Oh, where to begin with this one…

Could we start with the lowest scoring half in AFL Preliminary Final history? And if we factor in VFL records as well, the lowest since 1912.

Could we start with the score reviews where they seemed to get a couple very right, and one very wrong? And that wrong one went close to deciding the result.

Could we start with a six or seven minute burst from Zac Williams in the third quarter that got the Giants off and running?

Or Lachie Keeffe coming into the side and completely blanketing Brody Mihocek with Phil Davis hobbling about like me every morning?

How about the Collingwood comeback in the last quarter?

The defensive prowess of both Jeremy Howe and Nick Haynes?

The ruck dominance of Brodie Grundy in the last quarter or the guts and determination to compete in the last few minutes from Shane Mumford?

How about Harry Perryman’s job on Steele Sidebottom? Or the big Collingwood midfield failing to have one player crack 25 touches?

There is so much to get through, and as I am a stickler of the details, we’re going to get to them all, and I am sure if I miss a few along the way, you’ll point them out to me – it’s the nature of our relationship, right?

Here we go – here’s the Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.

THE GOOD

 

THIS IS NOT SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN

A bit of a home truth for fans of…let’s say 16 other teams (Gold Coast, I am not counting you – you cop the same as the Giants).

This is not how it’s supposed to happen, right? The young club in the west of Sydney is supposed to be a farm system for you to pick up talent, right? You’re supposed to be able to cherry pick their best and brightest stars whilst this team sits on the fringe and never quite makes it over the hump. You’re supposed take players like Adam Treloar, Dylan Shiel and Tom Boyd and they’re supposed to sit there, shut up and take it.

Don’t pretend you didn’t see them that way. Don’t pretend as though you haven’t looked at their list of stars and wondered which one will leave next, and which one you could poach. That was their purpose – to cultivate players, nurture them and watch them leave to bolster your club, wasn’t it?

But the Giants have endured, and it is starting to piss people off. Coniglio re-signed. Kelly re-signed. Taranto has committed, Greene is locked away for the long term and… and they’re in the Grand Final? How dare they!

I hear a lot of garbage about GWS being a fake team. I have heard Western Bulldogs supporters call them “the plastics” when describing them, but this team was far from plastic against the Dogs, Lions or Pies. They were made of steel, and they stood up under intense pressure. It was the Dogs who couldn’t stand the heat. It was the Lions, and now it is Collingwood who wilted under the GWS blowtorch.

Expansion teams take a while to find their feet. They endure pain and heavy losses as they cut their teeth in the league, but you know what that builds within the team? You know what that instils in a group of young men who commit to tough it out for each other and the club?

A culture.

And this GWS team has developed a culture of toughness and grit that would be the envy of almost every other team in the competition. Whether it is Phil Davis dragging his aching body back into the contest, Shane Mumford giving one, two or three final efforts to force stoppages, or Sam Taylor drifting across the cut off the long ball inside 50, these Giants are united in purpose and committed to each other.

It takes time, yes, but it has definitely happened in Greater Western Sydney. Call them plastic. Call them manufactured. Call them whatever you want, but in seven days’ time you might be calling them something else.

You may just be calling them premiers.

And that wasn’t supposed to happen.

 

Z-WILL

In the first seven or eight minutes of the third quarter, Zac Williams changed the game. He hit packs hard to win clearances, tackled like a demon and won the ball for the Giants over and over again.

He may have only compiled seven touches for the quarter, but most of them were concentrated right around the time that GWS was able to surge to the lead. His run down tackle on Taylor Adams was spine tingling stuff, borne of a maniacal desperation to keep the momentum swinging his team’s way.

He had ten clearances for the contest, and had more of the footy than any of the much-vaunted Collingwood ball magnets. More than Pendles. More than Sidebottom and more than Treloar. In a game where touches were hard to come by, Williams stepped into the void left by the absence of Lachie Whitfield (and Toby Greene, and Callan Ward and, and Stephen Coniglio) and added an element of ferocity around the contest.

Williams started the year as a running defender, easing the burden on Heath Shaw, but moved into the midfield successfully throughout the year as the Giants searched for speedy options with their injuries mounting. With another high-quality game from him, a permanent move into the guts may be on the cards.

Williams has the kind of tenacity and “hard at it” nature than can give a few Tigers some issues in the big one. I wonder, if Whitfield and Greene work their way through the midfield, if he’ll get a significant chance to do so?

