EIGHT THINGS I LEARNT AFTER THE PRELIMINARY FINAL ROUND
1. The week off helped both teams this year
By finishing in the top four and then winning your qualifying finals, it should rightly come with the reward of a more direct route to the Grand Final. We have seen instances where teams have come out flat after having that week off and failing to progress beyond the penultimate game for the season. In fact, out of the last twenty preliminary finals played throughout the last ten seasons dating back to 2014, as many as eight of those games went against the team coming off a rest and in 2016 and 2020, both early qualifiers faltered at the final hurdle.
This year, however, we saw no such thing. Collingwood and Brisbane finished the home and away season in first and second place respectively. They both won their matches in the first week of the finals and are now successfully through to the Grand Final, albeit not without a bit of a fright.
The Pies had to shake off a very determined Giants outfit who led by as much as 17 points during the third term before grinding out a thrilling one-point win. It was a low scoring affair with the Pies managing just two goals in the first half. After a Toby Greene major early in the third term followed by a behind had them trailing by the biggest margin of the night, Collingwood booted five of the next six goals from the 11-minute mark till the end of the quarter and led the Giants by four points at the final break. The final quarter was an arm wrestle with the Pies getting out to their biggest lead of just seven points before a Jesse Hogan goal cut the margin to a single point in the 20th minute. Despite the quarter continuing on for an additional eight minutes, no further scores were added with the Pies scraping through by the skin of their teeth. One gets the feeling that the twenty-minute burst in that third quarter that saw them boot five out of their eight goals for the night may not have occurred if they hadn’t had the week off. During that period the more beleaguered Giants could only look on before gathering themselves to battle out the last term.
The story at the GABBA was different, as we had a rampant Carlton coming out red hot with the first five goals of the game with many pundits wondering if the dream scenario of a Collingwood v Carlton Grand Final was unfolding. However, the second quarter saw the Lions respond as expected, and at half time they’d put their noses in front by 3 points, but their pace and slick ball movement suggested that scoreline flattered the Blues. And so it was in the third term where Carlton found scoring difficult and managed just four behinds against 3.3 to Brisbane which had the margin out to 20 points. At the 12-minute mark, the Lions had their greatest lead of 27 points before the Blues kicked two goals in as many minutes to get back to within fifteen points with eight minutes of play still on the clock. Blues fans were hoping for another miracle comeback, but the cool heads and the fresher legs of the Lions kept them at bay running out eventual winners by 16 points.
I believe it’s fair to say that the week off was beneficial to our two Grand Finalists this year. Both Carlton and GWS had tough games with the Giants having to travel outside of their home base each week. Finishing in the top two should be an advantage, and I believe this year it was.
2. Jordan de Goey was huge on Friday night
It was obvious from the first bounce that Jordan de Goey was determined to make his mark on this year’s final series. His game against the Demons in the Qualifying Final saw him pick up 19 touches and a goal in what was a serviceable game without playing a starring role, but this week he amassed 34 touches and was a clearance king. With Collingwood struggling to stay with the Giants in the first half, it was de Goey who was working tirelessly to keep his team in the match, and it was a bona fide four-quarter effort in the end which ended inexplicably with Jordan being stuck on the bench and unable to come on due to the play being concentrated on the opposite side of the ground for around the final six minutes. Wouldn’t tongues be wagging if the result went the other way about the fact that arguably Collingwood’s best player was unable to return during those dying stages and help his team across the line?
The good news is, for Jordan and his teammates, they made it through to the final Saturday in September. All eyes will be on Jordan once again hoping he can reproduce the toughness displayed on Friday night. He’s well and truly found his rightful place as a midfielder after being tried in various positions, and he’s got a few good mates alongside him including the Daicos brothers and Tom Mitchell who seems to fly under the radar most weeks while picking up his twenty to thirty disposals. Many were wondering how Nick Daicos would go on his return from injury since Round 18, and he spent a fair bit of time off the field early in the game. It seemed to be a tactic to ease him into the game, and it’s fair to say it was clever as he finished with 28 touches and got more involved as the game wore on. You could even argue it was a perfect preparation for next week. The Lions midfield is loaded with class, but the likes of de Goey and Co will present some serious challenges.
