ELEVEN days.

The new average term for an Australian Prime Ministership?

How long the new Contiki cave diving tour is in Thailand?

Nope. How long between the end of Round 23 and the first final tomorrow night.

It’s too long but as the AFL will attest, there’ll be genuinely important players across the eight teams who will be able to play the first final that otherwise would not have without the bye, and that surely is a good thing.

But its ok, we had Richmond v Williamstown in the VFL prime time on Saturday night, which went well until the lights went out and caused an early three-quarter-time.


Tell you what though, we do have four properly slick finals ahead of us.

1.       Rising Star out of the way first. 15 clubs had a nominee, eight of which had two. Of those eight, three of those were top four clubs. The three clubs that didn’t have a nominee, the Dees who made the finals for the first time in 12 years, they’ve been building and now they’ve built, North, who are similar but perhaps a year or two behind, a good season nonetheless. The third? The Gold Coast, a team of youngsters rooted to the bottom four. Brisbane, St Kilda and Carlton had five nominees between them. This is such a bigger conversation than just priority picks.

2.       So last year we tipped that the winner of the Geelong-Richmond Qualifying Final would go all the way and it bore fruit. So what do we see this year? Momentum will be key for any of the challengers. Look at Melbourne, if they are able to get over Geelong, and then for example Hawthorn week two and make the Prelim, they’ll be on an almighty tear and hard to stop. Or the Hawks or Pies, their hardest task is Week One. If either wins and gets a home Prelim, they are my new flag favourite. If the Hawks beat the reigning premier tomorrow, good luck getting past them from there; if the Pies can win in Perth and get a home Prelim, avoiding Richmond possibly until the Grand Final, good luck stopping them too. For mine, one of the Dees, Hawks or Pies will get their way and be the one to dethrone the Tigers. Who is most likely? Dees have to win four finals, that’s been done once in 20 years so perhaps not, I’m thinking the Hawks just over the Pies – their first final is at their home ground, the Pies have to travel.

3.       The Pies are destined to bring back in Howe, with Treloar, they’d prefer the extra week but look set to pull the trigger too. You think back to 2016, the Bulldogs successfully brought back Macrae and Liberatore for that first final, however both had been laid off since Round 19. Treloar hasn’t played since Round 14.

4.       Mason Cox did not play in their previous encounter, and McGovern had a field day. That has to play a massive part if the Pies are any chance. The Pies need groundball in their forward 50, and if McGovern is taking less clean intercept marks because of the big American clunking them or bringing it to the deck, that’s a big plus.

5.       Hawthorn can’t afford to spend too much time trying to make Rance accountable, it will only then release an Astbury or Grimes, or, if you send a tall really deep, Roughead, McEvoy, whoever, in order to get Rance out of the action, Astbury will take that matchup anyway. It’s very hard to negotiate the ideal matchup to target Rance such is the Tigers evenness in their back six. The Hawks best chance is to be strong behind the ball themselves, if their backline stands up and midfield pressure can be supreme, they’ll be in a 50-50 low-scoring final, and that’s right what Clarko will want.

6.       Sicily back is massive. If he can come back sharp and not rusty, he can do serious damage, not just on the intercept but launching scores. Could be the most pivotal ‘in’ of the weekend.

7.       The Tigers won’t tag Mitchell, so if the Brownlow-favourite can have an impact early whilst unhinged, or until Hardwick is compelled to send Jack Graham, that definitely helps the Hawks’ cause.

8.       The Dees are the highest scorers in the comp but of all the finalists this weekend, the Cats are the second best for defending scores against top 8 sides, only Sydney is marginally better. The worst? Melbourne, averaging almost 100 points to teams who made the eight. The Dees are good enough to kick a big, winning score but the Cats are the team to thwart that, and the Dees defence is susceptible enough for the Cats to score better than usual too. That’s why twice this year they’ve met smack bang in the middle. Will be a ripper.

9.       If Tom Hawkins gets Oscar McDonald, he kicks a bag and Geelong are a big show. If he gets Sam Frost, who is in great nick on the big forwards, its going to be hard to for the Cats to outscore the Dees if they settle – playing their first final in yonks and showing nerve would be ‘oh so Melbourne’.

