TEN THINGS I LEARNT AFTER THE PRELIMINARY FINALS

 

  1. If you’re into omen betting, put your money on the Tigers

Many punters are superstitious, and for those who are, betting on this year’s Grand Final is a no-brainer. Richmond all the way. Why? Let’s look at their recent success. In their premiership years of 2017 and 2019, they finished third on the ladder at the end of the home and away season. If that isn’t enough to convince you, it was also where the Tigers finished way back in 1980 when they won the premiership as well.

You also have to go all the way back to 1992 since the premiership went to the team that finished fourth on the ladder. That was against the Cats… Another little omen to consider is that last season, just like this season, the last time that the teams that finished first and second on the ladder failed to make it through to the Grand Final, was remarkably way back in 1980 as well. In that premiership win, the Tigers managed to beat Collingwood by 81 points and last year demolished the hapless Giants by 89 points. I, for one, don’t expect this game to be so lop-sided. I believe the Cats have found some form. But, as I said, if you like to bet based on superstition as opposed to strict analysis, it’ll be hard to go past the Richmond Football Club to win their third Grand Final in just four seasons, and bring that prediction to life that Brendon Gale made when he said they’d win three premierships by 2020.

By the way, that’s another omen.

 

  1. In the last ten years, 1st and 2nd played off in the Grand Final on just two occasions

You’d need to go back to 2014 for the last time the top two sides at the end of the regular season played off in the Grand Final. And before that you had the Cats and the Pies in 2011. From 2001-2010, the Grand Finals in that time featured the Top Two finishing teams playing off no less than five times. It seems as though that occupying the top two spots no longer comes with a great advantage over finishing third or fourth despite the home finals on offer.

Interestingly, since 2011, the top side at the end of the home and away season have been premiers just twice while the second and third placed teams have achieved the ultimate success on 3 occasions each. So, it’s clearly not a shock that finishing with a double-chance gives the teams a far greater probability of success, but it seems somewhat of a shame that the two best teams throughout the year are on relative equal footing to the teams just below them come finals time. I guess it just goes to show how hitting your peak at the right time is really what it’s all about, and aside from 2018, it seems in the last four years, the Tigers have mastered the art of doing just that.

 

  1. Port were the best team all year, but it wasn’t enough

Port Adelaide had achieved the rare feat of holding top spot for the entire home and away season. In the first final, they got over the Cats in a tough encounter, so things were still going to the script. But, of course, did anyone really think they were going to be able to brush aside the Tigers and cruise into the Grand Final? I certainly feared for the Power. We’ve been waiting all year for the Tigers to hit their peak, and it seems to be coming along right on cue. Port Adelaide did not do a lot wrong. They eclipsed the Tigers in so many statistical categories, but the one staggering result was Richmond’s ascendancy in the clearances.

Despite winning the hitouts 45 to 23, the Richmond crumbers were able to get first use of the ball 12 more times. Port also had 15 more inside 50’s but the Richmond defence led by Grimes was impenetrable allowing just 10 shots on goal for six goals. At the other end of the ground, the Power defence also made life difficult as Richmond also managed just 6 goals in a low-scoring affair, but they were a little wayward and possibly could’ve had a stronger lead as the game wore on. The fact of the matter is Port weren’t terrible, and they’ll no doubt be gutted having done all the hard work to get so close for no real reward. It’s a cruel game, all right.

 

  1. Is Kane Lambert one of the most under-rated Tigers?

In a tight game where goals were hard to come by, and following a Charlie Dixon goal which gave Port Adelaide the lead early in the final term, an unlikely hero chimed in with two goals in a matter of minutes to give Richmond what eventually turned out to be an unassailable lead. We expect these kinds of heroics from a Dustin Martin or a Tom Lynch, but I’m sure, as good a player as Kane Lambert is, that Ken Hinkley didn’t have him as his main priority coming out of three-quarter time.

The 28-year-old who was overlooked in five national drafts never gave up on his AFL dream and is reaping the rewards now. After his two goals, Port drew to within a goal and the game turned into an arm wrestle for some 13 minutes. To cap off his great quarter, with 30 seconds to go, Lambert did it at the other end of the ground winning a crucial clearance to prevent the Power from pushing forward and scoring a goal which would’ve put the game into overtime. Lambert now gets to play in his third Grand Final in four years, and if the Tigers can manage a victory, a guy who was overlooked by so many, and could’ve easily given up, would be a triple premiership player.

 

  1. Do we really want finals games where the aggregate score is below 100?

Commentators have described Friday night’s game as an absorbing and gruelling contest. I agree it was gruelling, but I can’t say the last 13 minutes, which failed to yield a goal, had me absorbed. To think I could’ve left the room, made a sandwich and grabbed a drink from the fridge only to return to the lounge room to an unchanged scoreline would leave me exasperated if we’re telling the truth.

The inability of the two teams to score in the latter part of the game gave me more frustration than anything else, and I can only imagine how the supporters of the two combatants must have felt. On the one hand, you’d have the Tigers fans who were just waiting desperately for their team to put the Power away on the scoreboard. Richmond were clearly winning the midfield battle and had a few extra shots on goal that didn’t yield a major. Sure, when the siren sounded, the realisation that the Tigers were in another Grand Final would’ve brought much elation, but possibly the overwhelming feeling was more relief following 13 minutes of angst.

On the other hand, Port surged into their forward 50 fifteen more times than their opponents and just couldn’t convert that extra traffic into scoring opportunities. Of course that’s a credit to the wonderful Tigers defence, but it’s fair to say that whichever way you look at it, the levels of frustration by the end of the game for supporters of the Power would’ve been at epic levels. This was the 29th game of the season with an aggregate score below 100. 2019 had just two. All efforts made to tweak the rules in the hope of higher scoring outcomes and less congestion have failed. They AFL have stubbornly resisted slashing interchange numbers to much lower levels. Time to give that a go I think. The number should be 40 or less.

