Last week I wrote an article about the AFL Season being at the five-minute mark of the last quarter and as a follow-up, and until the end of Round 24, each remaining round will be analysed as a period of five-minutes.
Throw Away the Form Line – Anything is Possible
With 20 minutes (4 games) left to play in the season there is not a media expert, analyst or armchair warrior who could predict with any certainty what will unfold in what is shaping as a nail-biting grand finale to the AFL season.
The only people who would have tipped nine winners last round were either last in their tipping competition and went all in, or they were three sheets to the wind and just didn’t know what they were doing. It was a bloody ripper of a round with upsets all over the place leaving many, including myself, with egg on their face.
Last week, I wrote an article that was basically ‘beige’, favouring the popular teams to run away with the season and the unpopular backmarkers to slowly fade into oblivion. I only entertained the shadows of extreme possibilities as a footnote if everything went array (eg: the continual rise of the GWS) – and boy did it go awry quickly.
Lesson well and truly learnt, as on any given weekend anything is possible, bloody hell, even West Coast won a game.
(Farewell Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin, and thanks for the memories, you leave as a true Legend of the game.)
Into the Shadows of Uncertainty
The Shaky Big Four
Melbourne, in the space of the last fifteen minutes of the last quarter last Sunday, powered on by Harrison Petty and Max Gawn, made a huge statement as to their intention of claiming second spot on the ladder. The unexpected losses of Brisbane and Port Adelaide the day before opened the barn gate and the Dees staked their claim for a first-week home final.
Melbourne clearly has the easiest draw (noting: no draw is easy at this time of the year) of the three teams vying for second spot on the ladder, but they cannot afford an ‘off’ week.
Port Adelaide is on the skids presently with three straight losses and now face a season-defining game against Geelong this week. If they lose, they will drop to at least third if not fourth on the ladder come the end of the round. The Power have an extremely tough draw for the last month and require at least one win to safely secure the double chance.
Brisbane was squirrel-gripped in more ways than one last weekend against the Suns. While the loss may seem like a mere hiccup in a long season, they have a hard draw coming up and the Lions would not want too many more hiccups in the run to September. It is to be hoped, if you are a Lions fan, they don’t slip away late in the season like last year.
The all-conquering, all-powerful Collingwood had a slip last week, and in the process released the Carlton Genie out of the bottle. The Pies potentially have a serious problem to overcome if they are to win the flag this year. Last year in the finals Geelong and Sydney beat the Maggies in close, high-pressure games and this year three quality teams, Brisbane, Melbourne and Carlton have been able to effectively close down the Glasshouse juggernaut.
The excitement of constant come-from-behind wins is great for Pie fans and AFL revenue, but when their game plan is shut down, Fly McCrae and his coaching staff have yet to come up with an effective plan ‘B’ or ‘C’. Between now and the start of September there is a lot of work and training to be done to rectify any perceived weaknesses but having the luxury of top spot on the ladder tied up means Collingwood have the time over the next five weeks (finals bye included) to fix any defects in their game plan.
There is Something about Harry missing!
Michael Voss and Carlton, on the surface at least, seem to be a more coherent and dynamic combination without Harry McKay playing. This is not a knock personally on McKay, as he is a highly-skilled, quality, required player, but rather Vossy and his coaching staff are freed up, not only how they set up the forward line, but also the movement forward of the ball from the midfield without the two giant forwards taking each other’s air space.
I didn’t buy the rhetoric that Carlton had five soft wins leading into last weekend, but rather I mistakenly thought the injuries to Harry McKay and Sam Walsh would hurt their run into September. It is essential of every team with ambitions in September to have a deep list; Carlton now has a very deep list and they seem capable of covering the loss of even their ‘A’ grade players.
While everybody loves seeing Charlie Curnow in full flight kicking a bag, it was the form of his support smalls that impressed most with Jack Martin, Matthew Owies and Jesse Motlop all playing their role when called upon. The Carlton midfield was outstanding as a group last week, especially before the injury to Adam Cerra, who will be missed in the coming weeks.
It’s not quite ‘toot toot, all aboard the Blues Train’ just yet, but the stoker is warming up the engine. Carlton must keep winning to even make the finals, and if they do keep winning, they are a puncher’s chance of fourth spot.
There’s a Big Big Sound
GWS, you need two wins against either Sydney, Port Adelaide, Essendon, or Carlton to secure a very unexpected finals appearance this year. The Giants are probably not favoured to win any of their remaining matches this year, but that seems to be the way they like it (I started humming KC and the Sunshine Band as I wrote that – go figure).
Adam Kingsley has taken the Giants from the shadows of the bottom half of the ladder and put them in with a real chance of September action and experience this year.
I will dangle a little ‘carrot’ out there for the Giants as they are one of three teams outside the Big 4 who can still cause an upset and snatch fourth spot on the ladder come season’s end.
Oh, When the Saints?
Oh, when the Saints? It is such a good question to ask. The comedy and/or tragedy that is the St Kilda Football Club plays out in another ‘act’ over the next month.
All (and it is capital letter ALL) that stands between St Kilda and a September to remember are Carlton, Richmond, Geelong, and finally Brisbane at the Gabba. Win four and possibly finish fourth, lose four and the curtain comes crashing down for another year. Given St Kilda’s up and down form all year, both scenarios are possible, however, most Sainters will settle for the two wins needed to ensure a finals berth.
