1. Port Adelaide are coming good at the right time

Whilst the Power have been solid this year, their record against the better teams throughout most of the season was genuine cause for concern and cast a shadow of doubt over their credentials as a finalist contender. Up until now, that is.

After losing to the Demons at home in Round 17 they closed out their 2021 campaign with six-straight wins which included two of the top 8 teams in the Giants, and now the Bulldogs. It’s also no coincidence that their younger stars returned around that time and they’ve now been further strengthened by Robbie Gray being available. They now face Geelong in Adelaide in the first week of the finals and would go into that game chock-full of confidence.

The Cats will have their work cut out trying to quell the influence of Wines and Boak in the middle who were superb again on Friday night. Gray was also dominant with two2 goals from his 25 touches. Port are very well placed right now.

The Bulldogs have all but fallen off a cliff as far as their form is concerned. Their last seven matches yielded just three wins, all against teams in the bottom 4. They’ve limped into the finals with three-straight losses against Essendon, Hawthorn, and now Port Adelaide. With a three-goal lead with under ten minutes to go, the Bulldogs looked set to have a much needed win on the eve of the finals to retain their double chance. They just couldn’t hold on. Clearly, the Power’s coaching crew did their homework and kept Bontempelli quiet. It proved to be a match-winning move in the end.

The Bulldogs now face an elimination final after falling to their lowest position on the ladder for the whole year at the wrong end of the season. They’ll be playing Essendon who beat them just three weeks ago. If they were to repeat that dose, this will be a bitterly disappointing result for a season that promised so much.

 

2. The Hawks had two draws out of their last six games!

Over the last five years, there have been nine games resulting in a tie which suggests the probability of a drawn game of AFL football is around 1%. So, it’s quite extraordinary for any team to have two drawn matches within a six week period. And in this game particularly, while holding a 25 point lead with just five minutes remaining, it simply shouldn’t have happened.

The Tigers, of course, had other ideas and we all know what happened with poor old Shaun Burgoyne’s final act in AFL being a desperate lunge to secure the win which missed out by six inches. With all that said, the Hawks will be pleased with their final six weeks of the year with just the one loss, three wins with the two draws. This will no doubt give them a much better outlook for next year. Mitchell and O’Meara were terrific with 36 possessions apiece.

The Tigers looked weary in the second half of the season. It will be interesting to see how they bounce back in 2022. Many think they are done as a superpower, and perhaps they are. The premiership stars on their list are starting to get towards the twilight of their career, and there doesn’t appear to be any young stars emerging to suggest they’ll be able to stay as strong as they have been. Even the great Dusty turns 30 next year. I think the club has got a lot of work to do. Injuries were definitely part of the problem this year, but I don’t think their injury concerns were savage enough to see a premiership team slip eleven places on the ladder. There’s more to it than that.

 

3. The Swans have been the story of the year

After finishing in 16th place last year with just five wins, nobody in their right mind would’ve predicted 15 wins this year and a finals spot. They’ve won just as many games as Brisbane who finished fourth so they’re a touch unlucky to be sixth. But what a turnaround! The best part for the Swans is that it has been mostly driven by their youth. Their young kids have reinvigorated a team that was pretty much going through the motions last season. It’s a credit to John Longmire and their recruiting team for being able to identify this prodigious level of talent.

The sad thing is they will face the Giants in week one of the finals who are more than capable of knocking them off. It would be a shame if they are unable to go deeper into the finals. They will need to if Buddy is any chance of reaching the 1000-goal milestone this year with the eight more goals he needs.

The Suns will have to spend their summer trying to find out what they stand for. We’ve seen them show a bit at times. We know the talent is there. Their win against the Giants in Ballarat was super impressive, but their losses have been deplorable at times. Touk Miller has been a revelation as this season, but as far as leaders go, he seems to be a lone hand. The club needs to find more leaders, and a few more players who can turn a game. If Stuart Dew is there next year, and they serve up more of the same mediocrity, it will probably put an end to his career as a senior coach. It also puts into question the inclusion of a club on the Gold Coast at all.

 

4. The right team finished fourth

With under a minute remaining, the Lions were still sitting fifth on the live ladder and the Doggies fans’ hearts must have sunk collectively as Lincoln McCarthy’s errant shot at goal scraped in by the narrowest of margins to secure fourth position. Sure, Cameron’s goal after the siren put an exclamation point on the result, but there would’ve been many hoping and praying the Eagles defence could deny them the opportunity, and they almost did.

