1. The Power might be saving their best til last
By quarter-time of Friday night’s clash, you could already see the writing on the wall. After a tight opening to the quarter in which Geelong appeared to up for the contest, late goals to Marshall and Butters gave an ominous indication that the home team had settled into the contest and meant business. The lead had opened up to 29 points by half time and the Cats were really labouring to trouble the scorers.
Ken Hinkley’s men applied non-step pressure and, basically, the Cats wilted. Chris Scott lamented the lack of pressure from his boys after the game in what he would certainly hope improves against the Giants next week.
Port Adelaide can officially silence those, including myself, who suggested their poor record against teams high on the ladder meant they may not go deep into the finals. They’ve now taken scalps including the Bulldogs, Cats and the Giants all in the last month of football. A quick glance at their injury list shows a mostly healthy group with just a couple players in their best 22 currently unavailable. Add in the fact they have a week’s rest before their preliminary final appearance, and they could be close to full strength.
In recent years, one of the main reasons the Tigers were so successful was due in part to the health of their list. The planets are aligning for Port Adelaide now in what looks like their best chance to date to secure their second premiership in the AFL. There’s still plenty that needs to go right for them, not to mention how ominous Melbourne are looking, but I imagine they can dare to dream for now.
2. Orazio was back to his best
By the end of the game, Orazio Fantasia was bruised and battered. Not only was he feeling soreness in his knee, he was also nursing what looked like a broken nose. Yet he was noticeably happy with himself after booting four goals in a return to the sort of form we’ve seen when he was at his best.
It was always going to be a successful recruitment for the Power. He’s an Adelaide boy, and it’s always no coincidence how well small crumbing forwards do well when playing in good teams. This year has been a little up and down for Orazio due mainly to some injury preventing him from getting a consistent flow of games, but Friday night showed the damage he can do. Orazio played 80 games in seven seasons for the Bombers since his debut in 2014, so his body has posed some issues. This year he has only managed ten games, and this was by far his best when you consider the importance of the match.
He may have an anxious few days hoping he pulls up OK after leaving the ground in the final quarter. He appeared to play most of this game on one leg anyway and still managed four goals from his nine disposals. It’s a little surprising to learn he’s still only 25 years of age and is yet to reach 100 games. Maybe it seems he’s been around longer than that due to his name being so distinct. I still chuckle to myself at the manner in which his surname is continually mispronounced. My Italian heritage will tell you it should be said FUN-TA-SEE-YA. Try that. It actually sounds even cooler than it does now, and last time I checked, he’s not a Disney movie.
3. Gary Rohan’s finals woes continue
I do feel a little for this guy. It seems we have this conversation each year, especially because the Cats are perennial finalists. The fact is, however, Gary Rohan hasn’t had a record of finals football that he’d be happy with. In last year’s finals series he averaged seven possessions and kicked just three goals in four matches. Now bear in mind, those three goals were all in the preliminary final against the Lions. So for three of those games he was goalless.
This year, he also failed to trouble the scorers, and as the game was heading south he was sent down back to bolster the defence where he battled hard but never looked comfortable. I don’t mean to pot the guy as I’m a Gary Rohan fan. I think he’s very talented, but for whatever reason, in finals, he has fallen short of his best and it’s something he gets a chance to turn around this week. Hopefully, he can recapture the form of last year’s preliminary final where he booted three goals from 11 touches and would’ve walked off satisfied. Sadly, in the Grand Final a week later he could only manage five possessions and couldn’t get into the game. I believe he’s a better player than that.
The concern is… maybe he doesn’t?
4. The Swans are 0-3 v Giants in finals
Are we now seeing a new curse emerge between the two Sydney sides? It appears the Giants have the wood over their cross-town rivals when it comes to finals. They’ve now met on three occasions at the business end of the season, and the Giants have prevailed each time. This one would be the more significant of those victories as the Swans would’ve gone into this game red-hot favourites after finishing three and a half games ahead of GWS during the home and away season.
It looked as though they were going to pinch it in the end, but a couple of easy misses and a lunging save in the dying minutes provided the thrilling one-point result in favour of the newest team in the AFL.
The first time the Giants defeated the Swans in the finals was in the 2016 season. Sydney actually finished the season as minor premiers and the Giants came in at fourth. That game was dominated by the Giants who eventually ran out 36-point winners. Interestingly, the Swans regrouped after that loss and eventually went on to play off in the Grand Final. The Giants lost in the preliminary final to the eventual premiers by just six points. The second time was in the 2018 season where, coincidentally, Sydney were sicth and GWS finished seventh. That game was also easily won by the Giants.
