Finals can makes heroes out of players, coaches, and even list managers, depending on the outcome of games and the performances contained within.
But we can also see villains emerge, whether by their own doing or as the victim of circumstance. With four games and eight teams to cover, HB takes a look at the heroes and zeroes of the first week of finals.
Maybe the most relieved man in the game following the clash over Richmond, Fagan has now got the monkey, and a group of Tigers, off his back as his Lions came together and pulled out a famous win.
Fagan has been under pressure in recent weeks, his finals record being called into question, and with it, his coaching skills. However, in a time of great need, his boys lifted and moved into week two of the finals.
And damn it… I genuinely like Fages. He deserves better than some of the questioning around his abilities given where the Lions were when he took over and where they’ve bee for the past four years.
Finals can be all about moments, and in the tight last quarter, Robbie Fox had one that will be long remembered.
His last line smother on Charlie Spargo after running down the stumbling Jake Melksham was the moment you knew the Swans were going to repel anything the Dees could throw at them. You must remember, this was the premiers coming at Sydney – many teams would have capitulated when the Dees started dialling it up.
And not Robbie Fox.
Where does Parker rank in terms of the best mids of the past ten seasons? Would he be top ten? Given his consistency, it would be interesting to analyse.
Still at his peak, his combative nature was vital to the Swans matching, and surpassing the Dees in the clinches, and with nine clearances, 17 contested possessions, 11 tackles, and a goal to his name, he was the best player on the ground in the Swans’ most important game in years.
He is a warrior, this bloke, and one who you would feel very comfortable going into battle alongside.
Did you hear people mentioning that Michael Walters should have been dropped during the season?
No foresight, those people.
Walters turned the clock back for the Dockers and I reckon it is fair to say that without him in the team this week, Freo would have started their holidays by now. Walters missed a few early, but once he snagged the Dockers’ first, you could visibly see his team lift.
Walters finished with three goals and had 18 touches in this one and now has eight snags in his past three games. He has warmed into this time of year beautifully. Good to have you back in the finals, Sonny.
THE GEELONG HARD-WORK MIDFIELD
These blokes go in together.
Cam Guthrie, Joel Selwood, and Tom Atkins… three hard nuts for the Cats that only know one way to play the game.
None of these blokes had what you would traditionally call a dominant game, but the whole was worth so much more than the sum of its parts in this game, as the Cats’ hard working midfield gelled brilliantly to both keep the Cats in the game and push them over the line.
Cometh the moment, Gary Rohan usually goes into his shell, but he made a guge statement down the stretch of the Geelong win over the Pies with a huge clunk and goal, following with a goal assist to Max Holmes for the sealer.
Rohan has been a maligned figure when it comes to finals, and has managed to turn in some truly embarrassing efforts, but with the game in the balance, he shut quite a few people up, including myself, with some clutch plays (even if he did cock up the chest mark that led to the goal assist… what? He did!)
An unsung hero in the Lions’ win.
Thrown into the ruck when the Big O was concussed int eh first quarter, McStay recorded a career-high 23 touches and despite Nankervis’ hit out dominance, was able to nullify the impact of those taps. His Lions finished +6 in clearances for the game and despite McStay having to spend time away from the forward fifty, he was huge around the ground.
Not bad timing for him, either, with the possibility of a big contract on offer from elsewhere.
Nah, this bloke is not an All-Australian, is he?
He had the goal assist of the season mixed in with three snags of his own in a game that was decided by a kick.
It is amazing that the best small forward in the league for the past four seasons has just one AA nod to his name, and matched up against a team that has historically defended Charlie very well, Cameron took them up the country road and made them pay on the scoreboard.
You’re AA in our eyes, Charlie.
Did you hear the one about Lachie Neale’s touches not hurting? I’ve heard the same claptrap about Patrick Cripps and Tom Mitchell – one bozo in the media states it and the rest follow suit like lemmings.
Give them a recording of this game, get them to watch the way Neale wins clearance after clearance and pounds the Tiger midfield like they’re Joe Ganino at a swingers convention, and then both relish their admission that Neale is a gun, and get your memory wiped to get rid of those images of Joe Ganino… ewww.
He’s had his critics. They can now STFU.
Lloyd saved his best game of the season for when it mattered, running off half back to hit the scoreboard twice, and proving all those who doubted his courage completely and utterly incorrect when he stood under the footy and took a big hit from James Harmes.
Lloyd’s role may have diminished somewhat with the move of Ollie Florent into defence, but when his time came in this game, he delivered a couple of knockout punches.
It’s not often you see Tom Hawkins completely outpointed in a one-on-one match-up, but that is exactly what occurred this week, with Darcy Moore tying the Collingwood defence together like a nice rug does a room.
Running off Hawkins to impact other contests and clean up the mess of others, Moore finished with 21 touches, ten intercepts, nine one-percenters, and eight rebound fifty disposals in one of the best finals performances in defence you’ll see.
