Geelong coach Chris Scott was right to say the club's lapses within games have generally only affected the size of its wins, rather than dragging a likely win down to a shock loss. But with just one more round until finals the Cats are running out of time to remedy their inability to sustain pressure on an opponent for an entire match.
Since round six the Cats have only once won all four quarters: in round 13 against last-placed St Kilda. In spite of that handicap, their loss to Hawthorn on Saturday night was their first all year in Victoria, and came after a seven-match winning streak that pushed them into top-two contention.
"If you're being really picky, we've played some really good footy and then lapsed for small periods," Scott said after the loss to the Hawks, in which they conceded 10 consecutive goals. "Through the season it hasn't cost us too much, in terms of results, but it's certainly let the opposition back into games and given them the chance to win."
Geelong's struggles for consistency within matches are coming under increasing scrutiny, in terms of the implications for its premiership campaign.
Defender Andrew Mackie admitted on Sunday that "half a game won't get it done in two weeks' time", when the clubs are set to clash again in the first week of the finals. Forward Mathew Stokes said likewise.
"It's something that we have spoken about a little bit, having that effort for four quarters," Stokes told The Sunday Footy Show. "We have played four quarters for the year where the effort was there [for all of them] ... but in a big game like [against] Hawthorn you have to apply the pressure for four quarters; you're not going to win a game just off the first half."
Stokes' contention that Geelong had produced some four-quarter efforts this season was countered not only by the statistic about only one four-quarter win in its past 16 matches but also the opinions of retired forwards Matthew Richardson and Bill Brownless.
"I think they do have to be a little bit concerned, the Cats, with their lapses ... they're not putting together four-quarter efforts at the moment," Richardson told 3AW. "They've been able to win and get on a good run until last night, but in the finals they're not going to be able to have the lapses they've been having."
Passionate Cats supporter Brownless said he disagreed with Scott's emphatic optimism about the Hawks result, because it reinforced his doubts about them being able to sustain impressive first-half performances in the second half.
"At half-time ... they were flying, but then the third quarter was just terrible and they got beaten in the last quarter. They just ran out of gas. Surely they're fit enough, so is it the older boys getting older and a bit slower?" Brownless said. "I can't come up with a game this year that they've played four quarters, the Cats, which is a worry at round 22."
Geelong has won 17 of its 21 first quarters this season. It has been behind at half-time only thrice this season, typically boasting a lead of just over two goals. For second halves, however, it has lost 11 of 21, on average being outscored by one goal by its opposition.
Stokes said it was important the club's players and coaches "find out exactly what we did wrong in the second half and improve that", and although he was specifically talking about Saturday night's match, the scope of the reflection seemingly needs to go further back.
Former St Kilda coach Stan Alves said Saturday night's match provided a stark contrast of two forward lines. While the Cats boasted only Tom Hawkins and the inexperienced Shane Kersten as marking targets, and the latter had to be substituted in the first quarter due to a hamstring injury, the Hawks had not only Jarryd Roughead and Jack Gunston but also one of resting ruckmen David Hale and Jonathon Ceglar, who were each influential in their cameos close to goal.
"The Cats have got to come up with something different, because [Hamish] McIntosh and [Mark] Blicavs don't kick goals," Alves told ABC radio.
While Mackie raised the possibilities of calling upon one or both of Mitch Brown and Josh Walker from the VFL, or just relying on a smaller forward line, Alves reckoned it was essential the Cats deploy Steve Johnson as a permanent forward on his return from injury, as a means of providing more support to Hawkins. Alves also advocated Jimmy Bartel spending more time close to goal.
One of the Cats' small forwards, Stokes, said he favoured bringing in another tall target.
"I think it's pretty important we help 'Hawk' out with that, with another tall forward to give us a contest," Stokes said, on the likelihood of Kersten being ruled out. "We do have options [in the VFL] to go to. It's pretty important that we just don't have 'Hawk' and five smalls, I reckon."