We all saw that coming didn’t we?
The team we gave little chance tore the game to shreds Friday night and then the one we thought might be close, if not favouring the visitor was as close Bill Cosby is to immediate freedom.
The least likely Grand Final matchup got up and whilst we can all hope for a close one this column will only be happy if its close going one particular way.
Either way an enthralling end to a season ensues in a year where the goal square has clearly been too short, the most important exciting thing about our summer was a Zooper Goal and that if you’re a Swans player the club is happy to let go, you might win a Brownlow one day..
But we’ve still got four quarters in us…. unless there’s extra time, and after a full week of anxiously consuming strawberries without cutting them first my nerves are well too fried for anything else.
1. We said that it would take the Hawks, Pies or Dees to stop the Tigers, one of the trio would stop the back to back. Well the Hawks munted it but the Pies saluted. The glimpses they’d shown in the prior two matchups came to the fore and sure, Martin was a little sore and Astbury had a testing week, but the Pies nailed it. Consider that a tick for this column.
2. We also had flagged we feared a “Dees get spooked” moment and hoped for their sake it was two weeks ago when the Hawks were coming hard and just didn’t convert their chances to make it real close. We were wrong. Max Gawn has denied it in the press but just look at Jordan Lewis, a four-time premiership player, who in the first five minutes hit a bloke behind play for a free kick against off the ball and then directly handballed to an Eagle which resulted in a goal. They may have not won that game anyway as the Eagles weren’t going to lose to them twice in a month at home, but to go goalless in a half of football, final or not, is somewhat about the opposition and how good a nick they are in, but its way more about how off or spooked Melbourne was. Fail.
3. The Qualifying Final repeats itself, and let’s be honest, the Eagles started the better but the Pies got it back to parity and then led by three quarter time, the last was all West Coast Five goals to one, 16 inside 50s to 10, +14 for contested possession. That quarter has to be their catalyst for Saturday. Whereas the Pies, that second and third terms combined, they were +13 contested ball, had 199 disposals to 173, kicked 8.6 to 4.8. That footy, in the guts of that game, showed how they can do it. Write the start off as the Eagles getting the jump, and the last for just a nightmare on the road, the Pies had their host’s measure for 60 minutes of finals football.
4. Pretty even sides in terms of experience, both teams will have four players under 50 games, 10 players under 100 games, the only difference is the Pies have six who have played 150 games or more, the Eagles nine, but in reality there’s nothing in that. These are coincidentally at very similar points in their journey despite appearances.
5. Eagles have 12 blokes who have GF experience, all from 2015, the Pies have three from their 2010-11 Grand Finals left, Goldsack, Pendlebury and Sidebottom, with the ex-Cat Travis Varcoe and ex-Docker Chris Mayne bringing the Pies tally to only five, that could be a factor.
6. It will come down to composure. The Pies settled and started better than the Tigers and once things starting going bad for the reigning premier, it went from bad to worse as fumbling and mistakes, not seen for 18 months, came into their game when they found themselves in unknown waters. Likewise, whilst we think the Dees never really made the trip over, the Eagles started far too hot for the visitors to ever settle and that set the tone. If one side can settle far better than the other, it’s the flag to lose. Who settles the quickest might be enough.
7. The burning question for mine: does the fact the Pies have played the extra game help or hinder? One way it might help is to look back at last years Septembers for both grand finalists.
The final margins in both teams’ first two games all look big but the Tigers had a much bigger test in week one and three compared to the Crows. Look at the half time margins, the Crows were up by 44 points over the GWS and were already up by 35 points over Geelong halfway through their prelim, both games were over super quick. Conversely, whilst the margins blew out by the final siren eventually, Richmond only lead Geelong by one point at half time and then were only ahead by seven points in the Preliminary Final against the Giants. They had to work harder for their victories, the Crows waltzed in on their side of the draw, and that probably made a difference. Come the big dance, the Tiges were up for it, they had to really ‘win’ both their games, they were hardened, whereas the Giants and then Cats didn’t test the Crows enough. So, on one side of the coin, maybe having to rebound from the week one loss, to then have to tussle with the Giants most of the way, to also withstand the Richmond onslaught in second half last week, it might set the Pies up well.