3. I actually don’t like when umpires put the whistle away
A lot of football people get annoyed when it appears that too many free kicks are given in a game on the back of negligible indiscretions that should’ve been deemed play-on. Many of us looking on see it as over-officiating. One could even be forgiven for thinking that in tight contests, it almost seems as though umpires adopt the notion of “letting the play go on” and perhaps ignoring some soft free kicks that might be given during most games. I’m actually one of those people that just wants the rules to be followed so us poor fans looking on in bewilderment with certain decisions don’t want to throw our mobile phones into the flat-screen TV and inflict hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars worth of damage to our appliances in sheer frustration. It doesn’t take a genius to know I’m talking about the late stages of the Magpies and Giants clash. There were quite a few free kicks that were let go, and some were not even of the minor variety.
You can argue until the cows come home about how it makes the game better when play is allowed to continue, but rules are rules, and if a rule was broken and the umpire sees it, pay the bloody thing! I’m also pretty sure that the umpires often decide that a forward being given a free kick near goal is a more severe punishment than the same free kick being awarded up the field so they seem to think twice before paying the decision. I saw one pretty blatant high tackle against a Lions player being overlooked, and the umpire could even be heard saying that the player tackled high “contributed” to it.
If by contributing to it he meant ducking his head, after watching the incident on replay, I beg to differ. The player took possession of the ball and didn’t lower his head to extract a free kick. The real stinker, however, was the Toby Greene blatant around-the-neck tackle that was not called. There are already memes on social media doing the rounds on that incident. Maybe it just applies to the likes of Toby Greene who has had many bad-boy moments over the years with the umpiring fraternity. It’s a little like the Ginnivan rule that sometimes still seems to be in play. All I’m saying is pay the free kicks when they’re there regardless of where the ball is and what stage the match is at. And for those who may think there is some bias in this point, when talking about the Brisbane free kick near goal that wasn’t paid, just understand I’m a Carlton supporter…
4. Brisbane have won their last six in a row over Collingwood
With the Grand Finalists finally being decided this year, it’s interesting to note that you’ll need to go back to Round 5 of 2019 to find the last time that a Collingwood side were victorious in a clash between these two sides. Since then they’ve played six times and the Lions have won them all, including the two times that they met earlier this season. Four of those games were played at the GABBA while the other two were played at Marvel Stadium.
These two sides last met at the MCG way back in 2017. Despite losing to the Lions twice this year, the Magpies might go into this game with some confidence on the back of Brisbane’s lack of success at the MCG in recent times, winning on just one occasion there in the last five years. It does seem to be some sort of curse that the Lions are dealing with. Earlier this year they coughed up a four-goal lead late in the game to eventually go down to the Demons by a point after looking certain victors with under eight minutes remaining. That said, the one victory Brisbane has had in recent times at the MCG was actually during last year’s finals, so perhaps the curse only applies to home and away games.
What’s even more interesting is that the previous six games to the winning streak of six for the Lions were actually all won by Collingwood. So the last twelve games between these two sides saw a winning streak of six either way. Does that mean it’s Collingwood’s turn?
Look, I realise I’m getting into superstition and airy-fairy theories here, but it’s all in good fun. You have to consider the two victories Brisbane have had this season. One was at home where they played the whole season undefeated, and the other in Melbourne was when the Pies were having a bit of a lull in the latter rounds. When you look at the two sides during the finals, Brisbane have been the more convincing of the two in terms of more comfortable wins as you’d expect at the GABBA. And the Pies could have so easily fallen to the Giants in their match. I think the bookies may be wise to lean ever so slightly towards the Lions despite the MCG factor.
