1. Tom Hawkins is having a solid finals series

This man is so important to the fortunes of the Geelong Football Club. Against Port Adelaide he was well down as was the entire team, but he still toiled hard finishing with two goals. In this game, he was superb booting five and was one of Geelong’s best. There were many instances during the night where a well-flighted ball in his direction would end up in his hands due to his incredible strength being able to out-position his direct opponent. His kicking for goal was also a feature and his efforts went a long way to securing the Cats a spot in the preliminary final, especially in the last quarter when the Giants were coming.

The beauty of Geelong is they also have Jeremy Cameron. He finished with two goals, but you can bet that if Tom isn’t having a big game, that Jeremy might step up. This is why the Power’s efforts against the Geelong forward line last week was so impressive keeping the big three forwards including Rohan to just three goals between them. Any team that can manage that will go a long way towards winning the game. I’m sure if the Cats can somehow sneak past the Demons next week and find themselves against the Power in the big one should they prevail against the Bulldogs, the lessons will have been learnt and the output up forward may be different. But first things first. The Cats take on the Dees and will want to make amends for letting a 44-point lead slip at their last meeting.

 

2. Zac Tuohy was a huge inclusion

The ex-Blue flies under the radar a lot, but I’m pretty certain Cats fans recognise this man’s incredible value. The absence of Tom Stewart in the finals certainly left a gaping hole, but not too many pundits made mention of the Irishman not being available for the Port Adelaide game. Tuohy was instrumental in setting up many plays from defence amassing 31 possessions during the game with scary efficiency. He will prove a handful for the Melbourne forwards next week. He was missing during their Round 23 encounter and seems to have returned to the side in peak form.

I’m sure Goodwin would’ve watched Friday night’s game closely and would have Tuohy’s name in red ink in his notes. Zac Tuohy debuted for the Blues in 2010 and played 120 games before departing at the end of the 2016 season. The Carlton Football Club clearly underestimated his value and the Cats were quick to snap him up. He’s now played 100 games for Geelong in five seasons and has been both durable and consistent. Whilst he was a solid contributor during his Carlton days, he has definitely played his best football with Geelong, due no doubt to being surrounded with players more accustomed to playing in a culture of success when compared to the success-starved Blues. Tuohy turns 32 in December but is showing no signs of slowing down just yet having had one of his best years in 2021.

 

3. Toby Greene, what were you thinking?

There is no doubt the Giants were missing their star in Greene. I’m a huge fan, and I was extremely disappointed at what occurred last week knowing he wouldn’t be playing any further part in this season. Greene has shown a propensity to start games well this year, so one gets the feeling that things may have been different at quarter time had he been playing. GWS failed to score a goal and the Cats just had two on the board. If Toby had been there my thinking is they may have had a couple on the board early and the attitude of the side may have been a little buoyed by a competitive start.

Even though the Cats only had two on the board at quarter time, going goalless in the first quarter of an elimination final is never a good feeling, and for the rest of the match, they were fighting just to stay in the game. The only one who may have been privately pleased with Toby’s absence was young Connor Stone getting the call-up in what was just his fifth game. Whilst he wasn’t in amongst the Giants’ best, he still looked lively finishing with 2 goals in a sign of what’s to come. The only other player for GWS to kick multiple goals was Harry Himmelberg who also finished with two.

Losing Greene was always going to provide a problem with scoring power. This point was demonstrated by the fact the Inside 50 count was exactly even with 49 for each team. The late fightback where the Giants got to within 20 points in the last quarter was admirable, but they predictably ran out of steam, eventually going down by 35 points. Perhaps Toby will need anger management in the off-season…

 

4. Is Mummy going to retire… again?

The talk is that Shane Mumford has played his last AFL game, although no announcement has been made yet. Ruck stocks at the Giants are still a problem, so where will this leave them if he were to hang up the boots? There were even times this year where regular forward Jeremy Finlayson took on the ruck duties.

Perhaps if they can get Brayden Preuss off the injury list in preparation for next year then that may be the way forward. We’ve all been waiting patiently for him to find regular games at AFL level, and hopefully the opportunity is there for him at the Giants. We know he’s good enough at his best and the club is light on for rucking options.

Mumford has already turned 35 and has played 214 games across 14 seasons. That includes 21 for Geelong, 78 with Sydney, and 114 with the Giants where he has enjoyed the best football of his career. He retired at the end of 2017 to have a crack at boxing but decided on a return to football in 2019 where he played in the losing Grand Final against the Tigers. After the game on Friday night, the reports are the big man was shattered, and the coach Leon Cameron did indicate that while no announcement has been made, it seems more likely that not he may have played his last game.

 

5. Lachie Whitfield is a superstar

Whilst we all notice the heroics of Toby Greene and laud him as one of, if not, the most important player at GWS, there’s almost no doubt in my mind that Lachie Whitfield makes a huge difference to the fortunes of this team. We are all aware that it was a terrific effort for the Giants to make the finals and get into the second week, considering their slow start to the year.

After six rounds, they had only managed two wins, and it’s no coincidence to me that Whitfield missed the first six rounds through injury. Throughout the year, he missed a total of seven games and the Giants were only victorious in two of those. Whitfield was clearly GWS’ best in this game amassing 34 disposals and a staggering 11 rebound 50s. He was a big part of the revival in the last quarter and the Cats had no answer for him. Next year will be his tenth season in the AFL. To date he has played 134 games which suggests he has missed a reasonable number of matches through injury. He looks as fit as ever, so with a good pre-season under his belt in 2022, it will go a long way towards the Giants playing finals again. That, as well as Toby Greene not bundling over umpires in a brain-fade moment.