As a neutral observer, I think it’s the right result, The Doggies’ form in the latter part of the season was not befitting a Top 4 team, whereas the Lions have found their mojo again in the last few weeks. They now have a tough assignment against the rampant Demons in the first week of the finals. If they were to pull off a win there, their indifferent form from Round 17 to 20 will be a distant memory with everything back on track. Lachie Neale seems to be back near his best after his return from injury, and as the season has worn on, it would appear the recruitment of Joe Daniher was a master-stroke.

The Eagles faded badly in the second half of the season. Following the mid-season bye, they managed just two wins and were performing as poorly as any team in the competition. It’s hard to fully comprehend what drove this dip in form as there are still many premiership players on their list, so this will be a concern for the club moving forward. There’s a question mark on whether Josh Kennedy can come up for another season depending on his body, and arguably their best player in Nic Naitanui will be 32 years old next year.

As is the case with Richmond, it’s really hard to see where their standout youngsters are. Their next wave doesn’t seem to be showing the promise required to elevate the club back up the ladder right now. It’ll be an interesting trade period for the Eagles.

 

5. Max Gawn exorcises his past Demons

My mind goes back to Round 1 in 2018 at the MCG where Max Gawn took a mark with seconds to go and missed a sitter after the siren that would’ve won Melbourne the game. He pulled the kick left and the Demons went down by three points. The circumstances were eerily similar and this surely must have crossed his mind. Thankfully for big Max, this time his kick was true and the Demons pulled off a massive victory after trailing by as much as 44 points midway through the third quarter.

It was stirring stuff and has handed the Demons their first minor premiership since 1964 – also the last year they won the premiership. Clayton Oliver has done his Brownlow prospects no harm at all finishing with 37 touches and two goals for the game.

The Cats looked awesome for the first two and a half quarters, but once the Demons got going, they were relegated to spectators. They couldn’t manage a goal in the final term whilst the Dees piled on six to sneak home by four points. Sidelined Carlton full-forward Harry McKay would’ve been nervous as Tom Hawkins kicked his fourth early in the third term to whittle his Coleman medal lead down to just four. Harry would’ve been relieved to see the football down at Melbourne’s end for most of the time after that.

This loss for the Cats might prove huge as they now have to head to Adelaide to face the Power at home. The loss may spur them on to greater things, or it could mentally scar them. One can’t help but feel things could’ve been different if Tom Stewart was out there.

 

6. Eddie Betts will be missed

It’s exceedingly rare to find a player that is universally loved by all and sundry, including opposition supporters, but Eddie Betts is that person. Even his last goal in AFL football was typical Betts, with a soccer off the ground, a chase-down, a baulk and a banana-snap from close range. It was the fitting way to end his illustrious career. He’s also handled himself with dignity at every turn and tackled the issue of racism better than any person in the game.

Betts’ heroics on the football field leave him at the top of the tree as a small forward, and all Carlton people out there are still scratching their heads at the idiots who saw fit to let him go to Adelaide where he probably played the most damaging football of his career. Carlton didn’t win this game for you Eddie, but you certainly have walked off victorious.

The Giants were no exception in recognising Eddie’s career with a touching gift of a GWS indigenous jumper and a bottle of wine. It was all class, as was Eddie’s career. The Giants now have to buckle down for what looked like an unlikely finals run just a few weeks ago. Their form has definitely lifted, and they will trouble Sydney next week. It’s a great shame the game can’t be played in Sydney, but I’m sure the game will be a cracker and nothing will be left out there. Josh Kelly seems to have found some of his best form in time for the finals. He’ll prove a handful, but for me, the real star of that football team is Callan Ward. I know people recognise his talents, but he does seem to fly under the radar which is amazing considering he’s probably one of the best ten players in the league but seems to get overlooked by those who compile those lists.

 

7. Jack Steele is a superstar

I remember seeing Jack Steele in the early part of his career at the Giants with his long hair. He looked an OK player, and I thought he had a cool name, but that was about it. When the Saints recruited him, I thought he might be handy, but I didn’t realise he would be the heart and soul of the team. In this game he picked up 35 disposals in a dominant display, but he’s been doing that all year.

Those who recruited this guy had great vision. As the captain of the team, he is undoubtedly as good as any onfield leader going around. He’ll be bitterly disappointed with his team missing the finals and the manner in which some of their losses played out, but if they can rally around him based on his exploits on the footy field, they will be a better side than where they finished this year.