This game was obviously a lot tighter, and when Sydney got within seven points after Isaac Heeney kicked his fourth goal at just the nine-minute mark of the final quarter. Despite dominating all aspects of play from then on, they could only manage six behinds to fall one point short. Two very straightforward misses from Hickey and Bell were the standout moments where, if you have any superstitions, you may believe this curse is real.
5. We’ll have to wait a bit longer for Buddy’s 1000th
Lance Franklin came into this game needing just eight more majors to reach his 1000 career goal milestone. When he booted his third goal a little before halftime, there was a small sniff it could’ve been done in this game, but he was well held from that point on and didn’t add to his first-half tally. He battled hard and finished with 14 touches for the game, but he wasn’t able to goal from 50 in the last quarter which would’ve put the Swans in front in a moment that would’ve been reminiscent of his heroics in that memorable moment against the Crows in the 2007 finals series.
It’s incredible to think that was 14 years ago, and if recent form is anything to go by, he is still one of, if not the best, forwards in the game currently.
Buddy will turn 35 next year. After having missed the best part of the last two years through injury, he was finally able to string a few games together and looks set for another big year in 2022. I expect him to get his 1000th goal in either Round One or Two, and then he can put that behind him and focus on the remaining games and getting the Swans back into finals contention again. After what we’ve seen from them in 2021, I can see them backing it up, although I imagine they won’t surprise teams as readily as they did early on this year and may have to find another gear. I might even put a few sly dollars on Franklin to take out the Coleman Medal in 2022. He got to 51 goals in his 18 games after coming back from a long lay-off. A good preseason and a healthy body may see him back on top, and at 35 that would be a mighty effort.
6. The Demons made a real statement
My mind goes back to last week’s win over the Cats when they trailed by a whopping 44 points with a quarter and a half remaining and overhauled them at their home ground! It seems a switch was flicked from that moment, and it remained on into this week. The question is can it stay on till we get to the big dance?
I think it can, and if it does, it will go an awfully long way to ending their 57-year drought. And wouldn’t that be something? They were relentless against the Lions, and the 33-point difference, in the end, flattered Brisbane, especially when you consider the almost doubling in scoring shots and additional 23 Inside 50’s. If Melbourne were more accurate in front of goal, it could’ve easily been a 10-goal win. Even Charlie Cameron’s five-goal haul wasn’t enough to keep the Lions in the game, nor were Lachie Neale’s 46 possessions.
In the latter part of the season, there seemed to be a few concerns with Melbourne and their ability to score. The form of Bayley Fritsch has gone a long way to allay those concerns finishing with four goals in a classy display. The addition of Ben Brown has also added something. Whilst he only managed one goal, he was playing further up the ground and was the middle man to many forward thrusts. You have a crumbing forward in Pickett, midfielders in Oliver and Petracca that hit the scoreboard regularly, so scoring is seemingly not the problem it appeared to be a few weeks ago.
However, where the Demons looked really good is in defence. We can’t speak highly enough of the Lever and May combination. but I’ve begun to notice the work of Rivers who seems to be flying under the radar. He’s just as adept at intercept marking as the other two fellas. Add Christian Salem with his exquisite ball use out of defence and you have one very hard to penetrate backline. They’re looking mighty good.
7. This was the worst time for Joe Daniher to have his first goalless game for the year.
If you had told me at the beginning of the year that Joe Daniher was going to score 45 goals during the home and away season, you’d say that the Brisbane recruiting team got it right. And they did. He has been excellent for them this year and scored in every game during the home and away season which is an achievement in itself. So he’d be very disappointed that the first time he didn’t do so was during the first final.
The forward line at Brisbane wasn’t helped by the loss of McStay early in the game. It certainly messed with their structure as demonstrated by the lack of marks inside 50. Charlie did his bit with five goals, but the team only managed nine for the match and were starved of opportunity for the most part. Even the mercurial Lincoln McCarthy was well down finishing with just six possessions and a goal.
Joe tried hard and had a couple shots at goal. One went slightly wide and another missed altogether. It was reminiscent of his wayward days at Essendon when he would show up to games without his kicking boots on. Everything seems to have improved for him this year. Not only has his goal kicking been better, but when was the last time he was able to play 18 games in a season? It’s always astounding how when a player leaves a club after a horrendous run with injury how they somehow get healthy at their new club. Joe has done just that and now seems to have his career back on track. And that’s a good thing, because he can play the game and he’s been a joy to watch this year. He’ll be hurting after Saturday’s loss. Here’s hoping he has a big one next week.