 

6. The Lions out in straight sets twice in three years.

Brisbane has now finished in the Top 4 for three consecutive years. By now, you can imagine that Chris Fagan’s frustration would be at extreme levels. They haven’t made it past the preliminary final, and have only won one game from six finals appearances. In 2019 they lost the Qualifying Final to the Tigers, and then went down the following week to the Giants by the slender margin of three points. This year was a similar story, losing firstly to the rampant Demons, then going down to the Bulldogs by just a point. So they haven’t played terribly by any means, and yet I’m sure the coaching panel will be scratching their heads and wondering how much of it is above the shoulders.

So once again they’ll be licking their wounds and building up for another tilt in 2022. They’ll certainly want to have a better start to next season. One win from the first four games means making the Top 4 was an extraordinary effort, but one that certainly would not be something they’d want to repeat. Missing both McStay and Hipwood certainly made their forward structure a bit concerning. It was a shock to many to see Harris Andrews mark on a lead inside forward 50 during the last quarter. So perhaps a slender margin such as the one-point loss can be attributed to that, but they are becoming known for falling short in finals, and that’s something that Fagan won’t enjoy one bit.

 

7. Charlie Cameron was very quiet after quarter-time

It looked as though Charlie was going to tear the game apart. His opening term was scintillating, kicking three goals that set the Gabba alight. His first quarter would have had the Bulldogs coaching box scrambling for their notepads wondering how they were going to quell his influence. Well, whatever they did, it worked. Charlie failed to add to his three goals after quarter time, and despite missing a sitter in the third quarter you’d normally expect him to get, he never seemed to threaten greatly which is a testament to the Doggies defence who looked all at sea in that first quarter.

What looked like being an onslaught ended up becoming an arm-wrestle that suited the gritty Dogs down to the ground. It must be said that the Bulldogs defensive efforts should not be underestimated in this game. They held up incredibly well considering the early threat to the game being blown open early, as well as the fact that Brisbane entered their forward 50 on 14 more occasions (68-54) than their opponents. But with the missing big men I mentioned earlier, as well as Joe Daniher not having an influence with just six possessions and one goal in a finals series he’d rather forget, the Dogs were able to repel many of their forward attacks just enough to eke out a win. And keeping Charlie under control after quarter time was a huge factor in that win.

 

8. Bailey Smith is the iceman

It was a big game for Bailey Smith with 27 possessions, and three goals, including two in the final quarter with the game on the line. His second goal was an interesting one as it left the boot in an awkward fashion and wobbled through, but the third goal was an impressive kick on the run with the scores all tied up and just a couple of minutes left on the clock. If he was feeling any nerves, he certainly didn’t show it. He was handling the pressure taking the ball with one grab and kicking truly when it counted. And interestingly, it’s the first time he’s kicked more than two goals in a game. What a time to do it!!

There’s nothing better than seeing a 20 year old look as though he’s been playing at this level for years and instinctively knowing what to do when his time comes. He’s now played just 54 games but is already pushing to be one of the Bulldogs’ best. There’s been a debate going around between the better players from his draft, namely who’s better between Smith and Sam Walsh. I think I’d take either at this stage. Both seem to have the footy smarts of their senior counterparts. But perhaps I’ll lean towards Walsh, not just because I’m a Carlton man, but because Bailey needs to cut that hair.

 

9. Is Jackson Macrae untaggable?

Jackson Macrae sits atop the possession count for season 2021 with 818 possessions at an average of 34.1 touches a game. Every week he seems to exceed 30 touches and he is pretty handy with his efficiency which makes you wonder why he is seemingly allowed to do as he pleases each week. This week he plucked 39 possessions, and that statistic is all the more impressive when you consider the usually prolific Lachie Neale had a modest 28 possessions (by his standards) in this game. Time and time again Macrae sharked the ball out of the middle to drive the Dogs into attack, and this despite the fact McInerney was dominating the ruck contests.

It will be interesting to see how his normal partner in crime in Bontempelli pulls up after leaving the ground late with a knee complaint. Hopefully, it’s nothing serious and he’ll be available next week. A special mention also to Tom Liberatore who got the Dogs away early with two first quarter goals and had 7 clearances for the game in typical Libba style. But the even more impressive thing about Macrae’s game is that his 39 possessions included a game-high 11 clearances. Surely, Goodwin and co must be formulating a plan to try and keep this man on a leash.

 

10. We’re back at Round 23 again next week

In Round 23 the Cats took on the Demons, and as we all know, they lead comfortably during the third quarter and were overrun in the end going down by four points after Max Gawn goaled, post siren. In not too dissimilar circumstances, the Dogs held a three-goal lead against the Power midway through the final quarter and eventually went down by two points after Port Adelaide kicked the last three goals for the game. There was nothing in those games, and there may be nothing in these ones too, although a week’s break may be of some benefit to the Dees and the Power.

In many years gone by it hasn’t played out that way, however. The interesting thing for me is how extremely rare it would be for the top four teams at the time to play off against each other in the final round of a season, only to repeat the dose during the week of the preliminary finals. This will probably never happen again, so we are witnessing a once in a lifetime event. I have a feeling one of the results will be unexpected, but it’s just a hunch and nothing more. I’ll be keeping a close eye on the Doggies. Something tells me they’re building something, but the Power will do everything to not be denied. The Demons, for me, seem to be playing as a complete team for now, but there are some old heads in the Geelong team who have played many finals, and they’d be wanting to improve their 10-14 win-loss record in finals with Chris Scott as coach.

Interesting week ahead.