Cats are back in AFL, warns Clarkson

The Geelong way that infuriated and frustrated Hawthorn for five AFL seasons is back.

Coach Alastair Clarkson warns that now the Cats have regained key players and confidence, they have returned to their best in the run to the finals.

Geelong will carry a four-game winning streak into Saturday night’s must-win match against the Hawks at the MCG.

The Cats are eighth only on percentage, while Hawthorn have the lure of a home qualifying final as they sit half a game behind second-placed West Coast with four rounds left.

“We’re starting to see that over the last four weeks, that they’re starting to play the Geelong way,” Clarkson said on Friday.

“For a period of time there, when some of those guys were out, they were trying to play the Geelong way, but they just weren’t capable.

“They just didn’t have either the quality or experience in their side.”

Geelong beat Hawthorn in 11 straight games from 2009-13, a streak nicknamed the Kennett Curse after Hawthorn’s outspsoken former president.

Hawthorn have since beaten the Cats in three of their last four clashes, most recently belting them by 62 points in round one.

Clarkson pointed to the returns of Andrew Mackie, Mitch Duncan and Jimmy Bartel as a big reason for the Cats’ rally in the last month.

“Geelong haven’t changed in the way they’re playing – most of it has to do with personnel,” Clarkson said.

“It’s got to do with confidence levels and knowing the way they want to play.

“Some of those guys who have come back into their side have played with their teammates a helluva lot over the last four, five, six, seven – and in some cases, like Bartel – 12 years.

“They’ve been fabulous players and it’s just the chemistry of the players in their side that allows them to play to the sort of game style they like.”

The Hawks made three changes for Saturday’s clash, raising eyebrows with the recall of Daniel Howe for only his second senior game.

“He’s played terrific footy at Box Hill all season,” Clarkson said.

“It’s just sheer good performance over a long, long period of time (that) gives him his opportunity.”

Howe comes in for Taylor Duryea, who Clarkson said has struggled with injury in the last few weeks and needs more game time in the VFL.

David Hale and Brian Lake will return for Ryan Schoenmakers and Jonathon Ceglar.

Steve Johnson returns after serving a one-game suspension to play his 250th match at the expense of George Horlin-Smith.

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