JEREMY CAMERON V DARCY MOORE

I love seeing a classic one-on-one match up in a final, but given the way the game is played these days, those instances are all too rare. Given that, we were provided with a bit of a treat this afternoon, with Darcy Moore heading to Jeremy Cameron in a marquee matchup.

Cameron finished with three goals and had the chance to put the game on ice early in the last quarter with what should have been a bread and butter shot for him, but he missed and the door was left slightly ajar.

It almost came back to haunt the Giants in a big way.

Moore started attacking the ball in the air and took a couple of very nice contested grabs against Cameron to provide the Pies with a real springboard back into their attacking 50.

I’ll give Moore this much – he backs himself, and you can see why Buckley believes in him so much. When he attacks the footy in the air, he is wonderful to watch, and will not hesitate to leave his opponent to impact a pack. By the same token, if he does zone off a bit on his opponent, his ability to close the gap and get a spoil in at the last second makes him even more important.

Cameron often looks like he is travelling at about three quarter pace. I guess his cruising speed is about the same speed that most guys his size can reach when they’re going flat out, because he never looks overly rushed or panicked.

In a low scoring game, Cameron ended with three goals out of the Giants’ eight for the game. Based on that, you have to give him the slight edge, but Moore did plenty to swing the momentum back in Collingwood’s favour late in the picture.

THE GRUNDY EFFECT AND THE LATE MUMMY RESPONSE

This is a two-fold section, because as good as Grundy was, particularly in the last quarter, I loved the efforts of Shane Mumford to compete and cause repeat stoppages with the game on the line. It was those little efforts that helped the Giants eke out the win.

Grundy had a mammoth 73 hit outs.

Hang on a second… 73 hit outs!!! Wow! That is a finals record, by the way, and the third highest hit out total in history. He collected 25 disposals, of which 20 were contested, and added ten clearances which was the most on the ground (equal with Zac Williams), yet here I am… my mind keeps drifting back to the huge efforts of Mumford as the game was on the line, which is probably not at all fair to Grundy in terms of his dominance.

Grundy started well, drawing early free kicks against Mumford (he “only” had six free kicks against him this week) and had eight touches and three clearances in the first quarter. From that point on, the Giants did a good job of keeping Grundy under control, limiting his influence with a manic pressure that was aided by a few fumbles from the Pies’ big man.

But as the last quarter got cracking, you could sense Grundy was about to will his team into action. He collected five clearances in the final quarter alone and added 30 hit outs for the quarter, which has to be some kind of record as well, as Mummy could barely get off the ground.

Whilst many will get credit for the goals kicked during the Collingwood revival, it was the irrepressible work from Grundy that got the ball going the Pies’ way.

But again, don’t sleep on just how big Mummy was in the last few minutes – watch it back when you get the chance. Watch him throw himself in with third and fourth efforts to ensure the ball remains in dispute. It’s great desperation right when the Giants needed it.

And one more point – if your ruckman is so dominant and is setting records for hit outs, how can you be beaten in clearances by 19 for the game? We’ll get to the Collingwood mids soon.

NICK HAYNES, SAM TAYLOR AND LACHIE KEEFFE

When Phil Davis limped to the bench and then went off again in the second quarter with a sore shoulder, you could not blame GWS supporters for being more than a little nervous. Davis, their co-captain, has been a pillar of strength for his team, and is the AFL’s  leading intercept marker.

As though they didn’t have enough players hurt and out, right?

But what good sides do is see one soldier go down and replace him with another, and in this case, the Giants were able to do enough to not only hold the fort, but win some significant battles.

Nick Haynes did what Nick Haynes usually does and controlled the half back line. He had ten intercept possessions as part of his game-high (and career-high) 30 disposals as he continued to enhance his reputation as one of the best all-round defenders in the game, but it was the efforts of Lachie Keeffe that was the biggest surprise.

At three quarter time, his direct opponent, the reliable and hard-working Brody Mihocek had not touched the footy. Not a handball, not a kick… nothing. He was completely and utterly shut down by Keeffe and thwarted in every tussle they engaged in. It took Mihocek until the last quarter to register a possession, courtesy of an advantage call that benefitted his non-contest. He would add one more disposal to his tally for the game but was soundly beaten by a player determined to stake his claim for a spot in the Grand Final team, and doing it against his old team.