The Dockers did have a small chance of playing finals. Sure, it depended on Essendon losing to Collingwood which was unlikely, but there was plenty on the line. As is often the case when Freo travel, they turned in a very sub-standard performance in a game that still held some meaning for them. This will disappoint the coach no end. But in saying all that, they are one of the younger lists going around, and they do seem to have the potential of improving next year. I am still of the belief they lack a true key forward. Taberner is solid but I imagine he would be second or third-string in the better teams. It’s a shame they couldn’t make the Jesse Hogan deal work.

 

8. Will the Bombers 17-year curse be lifted?

Essendon ended the season well with three straight wins including a victory against the more-fancied Bulldogs who they now face in an eimination final. Their confidence levels will be high, but the reality is by the time they hit the ground in Tasmania, it will be over 6,200 days since the club won a final. The pressure of that will be a huge burden, and with the side full of youngsters, it could either prove too much, or could be a source of inspiration.

Alec Waterman bagged four for the Bombers in what was one of his better games for the club despite a brain-fade in the second quarter where he gave away two consecutive 50 metre penalties that resulted in a goal. Peter Wright also continued his good form with four goals as well. Whatever the case, and whatever happens in the finals, the Bombers have exceeded expectations this year and Ben Rutten has done an awesome job with a young list.

Collingwood will be licking their wounds after what was a horror season. It’s a staggering fall from grace considering they did play off in last year’s finals, and this year found themselves in 17th spot and, it has to be said, playing some ordinary football. It’ll be interesting to see who ends up with the coaching job in 2022. It seems Alistair Clarkson has ruled himself out, and Ross Lyon looks to be eyeing off the Carlton job. I’m hearing names like Michael Voss and Adam Kingsley getting thrown around. Either way, they’re walking into a pressure cooker that will require an instant impact to keep in good with the Magpie faithful. Hopefully, whoever gets the gig is given a little time to settle into the assignment. They’re going to need it.

 

9. It’s hard watching 17th play 18th in the final round

The way the cards fell in season 2021, we ended up with the two bottom sides playing not only in the final round of the competition, but also featuring in the final game of the home and away fixture. We weren’t expecting the game to reach great heights, and that’s certainly how it played out. Adelaide were by far the better team on the day, but their inaccuracy almost kept North Melbourne in the game. And as for the Kangaroos, it was obvious by quarter time they were spent. Apparently, the Covid protocols in South Australia meant they had to leave Melbourne at 7:30am, spend the day in Adelaide before playing a twilight game and then hop back on a plane back to Melbourne. I sincerely hope that the two finals matches being played in Adelaide in Week 1 have a better solution than that, otherwise, we might be up for some lacklustre football, and a devastating advantage to Port Adelaide over the Cats if this is how it plays out.

For me, after the dreadful year the Crows had in 2020, this year gets a pass mark. Seven wins is a reasonable return considering how far off they were for most of last year. They can take some heart from that. Rory Laird finished his great season in style with a 40-possession haul and must be close to the winning the Crows best and fairest this year. For the Kangaqroos, the form of Nick Larkey late in the year will give them some hope moving forward. He seems to have filled the hole left by Ben Brown just nicely. The Kangaroos found a little bit of a spark in the second half of the season, but the reality is they’ll need to find a player or two to strengthen their list. They seem to have a great coach. Time will tell.

 

10. Max Gawn’s goal has made the Demons premiership favourites

I would love to know what the premiership odds would’ve been on Melbourne winning the flag midway through the third quarter. I’m guessing they wouldn’t have been at $3.75 as the favourite where they’re sitting now. Sportsbet also have Geelong at $4.20 ahead of Port Adelaide at $5.00, but those odds should probably be flipped considering the Cats need to go to Adelaide to play the Power in Week One of the finals. Brisbane are next best at $5.50, while the Dogs have slipped out to a massive $10.00. I recall them being somewhere in the vicinity of $4.00 favourites as little as a month ago, probably after beating Melbourne. Sydney are at $15.00, and whilst it would be an unlikely result if they were to win it, their best footy is pretty damn good.

It would be nothing short of a miracle if the premiers came from the 7th and 8th placed teams this year. We all remember that the Bulldogs did so in 2016, but what a lot of people forget is they had also won 15 games that year which is a rare feat for a 7th placed team, so they weren’t your ordinary lower finals participant. The Giants and Bombers are in good form now, but it does seem a monumental task to even advance beyond the first week for both of those sides, and if they did, the following week will most likely find them out. I can actually see this being a Melbourne and Port Adelaide Grand Final. But I’m by no means certain of this. Should Brisbane or the Power make it the big dance, and there’s still no football allowed in Melbourne, it will be interesting to see how the cards fall and if one of these teams gets to play for the premiership at home. This may result in riots that will challenge any anti-lockdown protest.