Even with three games at Marvel, this is truly a nightmare draw, and if the Saints do win the two games necessary to make the eight, then bravo St Kilda.
The Cats and Dogs
The Round 24 between the Cats and the Dogs is shaping as the ultimate Wildcard match of the season as they may end up playing for the last position in the finals. On form (if either of these two teams had lived up to the form expectations surrounding them this year then they wouldn’t be in this position) both ‘should’ win at least two of their last three games leading into their Round 24 clash.
For reasons that defy logic I still rate the Bulldogs as the team most likely to win the flag from outside the top four, but they would need to get a wriggle on. The loss last week to the GWS killed any outside chance they had of finishing with the big boys come September and AGAIN they find themselves in the inevitable position of trying to win a flag from outside the top four.
Never write off a champion, but Geelong do seem to be struggling as the bump and grind of two long campaigns (2022 and 2023) finally catches up with them. The injury-depleted Cats play their last four games against other teams in the hunt for a position for the eight and, if they do make it, then it is a testament to their endurance and character – it could all boil down to their Round 24 clash with the Doggies.
Here Come the Back Markers – Richmond and Sydney
13.5 wins certainly is enough wins to make the eight, but is 12.5 wins enough? Maybe, maybe not, and this is the dilemma facing the Tigers and the Swans. According to the so-called experts a club needs 13 wins to make the finals, but it is likely both Richmond and Sydney will finish on either 12.5 or 11.5 wins come seasons end, with inferior percentage to both Geelong and Carlton (other teams to have played in a drawn match this year) and as such, a half a win (at least) behind the suggested minimum required.
On paper, both the Tigers and the Bloods would be hoping to win three of their last four games. As I said on paper, but that paper is getting more like crepe-paper the longer the season progresses for these two teams.
It would be a monumental task to expect either team to win their last four.
Depending on other results, come Round 24, both the Tiges and the Cygnets may still be a chance, however slim, of snatching a finals berth. Standing in their way will be the Power for the Tigers, and a Demon side intent on securing second spot on the ladder for the Swans.
The owners of my local café where I get my coffee every morning are avid one-eyed Bombers supporters who do not accept defeat easily, so it was no wonder they gave me such a frosty reception on Monday and Tuesday and today (and tomorrow) when I ordered my coffee after last week’s narrow loss.
If (what a mighty word ‘if”) the Bombers had beaten the Swans last weekend they would have been well on the way to some September action, but now the journey to September means they must now take the following steps, without any room for error to be a chance:
Step 1: Belt up the Eagles at Marvel (should win and hope returns);
Step 2: Belt up the Roos at Marvel (should win and tensions within will build);
Step 3: Beat the GWS at Giants Stadium (possible win and the lid comes off); and,
Step 4: Hope Collingwood are resting players before the finals and snag a win.
If the Bombers do get to Step 4 then the AFL will have another end-of-season blockbuster with Collingwood again deciding the fate of one of their many arch-enemies.
Good luck Bombers as I want to at least get a smile from Il Caffe (Woodend) owners, Joe and Jon, at some point during the next month. Bomber fans, where there is hope, there is life.
Gold Coast and Adelaide – Last Chance Saloon
By 5pm Saturday there will be one less team in the hunt for September action when Wildcard participants, Adelaide and Gold Coast, play a knock-out match in the City of Churches. While both still hold hopes of finals action, for one, a win will mean another week of hope, and for the other, well, it’s game over for 2023.
In different ways, both teams have shown a lot this year, but neither has been able to nail that critical win when it was needed. This week, they will both shoot it out at the Last Chance Saloon.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote a review of a Fremantle game and expressed disappointment at their game style and game plan. Lo and behold, when the pressure valve is released and the season is all but gone they played their best football for the year and knocked over Geelong at the Cattery. Goodness gracious me, what happens when players are freed up.
Alex Pearce played his best game for the year. Andrew Brayshaw and Caleb Serong lead the midfielders who outclassed the star-studded Cats mids. The dynamic Michael Frederick played with flair and dash and did the spectacular in the last quarter. Lachie Schultz, who is having a fine end to the season, sealed the deal late in the last, and the underrated Sam Switkowski put in a stellar performance. It was a great win Freo.
Fremantle could shape the make-up of the top 4 with home games against Brisbane and Port Adelaide to come. The Power and the Lions be warned, you would not want to take your visits to Optus lightly as this club is far from putting the ‘cue in the rack’.
West Coast Eagles, North Melbourne, and Hawthorn
The pressure torch was always going to be applied on the team which lost last weekend’s bottom-of-the-table clash between the Eagles and the Roos, but somehow or another the Roos have avoided the blowtorch by the return of the Messiah, Alistair Clarkson this week.
Congrats to the Eagles on finally snatching a victory and good luck Clarkson with the AFL’s basketcase.
I have personally given Sam Mitchell and the Hawks high praise this year, but last week against the Saints summed up their season and why they haven’t won a few more games this year. The Hawks can play really well if not dominating halves or quarters of football against most teams, but they lack the maturity and the ability to play out a full game consistently.
As we approach the halfway mark of the last quarter of the season all things are less certain than they are certain as a dramatic ending to the season looms.