Collingwood has not managed to score higher than 60 this finals series, and even though we know how great their defence is, it would be hard to see them holding the Lions to a score that low. But there’s really not much in it. As was the case against Carlton, as soon as the game opened up, the Lions were in control. I’m sure the Pies would have taken note and will act accordingly on Grand Final day. It might do the trick, but it might not. Time will tell.
5. Charlie Curnow had a tough finals series
This will be the talk of the summer, and hopefully the club gets around him. He’ll know that he had a great year, but that reputations are made and lost during finals games. Charlie’s output this September saw just three goals in three games, and his inability to have a real impact will no doubt weigh on his mind during the pre-season.
A quick analysis of the three games will tell you he had some of the toughest opponents imaginable, with the defence of the Lions and Demons really solid. Charlie will no doubt be aware that his record against the best sides in the competition is very modest compared to the teams below where the Blues finished. He’ll be working on remedying that and will no doubt put up better efforts in big games next year.
I’ve watched him closely this year, and I’ve noticed one or two things that I imagine will be a priority for him to work on in the summer period. I did notice that the better teams more or less double-teamed Charlie. Jake Lever stood in the hole in front of him preventing him from leading into space leaving him one one-on-one with Steven May who got the better of him in the semi-final. The Saints adopted a similar tactic, as did the Lions with Gardiner and Andrews coming in over the top on this occasion.
I think with regards to defensive units double-teaming Charlie, somebody needs to step up to provide a blocking measure in the Carlton forward zone to help the big man out. I’m sure they do it at times, but I felt it wasn’t enough. Also, against the better teams who apply more pressure up the field, the Blues do have a tendency to bomb the ball in aimlessly in their forward line making it very difficult for Charlie to lead effectively. Curnow also gets a lot of his goals from ground balls, and the better defensive units are much better at not letting the ball get out the back for that quick easy snap Charlie loves so much. I also observed him playing from behind a little too much on Saturday night. He just needs to present more than he does. He’s a freaky kick on the run from the 50m arc, so he can run straight out a fair way and still be in range.
I know he won the Coleman and had a good year overall, but there is much improvement in Charlie to come. There are a few things that need addressing, and tough opponents will always make life tough for the star, but I get the feeling he’ll be hungrier than ever after finishing the season the way he has.
6. Keidean Coleman was the spark that turned the game
Michael Voss and his coaching crew will be having nightmares about Coleman. When the Blues had full control of the game after kicking the first five goals, only Harris Andrews seemed to be offering any resistance. But once Coleman injected himself into the game, things changed dramatically. You can credit his intercept work with rebounds that set up several goals in that second term. Not only did he prove to be a brick wall in defence, but once he had the ball in hand, his decision-making and execution were sublime.
He was creative with the way he changed angles, and he was deadly with his precision kicking. The Blues had no answers as he caused the game to be played in a more open style that suited the pacey Lions much better than the tight and in close first quarter that saw the Blues playing the game on their terms. He’s played a number of good games, but this one would have to be right up there.
Coleman had 21 touches for the game which included 18 kicks, but more importantly, his kicking efficiency was around the 80% mark. And boy did it show. He’s an exceptionally quick thinker, and his silky smooth left foot is a delight to watch. It also looked as though he may have been carrying a bad smell because the Blues players seemingly didn’t want to be anywhere near him. He would take possession of the ball in traffic and would be in space before you could say his name without mispronouncing his first name. He’s yet another one of those players who seems to have all the time in the world when he gets the ball, and I’m sure he’s going to be one to watch next week. The Pies have a similar bloke called Isaac Quaynor at the other end who has some of the traits of Coleman, although I’d say Coleman might be a better kick. I’m sure Pies fans will tell me I’m wrong, but Coleman’s game against the Blues was almost perfect.