8. The finals drought continues for the Bombers
As we all know, the proud Essendon Football Club has been starved of success for quite some time now. Their last win in a finals match came on September 4, 2004, some 6203 days before their latest chance to end that drought. However, the Bulldogs weren’t going to be denied after what has really been a horror month which saw them tumble out of the Top 4, finishing with three straight losses to end their home and away season.
I’m pretty certain many Bombers fans were ready to launch onto their social media pages following a victory to give it back to all of us who have taken perverse pleasure in reminding them how long it has been since they last tasted victory during September. Perhaps if they did win we might have been able to wait another week to let them off the hook as this game was actually played in what is still August. But I digress…
The Bombers looked good early, but just couldn’t go with the Bulldogs after half time failing to score a goal following on from when Jake Stringer posted his second just before half time. The team can hold their head up high, however. A finals berth seemed well out of reach after the Bombers managed just the two wins from their first eight games. They won nine of their last fourteen which is a big effort for what is a fairly young list on the rise.
The club will be hoping for bigger things in 2022, but the reality is they still finished the season overall with a negative win-loss ratio and shouldn’t get ahead of themselves at this stage. And if they do happen to make the Top 8 next year, you’ll be hearing about how it has been over 6,500 days since they’ve won a final and the merry-go-round will continue.
9. The Bulldogs adapted much better to the wet conditions
The game was in the balance at half time, but the change in the weather also seemed to bring about a change in the game. After half time, it was the likes of Liberatore and Macrae who handled the conditions with ease and set up many forward thrusts. The Bombers fought hard but couldn’t seem to get any clean ball into their forward line and managed just five behinds for the entire half.
Cody Weightman booted four goals for the Bulldogs in a finals week where small forwards featured prominently on the scoreboard. All of his goals were the result of free kicks, some of which would irk the Essendon faithful, no doubt. Aaron Naughton had one of his best days in front of goal for several weeks after managing just seven goals from his past six games following his return from injury.
The Bulldogs will now head to the Gabba to take on Brisbane and will be doing their homework on how to stop Cameron and Lachie Neale. Better players for the Bombers were the consistent midfield duo in Merrett and Parish, both gathering over 30 possessions and working tirelessly throughout the game. Jake Stringer threatened to have a big game with two first half goals but was very quiet after halftime finishing the game with just nine touches, which is well below where he’d want to be. Sam Draper continued his great form in the ruck dominating the hitouts and gathering 18 possessions. He’s been a definite find for the Bombers and looks set to have a long career. Peter Wright came into this game in some cracking form but failed to trouble the scorers finishing with just 7 possessions in conditions that didn’t really suit the big man. All in all, it was a comprehensive win for the Western Bulldogs, and should they be able to find a way to win against the Lions next week, the indifferent form late in the season will be a distant memory. I’m sure the Lions won’t want to go out in straight sets for the second time in three seasons after the disappointment of 2019.
10. Small forwards played a big role this week
On Friday night at Adelaide Oval, it was the Orazio Fantasia show where he finished with four goals and played a big hand in setting up the win for the Power. Saturday afternoon in Tasmania you had Toby Greene doing what he normally does kicking three goals for the Giants while at the other end you had Isaac Heaney kicking four goals for the Swans. Whether Isaac comes under the banner of small forwards is debatable as he does play a bit like a tall, so I’ll let you, the reader, decide if he belongs in this conversation or not.
Tom Papley definitely fills the criteria of the small forward, and he finished with two goals. On Saturday night, for the winners, you had Kozzie Pickett kicking two, while at the other end you had Charlie Cameron kicking five! Sunday afternoon in Tasmania you had Weightman for the Dogs kicking four. That’s a grand total of 24 goals coming from seven players at an average of between three and four apiece. You would take that from any small forward at any time let alone during the finals.
The role of the small forward has always been pivotal. They basically provide the cream on the cake for a good forward setup. The Bombers could’ve used McDonald-Tipungwuti against the Dogs no doubt, particularly when the rains came. We all saw what sort of damage Cyril Rioli used to inflict on the opposition on the back of a mere 12-15 possessions. I’m not sure if any from this collection of players are up to that level, but the hustle and bustle of finals might suit them just fine with the added pressure meaning the ball may spend more time on the ground than normal.