Tougher season better for Cats: Thompson - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Tougher season better for Cats: Thompson

By Sam Lienert 22/09/2009 06:23:01 PM Comments (0)

Geelong coach Mark Thompson says St Kilda's dominant season ensures the Cats will enter Saturday's AFL grand final with a more "respectful" attitude than last year.

Thompson says there is a marked difference in his players' approach compared to the lead-up to last year's shock loss to Hawthorn.

Then, the Cats were coming off the biggest grand final win in history the previous season, had lost only once for the year and had beaten the Hawks in their previous meeting.

But Thompson says the memory of the upset defeat in that decider, combined with the Saints' minor premiership and his own side's injury and form struggles late this season have sharpened their focus.

"It's been a good year for us as far as preparation," Thompson said.

"The previous two years we've just been expected to win.

"I think now St Kilda were the best team all year and we've had injuries, we've lost games and we've struggled in so many areas.

"In some ways it's been a real challenge to get to where we are right now.

"The fact that we lost last year's grand final, they're all good things that are just keeping us really respectful and that was probably a little bit different to what it was last year."

Asked how this week's grand final preparation differed from 2008, Thompson said the "focus has been on playing the game rather than the event".

"I can see a significant difference in the playing group, they're really focused on the game," he said.

Adding to that respect is the memory of their epic clash with the Saints in round 14, in which they fell a goal short.

"It was probably the best game of football we've been involved in five, six or seven years, it was a cracker of a game," he said.

"It's great that the two best teams of 2009 are the last two teams in it, it makes for a great game."

Thompson admitted there were times late in the season - when the Cats lost four of eight games, and Brad Ottens, Steve Johnson and James Kelly were struggling to overcome injuries - that serious doubts emerged.

"The players didn't seem to be playing with anything like the Geelong spirit ... there were a few weeks there, you had to think `Have they got it in them to get back up?'" he said.

But with a healthy list of players and impressive form in their two finals, those concerns have now disappeared.

The promising form of Ottens, who was missing when St Kilda ruckman Michael Gardiner was best afield in the round 14 clash, is particularly heartening.

"Having him in the side is really important to us," Thompson said.

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