Eight Things I Learnt After Week Two Of The Finals



1. Melbourne kicked themselves out of the race

Melbourne were definitely capable of winning this year’s premiership. At their best they are very hard to stop and they play a tough brand of football. In last week’s contest against the Magpies, they were a little slow off the mark but with their strong defence keeping their opponents to a modest total, the Demons were still not out of it going into the last quarter. Despite 19 forward entries to just 4 in that final term, the Demons only managed to score three goals and two behinds as well as a few inexplicable shots that missed everything. The end result was that the Pies hung on for a seven-point win despite not scoring a goal in the final term and having fewer scoring shots. Pickett and Fritsch are both normally reliable in front of the big sticks, but they had moments in that game they’d love to have again. A dominance of inside 50s by a margin of 69 to 37 tells a story of wasted opportunities and might be some sort of record in a loss. The Dees certainly didn’t want a repeat of that sort of inaccuracy. Unfortunately, they’ve gone down again in a nail-biter largely due to an inability to put the Blues away with some big misses late in the game. The end result sees them out in straight sets for the second year in a row, and another summer of regret.

The story in this week’s loss against Carlton was a little different to their previous outing as the inside 50 count was very even, but the Demons were able to get 26 scoring shots to just 18 from the Blues. Sadly for the Demons and their fans, they finished the game on 9.17 and the more accurate Blues score of 11.7 was enough to see them through to the Preliminary Final.

Fritsch and Pickett both finished with 2.3 apiece. They battled hard and caused many headaches for the Blues defence but were unable to truly punish them through their errant kicking. A miss by Max Gawn late in the game would’ve all but sealed it, but his kick hit the near post from a tight angle just a few metres from goal. In fact, the Demons’ last five scores for the match were all behinds, so once again, despite finishing strongly, they weren’t able to put the game out of Carlton’s reach and paid the ultimate price. A goal by Jessie Motlop at the 23-minute mark shaved the margin back to just 3 points. Clayton Oliver had a shot from just outside 50 that was goalbound, but it was touched on the line by Max Gawn strangely enough, and shortly after another snap from Pickett found the woodwork. The big moment came when Docherty took a strong contested mark on the wing and played on with a delightful kick that found Acres on his own just outside the goal square. Acres ran into the open goal to put the Blues in front with under a minute remaining. Costly errors in the final two minutes opened the door, and the rest, as they say, is history.


2. Blake Acres loves playing finals

Journeyman Blake Acres seems to have a penchant for finals footy. Now at his third club, the wingman has played a pivotal part in the two Carlton victories in the finals kicking the winning goal in both games. Some could argue it’s a case of good fortune being in the right place at the right time, but he seems to have a knack of doing that too many times to call it mere coincidence. Even last year when playing for Fremantle his finals performances were classy with 24 and 27 possessions in his two outings, and he was one of the Dockers’ best in their 20-point loss to Collingwood. And despite coming into this finals series under an injury cloud after hurting his shoulder in Round 24 against the Giants, his first game in this year’s series saw him pick up 26 possessions against the Swans and the winning goal as well as two crucial moments where he ran down shots at goal to get a finger on the ball before it crossed the line. In Friday night’s clash against the Demons, he picked up 17 possessions and kicked two goals, the second of which put the Blues in front with just 56 seconds remaining.

It is fast becoming apparent that Acres is a big moment player. Doing the right thing at the right time in finals football is the mark of a top-liner. A feature of his game is his ability to run from beginning to end. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anybody who covers more ground than he does, and it’s because of that high level of fitness and endurance that he was suddenly all on his own in Carlton’s forward line to receive the pass from Docherty that resulted in the goal that iced the game. No doubt his direct opponent would’ve been out on his feet so late in the game and would’ve been looking on in despair. Carlton’s recruitment of Acres has turned out to be a masterstroke.

Last year’s Blues were criticised for being a little one-paced as well as not really having a genuine wingman in the side. While Acres took a little time to find his groove at his new home, as the season wore on you could see him growing into the role and building nicely. Even then most supporters didn’t see him being as crucial as he has been in the finals, and one gets the feeling opposing clubs didn’t either.


3. It’s hard to escape the fact Melbourne choked

Last year it was the Blues who became renowned for letting leads slip late in games due to lack of composure and poor execution. Notably against Melbourne in Round 22 last season they conceded two late goals to go down by five points when it looked as though they were cruising to a victory that would’ve given them a spot in the finals. And we all know what happened to Carlton the following week against the Magpies. Friday night’s game saw several moments in the time on period of the final quarter that Dees players would like to have again. There were some misses for goal that should’ve been converted. There was Max Gawn’s strange decision on the goal line to get hands to a ball that seemed like it was sailing through for a Clayton Oliver goal. Jack Viney’s rushed kick forward resulted in a disastrous turnover when there were other options available. Jake Lever’s kick out of defence put the ball in a dangerous position. Then there was McVee’s missed spoil on Docherty where he overcommitted himself and went to ground leaving the Carlton veteran clear and with ample time to successfully execute the pass that set up the win.

