Geelong coach Chris Scott has revealed veteran players Tom Hawkins and Zach Tuohy will "100 per cent" play on in 2024. The Cats' AFL season officially ended on Saturday night, marking the first time since 2015 that they haven't made the finals.
Hawkins and Tuohy, along with seven other premiership players on Geelong's list, missed their final-round defeat to the Western Bulldogs on Saturday night. The Cats used the rare dead-rubber game to book several players in for surgery as they became the fourth reigning premiers in the last 15 years to miss the finals the following year.
Amid uncertainty around a number of their ageing veterans, Scott revealed the good news that Hawkins and Touhy will both be playing on next year. "100 per cent confident," Scott replied when asked about Hawkins' future. "Zach and Tom will both play on."
The 35-year-old Hawkins re-injured his hamstring against St Kilda last week, bringing an early end to his 17th season in the AFL. But the forward had earlier revealed he is eager to extend his 347-game, 781-goal career that started in 2007.
"I expect to be playing, really eager to ... really keen and excited mentally to play on," Hawkins told the Seven Network on Saturday night. "Like most of my contracts, a mere formality."
The last time the Cats failed to make the finals, they bounced back to make the prelim the following season. Scott said he is confident in the prospects of his side doing great things in 2024 despite four-time premiership hero Isaac Smith retiring - one year after legendary captain Joel Selwood also called it quits.
"The chance to see what (ruckman) Toby Conway might be sort of overwhelmed, and rightly so, the sense of disappointment that we all know we have," he said. "At least for one night, we're able to push that to the side.
"I'm not going to wake up feeling great, I'll be honest, but it won't be a situation, I don't think, we're sitting there thinking this is a desperate situation, we don't know the way forward. We're respectful of how close the competition is but optimistic we can be a big part of it."
It's also just the second time the Cats have missed the top-eight since Scott became coach in 2011. "There were lots of things and reasons to be pleased with the performance and some signs that give us optimism for what we can do in '24," Scott said. "It was really just late when we got a bit fatigued and a few of those not so hardened, well-prepared AFL footballers, at least to play right through the four quarters, just sort of faded a little bit."
Hawkins and Touhy's decision to play on comes amid a raft of big-name retirements this year, including Richmond champions Trent Cotchin and Jack Riewoldt, West Coast hero Nic Naitanui, and Sydney Swans players Buddy Franklin and Paddy McCartin.
Tom Hawkins in contract talks with Geelong to play on in 2024.
Needs eight more games to level Joel Selwood (355) as most capped Cat https://t.co/ksDRvIpz8q
— Mitch Cleary (@cleary_mitch) August 26, 2023
How the hell touhy is playing on is beyond me terrible decision
— Della79 (@Della794) August 26, 2023
They'd be stuffed without hawkins
— clamsSC (@SilaciousK) August 26, 2023
Geelong missing some big names tonight. Among those names is Jeremy Cameron, Tom Hawkins, Mitch Duncan and Zach Tuohy. #AFLCatsDogs
— The Broadcast Booth (@TBB_AUS) August 26, 2023
Zach Tuohy better play on, I am not anywhere close to emotionally prepared for him to retire he's my favourite Cat and it's not even close
— bouledogues de l'ouest (@gameof4quarters) August 26, 2023
Western Bulldogs miss AFL finals as well
The Bulldogs' 25-point win over the Cats temporarily kept their finals hopes after they managed to break a 20-year hoodoo at GMHBA Stadium. Down by 21 points nearing half-time, the Bulldogs had carried their flat form during shock losses to West Coast and Hawthorn in the last fortnight down to a venue where they hadn't won since 2003.
But with their season hanging by a thread, the highly-touted Dogs rediscovered form in the second half, kicking 10.6 to 4.2 after the main break to prevail 16.8 (104) to 11.13 (79). The win sent the Bulldogs back into the top eight as of Saturday, but the GWS Giants' win over Carlton on Sunday in the last game of the regular season saw the Dogs finish ninth.
"Our boys probably just gained a little bit of confidence as the night went on," Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge said. "A big part of our pre-game (was) don't worry about consequences, we needed to free ourselves up. Hopefully it's not too little, too late."
Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.