Dangerfield has 'no worries' about Cats' 'hunger' for back-to-back flags

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Everyone knows Patrick Dangerfield loves a gag. So you know, even as you ask, that a question about premiership teams and hunger isn't necessarily going to elicit a straight answer.

"Well, most of us have got kids, so generally there's not much food left at the table after a meal," he chuckles as this scribe indulges him with a world-weary smile. Funnily enough, though, the quip cuts to the heart of the query.

We talk a lot about teams backing up after an AFL premiership, but Geelong's status not only as the oldest premiership team in history but the oldest team ever fielded in last year's grand final thrashing of Sydney gives it an even more interesting context.

Are the Cats more likely than most reigning champs to muster sufficient appetite because of their big-time experience, or indeed more likely to lose their drive having been to the mountain top in the back end of their careers?

And after the initial joking, Geelong's new captain recognises the significance. "I have no worries about our group on the hunger to perform and get back there," he tells ESPN at the AFL captains' day. "Once you sample it, and taste it, that's all you want to drink.

"But equally, we appreciate how bloody hard it is to get there, and the journey. You don't defend premierships, you win them. You attack for them, and that's fresh in the front of our minds.

"And because there's been a fair bit of change within our group, there's less of a 'let's do that again' feel and more 'let's do it with this group' rather than the notion of back-to-back. I mean, externally, that's always the narrative around it, but internally, it's not really how we see it, with the new faces coming in."

To the outside world, it doesn't necessarily feel like the Cats have changed much at all. They're still the oldest list in the competition, their average age across the senior list falling only fractionally, from 25.7 to 25.5.

There's only one player missing from last year's best 22. It's not just who that is which Dangerfield claims has made for more change than might appear the case superficially, but some other departures which gained little attention over the offseason.

Neither Shaun Higgins nor Luke Dahlhaus were regular parts of Geelong's line-up towards the end, yet Dangerfield is quick to note their importance to not just morale around the club, but standards.

"They're wise heads, and even though those two didn't play a lot towards the finish, they made a huge contribution off the field behind so many of the great performances of players playing on it," he says. "So I think that's significant in itself."

More so when the trio of already-blooded recruits from other clubs in Tanner Bruhn, Jack Bowes and Ollie Henry, are hardly old hands themselves with collectively less than 150 games between them.

Of course, even double that games tally on its own would struggle to replace the influence of the retired great Selwood, arguably one of the best handful of captains the game of Australian football has ever seen.

"Joel's a big figure, and you walked taller because of having him in the team," says his replacement as captain. "You can't ... it's really hard to quantify that level of influence."

So Dangerfield prefers not to. What's to be gained for him in the business of comparisons. And it's not like his own bona fides aren't compelling enough even as he makes his official captaincy debut.

"I think it's important to be authentically yourself as a leader," he says. "There's no replacing Joel, anyway. I do laugh when people talk about how they're big shoes to fill. They're not, really, because you wear your own shoes. No one (else) will ever wear his. They're unique.

"I think that's the importance of embracing the individuals that make up a team and form a collective. I think we do that pretty well, and we'll do that in a leadership sense, too.

"We'll continue to build on what he's built, and before him, what Cameron (Ling) and before him Tom (Harley) built. We'll try to add our layer to it and make it unique. So it's not throwing everything out by any stretch of the imagination."

A new leader, some new faces in the playing group, and a new challenge. For a club for whom success has almost been a given for decades now so smoothly have things continued to tick over, that's change and motivation enough.

And Dangerfield knows Geelong will continue to present a massive challenge to its rivals, also. The Cats have marched to their own beat for some time and now have everyone else playing catch up. Why wouldn't that buzz keep even the most seasoned of veterans hungry?

You can read more of Rohan Connolly's work at FOOTYOLOGY