And then there was the efforts of Sam Taylor, who was the only bloke on the park at one stage capable of taking an overhead mark as though the ball was still dry. He made a few huge plays to stop the Collingwood advance, and is playing like a veteran despite having just 29 games under his belt.

Davis will play next week, undoubtedly, and with a squeeze expected for spots in the GWS line up (Greene and Whitfield would be certainties) you would hate to think that Keeffe could miss after a performance like this.

JEREMY HOWE

If there were one player holding the Collingwood defence together in this game, that man would be Howe. Known for his spectacular marks, his ability to defend resolutely is as good as anyone in the game. His judgment and ability to both hold his ground in a contest, and run off his opponent has made him a complete defender… something I’ll happily admit I thought was a mistake a couple of years back, given his marking prowess and x-factor. I always thought he’d make a great forward once he learned the caper a little better. But Bucks knows best…

Howe took it upon himself to be the deepest defender as the Giants tried in vain to get forward in the frantic last quarter, and every time they crossed the centre, they had the looming Jeremy Howe to deal with. He read the ball in flight perfectly on several occasions, giving the Pies time and space to orchestrate another attack, but his work was not to be enough.

His 28 disposals at 82% efficiency, whilst gaining an impressive 627 metres for the Pies illustrate just how potent he was as the deepest defender. He added eight rebound 50s and seven spoils to the mix as well as he did all he could to drag the Pies back.

TIM TARANTO

Ah the young bull.

I love what Taranto brings to the Giants’ table, and with Jacob Hopper, they are the keys to the GWS midfield grunt for the next ten years. At just 21 years old, Taranto collected eight clearances in contests with some of the biggest names in the game.

He was all over the park in this one, picking up disposals running forward and working back into defence just as hard, picking up seven rebound 50s for the game.

The gauntlet was obvious thrown down at the feet of Taranto during the week. He has been perennially the solid third mid behind the likes of Coniglio, Kelly, Whitfield and company, but the Giants needed him to step up in this game to cover their losses, and that’s exactly what he did.

When people talk about the most impressive young players in the game, if they’re not mentioning Taranto’s name, then they’re simply not watching GWS games. And if they’re not watching GWS games, they are missing out on the development of one of the best all-round players the game currently possesses.

And he’s only going to get better over the next couple of seasons.

Next week, de Boer will get Dusty, and I hope he gives him a bath, but if the GWS tagger is getting a hard time from Dusty’s teammates, expect Taranto to step in and pick up some of that slack – he just strikes me as an absolute goer.

THE BEST PIECE OF PLAY OF THE GAME

Firstly, let’s allow the vision to do some of the talking here.

 

 

At this stage of the game, we were seeing the AFL-equivalent of a 0-0 draw in soccer. Neither team was really firing a shot, and at half time we’d just experienced the lowest halftime score in 107 years of V/AFL footy, and it took some magic from the Giants to break the drought.

On the forward handball from Jeremy Cameron, Bobby Hill had his first really effective touch, showing great skill to gather and dish to Brent Daniels in one motion. Daniels felt the heat coming, handballed to Jacob Hopper, who made the play a memorable one, by taking the ball in mid-air and handball back to the running Daniels in one motion.

Daniels’ kick around the corner got the Giants off to the start they needed in the third quarter, and was the catalyst for the Giants kicking the next four goals of the game.

The first half was scrappy. It was high pressure, yes, but scrappy and as a neutral supporter, it was not a great game to watch. All that changed with this one piece of scintillating play from the Giants, demonstrating that even in tight confines, they can work wonders.

DID MATT DE BOER TAG TWO BLOKES?

So I watched de Boer quite closely in this game, as I always find what he does and how he manages to stifle an opponent whilst winning the ball himself one of the greatest mysteries in footy, and I noticed him spending time on both Adam Treloar and Scott Pendlebury.

And when he was on Pendlebury, it was almost as though Treloar took it upon himself to attempt to free Pendles up. He was pushing de Boer, bumping into him, having plenty to say.

So, can you guess what that did in the context of their matchups?

Not only did that make de Boer’s work on Pendles render him less effective, it also made Treloar’s focus on what de Boer was doing detract from him winning the ball. So in effect, the best tagger in the caper did something no one else has been able to do, and stopped both Treloar and Pendlebury all by himself!