8. The other side of the coin, might it hinder? We know Jeremy Howe is sore, we know Jeremy McGovern too is sore, they were publicly hurt during games so its conscious in our minds. What we don’t see is the numerous things others would be most definitely carrying. We’ve already learnt that Clayton Oliver, despite his blistering finals form in the first two weeks, now needs reco’s on both shoulders, so going into the Prelim he must have been carrying something properly significant. The extra rest you can find not just before finals but during to reduce the impact on those injuries your carrying is gold. The Eagles players who are destined for off-season surgeries go into Saturday feeling just that little bit better and fresh as opposed to the Pies who have an extra four quarter of knocks and kilometres in that Giants game. In a game of inches that may make a difference.
9. Qualifying Final, the Pies literally looked to put it right on Mason Cox’s head, to use an old expression. Didn’t work, it meant that during the flight of the ball Cox was far too stationary and he could be easily knocked off the drop zone. Clearly corrected since then and the fruit of their labour was seen in the way they delivered the ball last Friday, half and three-quarter kicks well in front to remove the ability of Rance and Astbury interfering Cox like Barrass and McGovern did. Worked a treat. Cox will get a better chance to have a greater influence than in Week One for that adjusted ball movement, no doubt. Will he replicate last week, no chance. Will he get better chances than Week One though, almost certainly.
10. Josh Kennedy kicked 2.4 in the Qualifying Final, but looked well rusty for a half, Jeremey Cameron kicked 1.3 in the Semi Final and then Jack Riewoldt kicked 5.1 last Friday. The Pies have kept their opponents to 86, 59 and then 58 points in their three finals but Tyson Goldsack, whilst beyond meritorious in his return to footy, is allowing the big forwards to have five or six shots on goal. If Kennedy salutes and kicks 4.2, 5.1 this Saturday, could almost be game over in itself, he could win his team the cup on his own.
11. Before he got injured in the middle part of the year, Jack Darling was averaging seven marks and three goals a game. He is looking like he is close to regaining that form, if not hitting that mark in the Prelim, so the Pies back six will be up against containing his influence as well.
12. Chris Judd hit the nail on the head last night on Footy Classified. He expects, as we all do, Mark Hutchings to apply a hard tag to Steele Sidebottom. Judd’s ploy for Nathan Buckley to respond to that would be sending the Brownlow runner-up to half back to disrupt the tag and too the Eagles forward line structure at the same time. This is pertinent because for large portions of last Friday, especially in the first half, Sidebottom actually did play behind the ball a bit, coming off the back of the square and not playing a traditional onball role. So the way the Pies structured up last week might actually really hinder tagging the Brownlow runner-up successfully in the first place.
13. The Pies had great success with ball movement but also in holding their shape on Friday, also notably in the second and third quarters of the Qualifying Final as well as the first half against the GWS two weeks back. Jordan De Goey had tonnes of space, Mason Cox could run and jump and clunk, even Brody Mihocek or Josh Thomas could swoop around and make defenders nervous, which is just as advantageous as looking for a teammate in itself. If De Goey can have moments, even doesn’t need to be four quarters, where he can get space to lead and move around, he can be the difference by himself. Three goals as a permanent forward against the Giants, four goals last week against an even better backline, he just needs a quarter or two, or a few ten-minute patches, and if he kicks straight do all the damage the Pies might need.
14. Let’s not forget though, yes the Pies had an enormous first half, but Richmond showed up after half time. A 44-point margin at the main break, but in the last ten minutes of the third term the Tigers kicked two to make the margin 33, before kicking two goals in the first seven minutes of the last to get the margin under four goals. In front of a 60-40 split Richmond crowd, a 21-point margin that was a game high 53 points late in the second quarter now seemed not just gettable but the comeback win was on the cards, such was the momentum.