 

  1. Charlie Dixon was below his best during the finals

I certainly don’t want to be too hard on Charlie. He had a very good year, and playing forward during the finals against arguably two of the best defensive teams in the competition is a massive challenge. With that in mind, I’m sure he’ll be disappointed with what he was able to produce. Over the two games, he managed just 15 disposals, four marks and two goals. He would’ve been high on the list of players to shut down by Scott and Hardwick alike, and in both cases it would seem their tactics were successful. So why single him out? Well, the answer is because it seems that quelling Charlie’s influence goes a long way in giving teams a good chance of winning.

His presence throughout the year lifted the side across the line in some tight games and provided some comfortable wins in others. Yes, Port are far from a one-man team of course, but they were a much better side this season in part due to the work of a fit and in form Dixon. I think Port may need to make getting another tall forward a priority in the off-season. I’m not sure if Marshall is the answer yet. It would be good to have someone else besides Charlie that others need to focus on and take some heat away. Balta for the Tigers did the job this week and hasn’t he improved! If Grimes had to worry more about his opponent, the result may have been different.

 

  1. Geelong’s high scoring will trouble the Tigers

The last fortnight has seen the Cats score 100 and 82 which, by 2020 standards, is extremely high. The Tigers, on the other hand, managed a handy 80 points against the Saints, but only managed 46 in their win over the Power. I suspect, based on current form, that if Richmond were held to just six goals next week, the Cats will win. And I expect that brilliant Tiger defence to keep the Cats score down below the scores of the last two weeks, but I am confident that the Geelong forwards will prove as great a challenge as any this season. Something seems to have clicked.

In the first week of the finals, we all saw what happened with Tom Hawkins and his dreadful inaccuracy in front of goal. There’s many who believe that had he kicked straight, they probably would have defeated Port Adelaide that night. His kicking woes seem to have left him. But even if he’s not getting on the end of it, you have Gary Rohan hitting the scoreboard, as well as Ablett, Miers and some bloke called Dangerfield who you can throw forward as well. Richmond will have to do a lot more than shut down Hawkins if they want to take out their third premiership in four years. I believe they can, but I also believe that the Geelong scoring power will mean they also have to hit the scoreboard hard.

 

  1. Will Gazza get his fairytale ending?

So he has announced his retirement, and a great career is about to come to a close. His move back from the Gold Coast was a desire to be closer to home, but I also imagine the prospect of playing in another premiership was also part of his reasoning. After the loss to Port in the Qualifying final, that seemed unlikely, but things have a way of changing in AFL, and now Gary Ablett Jr finds himself playing his final game in a Grand Final.

And the best part for Gary is that he has played a meaningful role in getting the team there. While watching the third term, I couldn’t help but smile as Ablett turned back the clock and showed just why he’s been referred to as “The Little Master” by many. It’s a nickname that has always puzzled me, because at 182cm, he’s basically little at 6 feet tall? The moment for me came with the game in the balance after Brisbane had just kicked a goal to close the gap to a slender lead, then streaming out of the centre square just 12 seconds after the ball was bounced, Ablett launched one on the run from outside 50 in a style familiar with his 19 year career.

I’m a Carlton fan, but nobody could wipe the grin off my face following that bit of play. He’ll be missed. That third quarter of his set up the win, and if they go all the way, he’ll know he played his part.

 

  1. The Lions seemed overawed from the beginning

I sat and watched the game with my eight-year old boy. He takes a keen interest in AFL, and loves to predict winners. Pre-game, we were both leaning towards Brisbane. But just ten minutes into the first quarter, I looked to him and told him that Geelong were going to win. At that stage there was only a few points separating the team. He didn’t understand why I was making that call when the game was close. And all I said was that the Cats were just playing much better and eventually they would break away and win easy.

What I saw was a Brisbane team that seemed a little tentative and not playing with their usual dare. Lachie Neale was one of the Lions’ best after being held early. Charlie Cameron started the game strongly but was kept mostly quiet after quarter time. The Lions had very few winners on Saturday night. Hipwood and McStay had frustrating nights with just eight possessions between them and just one goal. Whilst Charlie Cameron has been great in terms of strengthening their potency up forward, Brisbane may need to look at securing another tall forward. If that happens to be Joe Daniher which seems likely, and if he can stay fit, that may be the difference. I’d be moving heaven and earth to get that deal done if I were the list manager at Brisbane. The Lions will feature again in next year’s finals no doubt, but this will be one reason for them to be able to go deeper.

 

  1. Hard to accept that two Victorian teams play off in a Grand Final interstate.

Whatever your thoughts on COVID-19, and however you see the situation in Victoria with their second wave, spare a thought for the supporters of Geelong and Richmond who won’t be able to see the game live. The overriding sadness being felt in Melbourne as a result of being under strict lockdowns for the best part of four months could’ve been evaporated to some extent with Grand Final week in Melbourne, followed by a big day at the MCG.

For those reading this who live interstate, this is not parochialism. The restrictions Melbournians have been put under would be truly hard for those not experiencing them to understand and appreciate. This is not a criticism of the rules. We all accept that something needed to be done when things got out of hand. It just would’ve been nice to end this dark period with a big Grand Final week to celebrate. Footy has still provided some distraction for Victorians during these months, and you can bet we will all be watching the game intently, as well as dreading life post-season, although it does appear things will open up soon. I guess the blow wouldn’t have been so hard if it was a Port Adelaide v Brisbane GF. But, it is what it is, and most of us can’t wait for 2020 to be over, although we really don’t know what next year is going to look like either.