He won’t get votes in this game, I am sure. Treloar had 22 touches – 10.9 under his season average, and Pendlebury had 18, which was 9.7 under his season average. Matt de Boer didn’t do a hell of a lot himself, collecting just nine possessions for the afternoon, but if he can curtail the efforts of two players the likes of Treloar and Pendlebury, then he can have no touches and I’d still be pretty happy with his performance.

DON’T PAY THE PERRYMAN

I love an unsung hero. I love when the guy who no on takes a lot of notice of starts doing something and it makes everyone stop and wonder where he came from and what he’s been doing all this time.

Well, whilst Perryman has obviously been at GWS doing some stellar work, he made a statement this afternoon against one of the best finals players in recent history.

Heading into the final term, Steele Sidebottom had just none touches to his name, as Perryman worked tirelessly to ensure the Gary Ayres Medallist could not get a free run at the footy.

Sidebottom finished with 16 disposals and lifted his workrate in the final term as the Pies press came hard and fast, but Perryman had done the work early and taken Sidebottom out of the game with a masterful display of accountability.

THE MAGPIE COMEBACK

You have to wonder whether that missed Jeremy Cameron shot at goal from 45 metres out with 5.30 expired on the clock would have broken the Magpies’ back? He missed and the flicker of hope remained alight for Collingwood, and boy, did they cling to it or what?

Soon enough that spark had turned into a flame and when Josh Thomas and Jaidyn Stephenson goaled within a minute of each other, it was game-on again. The Pies were up and running and powered the ball forward for repeated entries.

GWS emptied their forward line, which gave them numbers behind the ball, but no one to kick to when they finally did get out into space. Collingwood were relentless as they peppered the forward 50, but the resolute defence of the Giants held on by a thread to repel the attack one last time as time expired.

It was scintillating stuff from the Pies, and almost caused a massive boilover (James Brayshaw on commentary called GWS on their way to the Grand Final after Jeremy Cameron kicked his third early in the last quarter), but in the end, the Giants had done enough early to hang on.

THE BAD

 

THE ENTIRE FIRST HALF

I’m gearing up for a bit of a rant here and I may get off track – be warned.

I sat here at half time wondering what the hell I’d be able to write about in this review, given what I’d seen to that point.

Look, some people will try to convince you that this was a dour, defensive masterpiece in the first half. They’ll try to sell you on the desperation, the pressure and how the conditions impacted the game. They’ll even try to tell you that this was a great game in the first half.

They’d be lying if they said that.

Yes, the scores were close – three goals to two.

That’s all well and good, but to quote Dennis Pagan, don’t piss down my back and tell me it’s raining in regard to the quality of the game.

It was a poor game of footy to watch up until the main break. Yes, the conditions played a big part in the hack-fest we endured, but it was like these teams had never seen a bit of rain before at times. A combined total of 37 points at the half was disastrous for the AFL in a showcase game – isn’t this what the whole 6-6-6 rule was brought in to combat? Weren’t there a whole raft of changes to our game before this season to prevent low scores like this?

A tight finish wallpapers over a lot of cracks in the way the game was coached and played, but that first half was horrible to watch as a neutral.

BRODY MIHOCEK

I’ve never seen him play a worse game.

Beaten convincingly at every contest, ineffective when the ball hit the ground, and a complete non-factor, in a game that was decided by less than a kick, Mihocek winning one contest… just one, may have changed the trajectory of the game.

He was trounced by Lachie Keeffe – absolutely belted in every conceivable way  other than actually being physically belted, I suppose. I know the conditions were not conducive to big forwards having a huge impact, but some impact would have been nice.

I was singing his praises earlier this season, lauding him as a player who shows up with his work boots on each and every time the siren sounds. Whilst I do not doubt his efforts in this one, he looked out of his depth and devoid of confidence.

Mihocek has been the constant for the Pies this season, Whilst their rotating forward line of Elliott, de Goey, Cox, Hoskin-Elliott, Stephenson and Josh Thomas has rotated a little too much for my liking, Mihocek has been the bedrock they built on.

Today that bedrock crumbled and fell away. He picked a really bad day to have a really bad day.

THE GREATEST MIDFIELD OF ALL TIME

Remember that? Earlier this year, when the Pies recruited Dayne Beams, people were speculating that this collection of stars would make for the greatest midfield combination in the history of our game.