15. And this is Mason Cox’s almost most important moment that the media is largely missing. Yes, three goals in no time at all in that second, but you know what, the Pies were going to score heavily that quarter be it from the Yank or others, it was just a tsunami to the City end. But with 15 minutes to go in the fourth stanza, the Tigers really coming hard and if they had got the next one would have seen the margin drop to just over two goals with so much time left. The Pies were struggling to get the ball, let alone get it out of their backline, but had an opportunity on the southern wing. With little option up ahead the bailout to Cox at half forward was the only choice. Not only did he mark it remarkably, one grab, on four Tigers opponents, but it then allowed a rare inside 50 entry where Adam Treloar ended up with a ground ball, he turned and snapped accurately on his left, the margin is now 27 points and the Richmond surge was halted. Cox doesn’t mark that ball and the Tigers rebound it the other way for a score that would have been advantage Richmond with so much time left, no question.
16. Dustin Martin was always going to play, but clearly a bad corkie that he got, what, against Hawthorn two weeks prior maybe, and if it was a home and away game might have missed. Jeremy Howe copped a bad corkie too last month and he ended up on the sidelines for three weeks as it required surgery. Jeremy McGovern copped something in the realms as bad as the ones suffered by Martin and Howe – now, like Martin, McGovern is no chance of missing but you’d have to think he will play affected and if he can put in a performance befitting his calibre it would be beyond heroic. Mind you, given how well Chris Mayne played on him for the final three quarters last time, if he is having an influence there’s a Plan B, or Plan A even should they chose, that has worked in nullifying that reasonably effectively. But whilst no-one is 100% this time of year, he would be one of the least fit of the 44 running out for sure.
17. Quick one on the Brownlow, we love the fact the AFL invited five Melbourne players yet Angus Brayshaw wasn’t one of them. The league wouldn’t have had to really sweat as Mitchell always look good but gee, the panic backstage if the eventual winner might not be in the room. We also liked that Michael Rischitelli was included in the retirees montage, um, he hasn’t retired. There’s bad ways to dump someone, text, facebook status, internal letter to fellow ABC employees, but to advise your delisted via the montage on Brownlow night, that’s progressive.
18. No priority picks for Carlton or Gold Coast. Good. Its not about high draft picks or extra draft picks, the Gold Coast already had its fair share of that and look where that got them. It’s about people. Chris Fagan and his assistants have single handedly turned what was a crisis in Qld into a footy club that could attract star South Australian midfielders who are still contracted at Freo. Priority picks should never exist again.
19. Carlton gets access to state league players, confusing decision, confusing mechanism, but, Mitch Grigg, played 20 games for the Crows between 2013 and 2015, has since gone from strength to strength at Norwood, winning back to back Magarey Medals last season and this. And whilst the controversial North Adelaide (the 19 players team from the week before) won the SANFL Grand Final last Sunday, the 25-year-old won the Jack Oatey Medal best-on-ground for 32 disposals and six goals. Question is, would he walk into the Blues’ starting midfield Round One next year? Without doubt.
20. Let’s whack the NRL twice in our last thought of the week, firstly, whilst as a biased Victorian I’m rapt Billy Slater will run out Sunday night, he should not be there. The AFL equivalent is someone getting off for choosing to bump and making high contact and the Tribunal somehow calling it accidental and overturning the MRO. Whilst the spirit of that shoulder charge rule probably should change for that incident, its as black and white a rule, much like high contact for those who bump in our code. Beyond farcical. And just a check in, so there’s been five NRL finals in Sydney, average crowd of 30k, the AFL has had five finals in Melbourne, an average of 88k. Sin-City can stick to their Prohibition rules in pubs and clubs and continue to serve crap ice cream in Coogee (literally crap, it was 100% someone’s poo), we’ll stick to excellent audiences and big sporting events.