7. Josh Dunkley seems to like playing on Cripps
Josh Dunkley would be feeling pretty chuffed about his decision to head north and join Brisbane. He now gets to play in a second Grand Final after being a part of the 2016 Western Bulldogs premiership team and has had a stellar year, playing some of his best football. In Brisbane’s two encounters against Carlton this year, he was given the job of running with the Carlton skipper and has gotten the better of him on both occasions. In Round 8 this year, Cripps managed just 17 touches in a game where his impact was minimal. Whilst Cripps was not Carlton’s worst player on Saturday night by any means finishing with two goals, he did only get the ball just 13 times while Dunkley had 23 and certainly had an impact. After watching Friday night’s game, perhaps Fagan may assign him the task of looking after de Goey. If Dunkley can keep him on the leash it may go a long way towards getting his side over the line.
The reason we love players like Dunkley is that we all love somebody who can play the role of a tagger while still getting plenty of the ball. Some taggers are merely there to negate certain players and their focus is to stop their assigned opponent from getting it in a more sacrificial role where getting the ball themselves is not the main focus. Cameron Ling from Geelong made a name for himself playing this kind of role. He was there during Geelong’s golden era where they won three flags in five years, and he certainly played a role. Josh Dunkley has the experience of playing in a winning premiership team and he will have a big job this coming Saturday one would suspect. Who will it be? I like him on de Goey, but they may opt for Nick Daicos. Whatever the case, this match-up will be pivotal to the result, and a big game from Dunkley might sway it the Lions’ way.
8. Great effort from two sides who were 14th and 15th after Round 13
I’m sure both Carlton and GWS supporters will be hurting this week, but if anyone told them that they’d both be playing in a preliminary final, you would’ve told them they were nuts. A quick look at the ladder after Round 13 saw the Giants with five wins in 14th place on the ladder, half a game ahead of Carlton with four wins and a draw in 15th. The Giants had won two of their previous three games after being in 15th spot after Round 10 with just three wins. The Blues were coming off a horror run of six-straight losses with many believing that Voss should be sacked. From that point, the Giants lost just twice more while the Blues won nine straight before losing in Round 24 to the Giants. The Blues ended up finishing 5th and the Giants fell in at 7th place. Both teams did exceptionally well winning two finals and beating a top four team to make it into the preliminary final.
Carlton scored a trip to the GABBA which was clearly the more difficult route to glory and started like a house on fire before the fresher lions settled and took control back. The end result was only a 16-point loss which few sides have been able to better at the GABBA all year. The Giants would count themselves desperately unlucky losing by just one point, and there’ll be a number of “what-if” type scenarios running through the heads of players and supporters alike. At the end of the day, these two teams came from so far back that a spot in the big dance would’ve been nothing short of a miracle.
In past seasons there have been maybe one or two changes to the composition of the eight after Round 13, but rarely would you see a side sitting in 15th place make the leap. This time last year only two sides sitting inside the top eight after Round 13 ended up making way, but the two sides who took their place were 9th and 10th. It was a similar story in 2021 when two sides came in after being 10th and 11th after Round 13. Nine years ago, the Tigers were sitting in 15th place on the ladder after Round 14 and won their remaining nine games to squeeze into 8th spot. It’s a rare feat for both sides this year and one they should be proud of. Hopefully, both GWS and Carlton will be better placed after the first half of next season and can go on to bigger things in 2024.
Footnote: In Round 13, I attended the Carlton v Essendon game at the MCG. It was our sixth straight loss in a row, and one of our worst. You may recall it was the night when supporters were hurling abuse at the players as they left the field. I left the ground feeling fairly despondent that evening. As I was staring into the night sky wondering where my club was going and dreading the prospect of yet another failed season, some random bloke came up to me and with a smile went on to tell me not to worry because Carlton would win the next five games. At the time I thought this guy was clueless, but he was correct. We won the next five and the following four as well. I don’t know who he was or if he even truly existed. Was this like a scene from a Stephen King novel where I discover who this person was only to find he is somebody who passed away over 20 years ago?
If you’re reading this and you’re this person, let me know how the Blues will go next year, and while you’re at it, give us the Powerball numbers too!