Better than the Lions’ Lappin, Black, Voss and Akermanis. Better than the Eagles’ Cousins, Judd and Kerr combination. Better than the Hawks’ Mitchell, Hodge and Lewis combination.

But those other combinations went on to win flags, and this “great” midfield failed to deliver in the big game this year. And they failed miserably. Let’s have a look at what they did do.

Scott Pendlebury – 18 disposals

Taylor Adams – 20 disposals

Adam Treloar – 22 disposals

Steele Sidebottom – 16 disposals

And then they have Jordan de Hamstring and Dayne Beams on the sidelines.

It’s funny how we can apply labels and expectations on a group only to have them fall over. That is what we did to this Collingwood midfield unit, and that’s exactly what they did in response. They were smashed in the clearances despite Grundy’s dominance, with the Giants destroying them  54-35, which indicates to me that the Giants mids just worked harder and worked smarter.

The Pies fell down in a number of areas in this game, but if you’re looking for where they fell down most, check out the performance of the big names in the middle. They were badly beaten.

THE UGLY

 

SCORE REVIEW

Oh man… I am just reading tweets now that the ARC has stated that there was not enough evidence to overturn the Josh Thomas goal in the last quarter.

Apparently the ball hitting the fingers of the Heath Shaw, and possibly Lachie Keeffe wasn’t enough evidence to overturn the decision, and it kind of makes you wonder… what if the Pies had got up?

The ARC was instituted to get these things right, and in one of the biggest games of the season, I am not sure they did. You would have heard one of the boneheaded commentators stating that Channel Seven doesn’t have the same footage of the ARC, but does that mean the ARC has better… or much worse footage than the TV station?

We’d seen the ARC work well earlier in the game, but far out… talk about undoing all your good work.

Also, the conspiracy theorist in me would somehow like to work in the fact that the ARC is connected to Eddie McGuire through his media company, but I reckon that’s a bit of a stretch, isn’t it?

Is it?

Possibly. 🙂

QUICK BITS

Okay, there’s still a bit to get through here.

It was a real learning experience for Bobby Hill in this game. He looked to be trying to play finesse footy in the first half and was brought undone on several occasions. You get the feeling that Leon Cameron may have just pulled him aside at half time and told him to play wet weather footy. He was important after the break and though the stats don’t back it up, his pressure and the threat of him getting off the chain had the Pies on toast.

He flashed in and out of the game, but I really liked the work of Jeremy Finlayson in this one. His brilliant “working Grundy under the ball” to score a goal, and tap on to set up a goal for Tim Taranto showed just how valuable his quick thinking and execution are to the Giants.

And to think, you could have picked up Finlayson for a bag of half eaten Smith’s Crisps at the end of last season.

Looking for some bright spots for Collingwood outside the comeback – Jack Crisp started well, Brayden Maynard was serviceable, and Rupert Wills is a tackling machine. I expect him to be in the team more often next season as the Pies search for a balance between ball-winners and pressure players.

And so, the GWS express heads into their first ever Grand Final. On paper, many are already stating that Richmond should win, and some are even speculating that the Tigers will maul the Giants…

… that’s dangerous. Weren’t Collinwood also supposed to maul the Giants? Wasn’t Eddie McGuire up there interviewing Richmond fans about who they want to face in the big game, knowing full well they expected the Tigers to face the Pies?

The Giants have done something this season no one expected them to – not make the Grand Final; many expected them to do that. No, what they’ve done is show a hardness, a fight and a willingness to scrap games out that many thought was beyond them.

Next week they run into the Richmond juggernaut on an 11-game winning streak. Can they do it? Can they roll the Tigers and claim the first ever flag for their young club?

My fingers are crossed for them, but one thing is for sure  – with Greene, Whitfield and possible, maybe, perhaps Coniglio a chance to get back, the Giants will throw everything they have at the Tigers, and damn it, the Giants might be just so damn good that it works.

I am not going to lie – I was thrilled for the Giants when the siren sounded. There may have been a bit of fist pumping in my house as they booked their spot in the Grand Final. Sleeping on it, there is a lot of Port Adelaide in 2004 about them – they’ve been close but just haven’t been able to get over that final hurdle.

The Tiger machine aren’t exactly like Brisbane of 2004, but are  still the rampaging favourite to roll over the Giants and claim their second flag in three years.

But remember what happened in 2004?

Never Surrender.