All these moments occurred very late in the game. Even after that fateful goal was kicked it looked like Melbourne did have a chance to take possession in the middle to move forward and try and retake the lead, but there were no clean hands left and the Blues were ready to take full advantage of their fumbling. A final quarter where 2.6 was scored tells a story of missed opportunity, and Melbourne achieved the rare feat of going out of the finals in straight sets in two consecutive years. The most galling thing for the club and its supporter base is the self-destructive way in which this year’s exit occurred. Last year the Demons limped into the finals on the back of an indifferent second half of the season. This year they entered the finals on the back of five wins from their final six games. It looked as though they had some momentum coming in even though they had been inconsistent at times throughout the season. Maybe the story would’ve been different if that big power forward that they seem to be lacking was out there. No doubt this will be a priority over the summer.


4. Tom de Koning has come of age

Things looked ugly for Carlton in the first quarter. The quarter had gone 20 minutes and the Blues hadn’t scored a major and trailed by 19 points after Petracca nailed one of his trademark goals from a tight angle. What made things worse was the fact that Carlton had the ball in their half of the ground 59% of the time for no real reward. Enter Tom de Koning at the 21-minute mark who slotted a delightful set shot from a 45 degree angle only to follow up a little over a minute later with his second after being awarded a free kick. All of a sudden the Blues were back in the game thanks to this two minute blitz and what was beginning to look like a blowout ended up being a tight contest throughout the night.

De Koning finished the match with 15 touches and four marks to go with his two goals. He also spent some time in the ruck against Gawn and managed eight hit outs. Even though he only finished with four marks, there are a couple in there that would make for an impressive highlight reel. The 24-year-old also does some of his best work when the ball hits the ground as characterised by his last quarter effort in the elimination final against Sydney where he forced the ball forward along the ground and that resulted in the Blake Acres goal that sealed the match.

Last year it was his younger brother Sam who looked like being the better of the two. Sam has a premiership to show for his efforts, but unfortunately was hampered by injury in 2023 and didn’t have the season he was hoping for. Carlton supporters were left wondering if we got the wrong brother, but he’s shown enough this year to suggest he might even have a few more strings to his bow than his younger sibling. And the fact that he has turned it on in the finals will leave very little doubt in their minds. Who knows? It might be a bit of a long shot, but he may just end up with a medallion just like his brother’s soon enough.


5. 2014 was the last time two teams went out in straight sets

Nine years ago you had Geelong and Fremantle finishing 3rd and 4th respectively who suffered the fate of losing their two finals matches and being bundled out in week two despite having the double-chance. The Cats lost to eventual premiers Hawthorn in week one and were beaten by the Kangaroos by six points in the semi-final. The Dockers were beaten in Sydney against the Swans in week one and then fell short in a home final against Port Adelaide the following week. Going out in straight sets seems a source of humiliation for the clubs which is a little unfair considering there are a lot of other clubs well below them on the ladder who were far from contention, but it still won’t stop the scribes making this a topic of discussion and how they will put across their thoughts on how it all went wrong. It even seems to overshadow how good the teams that put them out of the finals may have played as it always seems to be about how their chance was blown.

Perhaps we should be talking more about the fact that both Carlton and the Giants have only lost three games between them since Round 13. Melbourne and Port Adelaide have actually lost 11 games combined since Round 13, so losing in the manner they have against arguably the two best sides since the 13th round is not only unsurprising, but in some ways it was on the cards. Port Adelaide also entered the finals with a few players under injury clouds and it reflected in their performance. Against the Giants, they were blown away in the second term and fought hard to get back into the contest but never truly threatened to reel them in. Kicking 1.9 in the final term probably didn’t help their cause either.

The Demons also had their woes in front of goal with a 2.6 final term to finish with 9.17 for the match. It clearly cost the Demons the win, but as inaccurate as the Power were kicking 9.16, their opponent could’ve blown them away much earlier after kicking six straight behinds in the second quarter. It must’ve been contagious because the Power finished the quarter with four behinds of their own. We speak about the costliness of inaccurate kicking, but every year we have the same discussions regarding how everything in the game seems to improve except kicking for goal. Maybe they need to make the goals wider. Nothing else seems to be working.


