrong, but we’re guessing he didn’t end up working in social media.

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JOEL MCKAY: Debuted Round 21 – (4 games, 0 goals)

THERE were plenty of things that the Cats weren’t very good at in the mid to late 90’s  and one of them was keeping their young footballers healthy.

McKay, selected with pick No.15 in the 1997 draft, was by all reports a quality midfielder with plenty off upside, but back injuries kept him from ever reaching the potential that both Gary Ayres and Mark Thompson saw in him.

Playing twice in 1998, McKay was kept on the sidelines for all of 1999 before returning to the seniors for another two games in 2000. In a sign that new coach Thompson had high hopes for him, McKay was kept on the list for the next season but could never get back to his best, and was delisted at the end of 2001.

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MATTHEW SCARLETT: Debuted Round 22 – (284 games, 17 goals)

IT took until the absolute final round of the 1998 season for Gary Ayres to hand a game to Geelong’s greatest ever fullback.

Granted, the skinny kid with the rubbish haircut didn’t look much like a footballer, but his determination to become the best at his craft led to three premierships, a club best and fairest, and a Geelong record of six All-Australian selections.

Playing just six matches under Ayres – including a game in which he had zero disposals against Melbourne in 1999 – Scarlett was on the outer when Mark Thompson arrived in 2000, missing the first six games of the season before preferred fullback Hamish Simpson was forced out of Round 7 with injury.

Called upon to fill the void, Scarlett didn’t miss another game for the 2000 season, then missed just two games in 2001, then played every game from then on until injury kept him out of Round 3, 2006.

Incredibly durable, Scarlett’s 284 games puts him at 7th on Geelong’s games record list, while his 17 goals puts him at equal-318th on the goalkicking record list, along with names like Carji Greeves, Mark Neeld and Joe Slater.

Scarlett is now defensive coach at the Cats, teaching a bunch of unlikely defenders how to stop the opposition from kicking bags on them.

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