10.   Swans-Giants will be a slog, hard and tough inside. Giants should do it though, and do it easy-ish. The only reason the Swans won the last matchup was Phil Davis got hurt and Buddy got off the chain. Bud hardly touched the ball let alone hurt the scoreboard until Davis went off, once it became Tomlinson and Finlayson trying to curtail the champ, he went nuts and got the Swannies over the line. Chuck Kelly and Greene back in that team and the Giants ‘should’ progress.

11.   Credit to Sydney though, they are 8 from 11 against top 8 sides, only bettered by Richmond who is 7 from 9. Compared to GWS who are 3 from 9, or the Dees 2 from 6, or worst the Pies 1 from 8, they have shown a standard good enough on paper.

12.   Chaos at Freo? Not so sure. Let’s see, Lachie Neale didn’t want out per se, Brisbane started this and they threw the idea past Neale’s management that should he be open to it he would be very welcome at Brisbane. Neale for whatever motivation is clearly tempted by the change up. He is a South Australian boy (which I’ll touch on in a sec) but he is an individual who may be motivated by a freshen up in his mid 20s and likes where the Lions are going. Does that mean the sky is now falling in at Fremantle on the back on one player, I don’t think so. Until we hear of ‘mass’ unrest, or for one player to request a trade, because as of right now not one player has, then perhaps. But given both top five picks have re-signed in Brayshaw and Cerra, I think they are ok. Settle down.

13.   And yeah, if Neale is gettable by Brisbane, what are the Crows and Power doing? He is a free agent next year but surely if he is open to a move out of the club he has been at for seven years, a return home, committing to a new long term deal at West Lakes or Alberton, should be on their radar. Unless there’s a specific reason why Brisbane as a destination makes sense away from football, business, a girl, or something, surely given both clubs missed the finals and could use Neale they need to be making waves before too late.

14.   The ‘One Percenter’, defined as any spoil, smother or shepherd. Alex Rance is third in the league for one percenters per game, Tom Jonas is seventh, Steven May 13th, so a real stat for defenders. The top two though, and it is both players then daylight to Rance in third, Dougal Howard and Harris Andrews. One probably a bit stiff not to get further recognised in perhaps an AA squad, the other maybe stiff not to make the final 22.

15.   Jack Watts toils at Melbourne for nine years, leaves for Port to play finals football and well, um, whoops. I believe out of contract next year, I tell you, not guaranteed to stay at Port unless he goes up a gear or two, if not, what is his value to anyone else? Turns 28 next March.

16.   Chad Wingard. 2015 he kicked 53 goals, a 5, two 4s and six 3s. Copping flack now for not being the player he was, but his role has changed. From the Round 12 win over Richmond he has averaged 24 touches, 5 tackles, 5 clearances, 5 inside 50s, less than a goal a game. So is he now a midfielder who should look to take that game to a new level next year, average high 20s and get over a goal a game, or go back to the dangerous forward of ’15? If he leaves he’ll be a great get for someone.

17.   Weird off-field one, some revenue numbers for clubs, two things that stood out – firstly, after the two expansion sides and Brisbane St Kilda gets the most AFL distribution money, the three who receive the least were the two WA teams and Collingwood, and secondly, sponsorship money, top three were Sydney, Adelaide, and strangely Carlton, bottom three, Gold Coast easy, then St Kilda and Fremantle.

18.   Brownlow Medal predictions are coming out, might focus more on it in the week before, but if you’re looking for someone who might usurp the overwhelming favourite, Dayne Beams might be it. Best on ground in all but one of their five wins but has a tonne of 2s and 1s in some of their losses. Probably has two best on grounds in two of those losses as well. Early 20s votes not without question.

19.   John Millman ey? Brilliant stuff. The fact Federer had three set points in the second yet the Aussie got out of that game somehow and then dug in to take the match in four was incredible. Has some talent too, not just a grinder, fighter type. Even if the story ends at the hand of Novak Djokovic tomorrow he’ll bullet into the top 50 rankings, somewhere in the mid 30s.

20.   But don’t discredit the best Aussie story of the tournament, that’s got to be Alex De Minaur. Yes, Millman defeated the no.2 seed and the all-time Grand Slam record holder, but the teenager took Marin Cilic to five sets and genuinely looked capable, Cilic a consistent top ten player for years. Such has been his form and then his US Open campaign De Minaur will become the second-highest ranked teenager in the world (looks like Canadian Denis Shapovalov will be fractionally higher), which is a phenomenal achievement; Australian tennis will have three men in the top 40 for the first time in forever, and De Minaur is the shooting star at just 19.


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