That boy be seeing some dollar signs after the weekend.
Oy of contract, and with a mooted move to a South Australian club in the works, Dunkley did contract negotiations no harm at all with 23 touches, 14 tackles, and a goal. A team looking for a hard working inside/outside mid would be licking their lips at the prospect of luring him from the Kennel. However, with this performance, I reckon he added a few dollars to his asking price. Nice timing, Josh.
Your team is cruising along, you’re in complete control of the game, and you’re dominating your opponent. What could you possibly do to screw things up?
Let’s ask Steven May, who decided to fall into some silliness from Lance Franklin and engage him on a level that May should be above. We all know how good Franklin has been over the journey, but May is the dual AA fullback and the form defender in the league. His job was to beat Franklin and not be distracted by any shenanigans.
He achieved only one of those results.
If you’re in the boat with those who believe the byplay between the two meant nothing, go back and have a look at the way the Swans, and the crowd become more engaged after the May/Franklin tangle. You could see things change.
May went on to continue to dominate Buddy, but the damage was done. He opened the door and the Swans walked through. It was D-U-M-B.
He is the Tigers’ most important midfielder, and I reckon we’ve seen that this season. When Prestia gets the footy, good things happen for Richmond.
Sadly, he also seems to have hamstrings that resemble old rubber bands, and if you’ve ever tried to stretch old rubber bands, no further description is necessary.
Prestia was well-held by Dev Roberston early in the game, but working into some form when the hamstring went twang, and you could argue that when it did, the Tigers’ chances of moving past the first week of finals took a big nosedive.
Well, it has been speculated that there are one set of rules for AFL players and another set of rules for Jack Ginnivan.
Actually, Toby Greene has his own set of rules, as well.
Ginnivan made his name standing up in big games early in his young career, but he was also tarred with the brush of trying to draw free kicks too often, and now, it seems as though he has to be mortally wounded on the field to extract any sympathy from the umps.
You could argue that Ginnivan has brought this on himself, and you may be right, but he is also a young player that is being taken high, pushed in the back, and wrestled to the ground without penalty for his opponents. And umps need to be better than that.
I’m tired of waiting.
The more I wait, the more I feel that English will never be a top flight ruckman in the league until he starts to learn how to win bloody ruck contests!
The Dogs have managed to move up to 15th in hit outs this season, which is their highest place since they finished 14th back in 2015. Yep, that is seven years where they have been in the bottom four for hit outs, and a lot of that is due to the faith they have placed in English’s development. He can still punish teams around the ground, but with 15 touches, one mark, and 20 hit outs, it wasn;t the case in this game.
He was -27 in hit outs to Sean Darcy and managed just two clearances. At 25, it is time he started playing in the ruck like a man and less like a kid who is still developing.
THE SCORE REVIEW SYSTEM
I was going to do an article on this, but instead, I’ll rant here.
The AFL has sat on this pending disaster for years, now. And their strategy to handle it has been to cross their fingers and hope that when it screws up, it won’t be on a huge stage.
The Elimination Final in prime time is a pretty big stage for the ineptitude of the system to be exposed for all to see.
Poor footage, poor camera angles, and technology that is not up to standard has been tolerated because the league has not made the investment to get it right. They spout about being a professional league and trot out bush-league stuff like this that was always going to cost a team a final at some point. Like Thanos, it was inevitable
To have the vision, which was inconclusive, overrule the decision of the goal umpire… Richmond fans have every right to be absolutely pissed by the way things unfolded on Thursday night. You may rgue that they got the decision right, but given what was available on the screen as we watched it in real time, I don’t think anyone could argue that vast improvements need to be made for this to be viable.
Just flat out beaten in a game where the Dogs needed him to stand up.
Alex Pearce claimed another victim as he blanketed Naughton, who failed to hit the scoreboard, leaving the Dogs to rely on the midfield punch of Marcus Bontempelli to be their threat inside 50. Sure, Naughton needs some help, but he also needs to impact the game a hell of a lot more than he did in this one.
CHRISTAIN SALEM/JAKE LEVER
Kind of picking on the Dees, here, aren’t I?
That’d be because my expectations of them are high.
The Dees needed Lever to give Steven May a hand against the Swans, but he really looked like he was struggling to get into the game. To make matters worse, the returning Christian Salem was introduced to “Clamps” Clarke, who seemed to lose track of Salem in the first quarter.
Salem notched nine touches in the first quarter. Impressive, huh?
He had just three for the remaining three quarters as Clamps locked down hard and prevented him from doing… anything.
The good news for the Dees is that I cannot see Salem, Lever, and May appearing in this section together again – they won’t have two games where their big three from 2021 are all down, or making silly errors.
Got some of your own? Want to add Jake Melksham (easy target this week) to the mix? Feel free to add your own in the comments or on our socials.