6. Was Ken Hinkley’s re-signing a little premature?

Port Adelaide president David Koch made the call during the season that he would not extend Hinkley’s contract unless they made finals. Being true to his word, the promise was kept and Hinkley will be there in 2025. The knock on Ken Hinkley has always been the lack of finals wins, so I’m sure there’ll be plenty at the club who may be feeling a sense of déjà vu. A lot will be convinced it was the wrong call and they could base that on the idea that he’s had 11 years with a decent list and the Power have not even reached a Grand Final despite three Top 4 finishes in the last four years including a first and second place at the end of the home and away fixtures. In years 2020 and 2021, the Power won their Qualifying Final only to lose both Preliminary Finals. In 2021 the Bulldogs beat them on their home deck by a margin of 69 points. It seemed to have a lasting impact as they lost their first five games in 2022 and missed out on finals altogether.

Some will argue that Hinkley has got the most out of a list which is good without being great. This may be so, but one can’t help but get the feeling he’s a little blessed to be given more time beyond his 11 years at the club which boasts six years in the finals with twelve games played in total. They’ve managed five wins and seven losses and have failed to make it to the final day despite being in the Top 2 on two occasions. Making finals might still be a good effort, but how many coaches will be entering their twelfth year at their respective clubs without any premierships to their name?

The answer is one.

After overcoming a mountain of pressure at the beginning of the year following his side’s fantastic run of 13 consecutive victories, and despite being given a contract that takes him through to 2025, I imagine that same pressure will be back on him early in the year, and there’s every likelihood that a poor start to next year may see him fighting for his job.


7. We saw a masterclass by Stephen Coniglio

Take a bow, Stephen. That was some game.

Coniglio has made a habit of getting 30 possessions a game this season. This week he managed exactly that and he also hit the scoreboard with two goals. I’ve been giggled at a little by some for suggesting this man will give the Brownlow a shake, but I’m standing by that. He’s had an amazing year and has missed very few games. He would’ve been devastated about missing out on last week’s elimination final against the Saints, but his side did the right thing and kept their team alive to enable him to be available for this week, and he took that chance with both hands in a best-on-ground display. He’s just three months shy of his 30th birthday, but the explosive pace he exhibits suggests he’s aging very well. For the first time in many seasons, he has managed to get through this season with minimal injuries and looks in ripping condition. The game he played on Saturday night will put the Magpie coaching staff on high alert.

People often think of Toby Greene as the matchwinner and spark for the Giants, but I would put Coniglio on a par with the skipper, and when you’ve got guns like Josh Kelly and Tom Green alongside you in the midfield, all of a sudden it all starts to make sense that the Giants have made it into a preliminary final.

The Pies will sweating on Nick Daicos to be right for next week’s game, and as good as he is, how good could he be after missing several weeks of football against a midfield that boasts the likes of Coniglio and Co? The Pies will rightly go in as favourites, but would anybody be truly shocked if GWS win that game? I know I won’t be. And, as a Carlton supporter, should a miracle happen and the Blues win at the GABBA, the prospect of a Giants and Blues Grand Final presents as the only chance a lowly Carlton member like me might have a chance of securing a ticket to the big dance. So, no offence to Pies fans, but if we got through and were playing against Collingwood, I probably would have no chance of getting a ticket to even watch the game at a local pub!


8. Gee, Melbourne could really use Jesse Hogan about now

Former number-one draft pick Jesse Hogan has had a chequered career since joining the Demons in 2013. He showed lots of promise early on but after six seasons with Melbourne which saw him play 71 games for a return of 152 goals, he expressed a desire to return to his hometown of Perth and joined the Dockers. That move also proved a little dubious as he only managed 19 games for 18 goals in the two years at Freo. A lot of football was missed through injury, and there was instances where off-field indiscretions suggested he was not ever going to reach his potential. The Giants threw him a lifeline and he’s now played 49 games with them since 2021 and has booted 103 goals. This year has been by far his most successful, and he’s now looking like the player we thought we might never see. A career-high nine-goal haul against the Bombers in Round 23 was a major highlight, and his game against Port Adelaide on Saturday night featured 4 goals which could’ve been more due to some inaccurate kicking.

When you consider that Melbourne are screaming for a forward in the mould of Hogan, the club must still be seething with the young and sometimes wild Jesse Hogan that they saw in those early years and I’m sure that seeing him in his current form would be a source of frustration. Imagine a Melbourne forward line with Hogan alongside Fritsch and Pickett. Ben Brown and Josh Schache were brought to the club for this very reason, but Ben seems to be out of favour while Josh Schache looked on as an unused sub on Friday night. Maybe a fresh Schache In that last quarter thrown forward might have bestowed hero status upon him. Even with a single goal the conversation surrounding that game would be vastly different now. Whatever the case, Jesse Hogan has had a much better year having played 22 games kicking 48 goals. He’s now 28 years old so he still has a few years left. With the way the Giants are tracking, he may very well enjoy his next few years.



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