Finals Week Two - Preview

With 18 finally down to six, Semi-Final weekend contains with two equally intriguing matches, Melbourne (the town not the football team) have turned on some stunning weather (at least for the first game), the smell of freshly cut grass wafting through the nostrils as hopeful fans walk to the train station adorned in team scarves.

HAWTHORN VERSUS MELBOURNE

Melbourne face Hawthorn in the Friday night match, fresh from their first final and finals victory in 12 long years. They’re full of confidence and importantly, go in unchanged. Their opponents on the other hand have been stung by losing two of their most important players in O’Meara and Stratton. Tonight will signal the seventh meeting between these two clubs that were once almost forced into a shotgun wedding by an overbearing parent in 1996. It’s also the first since that historic occasion. The first three finals clashes fell within Melbourne’s golden age when Barassi and Norm Smith ruled the game in the late 50s and early 60’s. The ensuing three match ups fell during Hawthorn’s 80’s and early 90’s dynasty. The results were split 2-1 to the more dominant club in each era and while past results will have absolutely no bearing on tonight’s outcome apart from some whimsical reminiscing, a tie breaker and bragging rights of sorts will be confirmed.

The Demons’ intensity at the contest was most impressive last week, and this scribe in particular has been keen on their prospects all season long, so was I not surprised that they blew the Cats off the park. That said, despite their dominance on the field, the margin was only 3 goals at three-quarter time and some of the ghosts of past failures were creeping to the surface. Led brilliantly by their baby-faced superstar, Clayton Oliver the Dees swept to victory on the back of ferocious tackling driven by Viney, frenetic and accurate attacking moves from the defence by Salem and a coming of age masterpiece by the highly touted Weidemann. Brownlow fancy, Max Gawn should have a tougher task against the ‘Owl’ McEvoy, but certainly won’t fear him, while with the pressure off their backs after last week’s stirring victory awoke the dormant MCC and a cacophony of 90,000+ baying against the home team Hawks could create a reverse noise of affirmation scenario.

Selection at the Hawks meanwhile was brutal, with further carnage predicted as young James Cousins is on standby for a sore Blake Hardwick. The forced removal of a pair of mullets from the stingy Hawk defence could be too much to replace, especially with an inexperienced Mirra and out of sorts Duryea their direct replacements.

O’Meara is the big out though; probably best for his side last week against the premiers, cutting the already thin brown & gold midfield and giving a powerful advantage to Melbourne. Harmes in imperious form can now target Mitchell or Smith and leave the Hawks exposed. It’s a big ask for the old and new, but one or probably both of Burgoyne and Worpel need to step up into the best players for the Hawks to have a chance.

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Key match ups:

Gawn vs. McEvoy – the preeminent follower against an honest player perhaps unlucky to have missed the AA squad. Big Max has the height advantage which in this day and age of umpires’ sore backs provides a significant benefit. A deeper midfield and lack of consistent marking talls in the Hawk forward line should provide ample opportunity for Max to confirm his ascendency. McEvoy must work hard forward and capitalise on the scoreboard to nullify the impact of his Demon counterpart.

Jetta vs. Breust – Jetta was unfairly overlooked by the AA selectors and has been in outstanding form. Breust has been excellent all year but went missing when most needed last week against the Tigers. The Hawk sharpshooter can be considered a barometer of the team’s performance when he is quiet the team struggles to salute, but usually he is a valuable contributor in victory. Jetta will need to have his wits about him as Breust can cut you to ribbons in a 5-minute burst.

vandenBerg vs. Sicily – a left field match up here to make the volatile Hawk accountable. Goodwin will not want to leave the enigmatic utility to his own devices as he showed on numerous occasions throughout the year, Sicily thrives on the big stage, and like Breust, can decimate an opposition with his skill and precision. AVB has been a revelation back into the Demon squad. Fitting seamlessly in the hard working and tough engine room, he’s the right man for this vital job tonight.

T.McDonald vs. Frawley – Tmac has been a revelation this year, almost topping the fifty goal milestone and being a genuine contested marking beast. Frawley had re-found some very good form before a late season injury kept him out for a week. This match up could be pivotal to the outcome. McDonald has been a talisman for Melbourne, and regularly delivers high quality performances in big games. Frawley excelled in the last Hawk premiership run and bested in-form Jack Riewoldt last time out. If there’s a clear winner between the two that might just be the difference between the season extending or coming to a grinding halt.

For a deep dive into the Dees v Hawks, check out HB Meyers’ Talking Points

Final Word:

It would not be inaccurate to describe Melbourne’s first week opponent as the weakest of the final 8, while the Hawks played the Tigers, who are widely considered the best at present. Despite this, the odds and media coverage have been overwhelmingly in favour of the boys emblazoned in the grand old flag. I suspect this game will be a lot closer than anticipated but am firmly on board the majority rules wagon in tipping the Dees to continue their charmed run all the way to Optus Stadium next Saturday.

Both teams are coming off impressive home and away form to end the season, and while they lost, the effort was certainly there for the Hawks, I can’t see Burgoyne, Breust and Gunston being non-contributors again, but the fearsome midfield depth of Melbourne will prove too much over the course of four quarters. Melbourne by 11.

COLLINGWOOD VERSUS GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY

Collingwood host the AFL-monstrosity Giants in another bumper MCG final on Saturday night. They now reap the benefit of the home ground; just reward for what was a meritorious season under extreme duress. A credible, but missed opportunity against the Eagles was softened by the return from injury of Treloar, Howe and Goldsack who should all be better for the run.

Meanwhile the Giants lose probably their most dynamic player, Kelly in a bitter blow to their chances. The Pies have enjoyed a good recent record against the Giants, who despite trying valiantly to find form in the second half of the year have been struck by the injury curse, which has limited valuable continuity you need to make a concerted premiership run.

The Magpies run and dare this year has been a strategy to be applauded and has seen them, even with a depleted line up, storm into the top 4, giving the aforementioned three a solid outing last week, along with a subdued Pendlebury returning from illness who should be better again. The impetus is with the home side to book a preliminary final against a rampaging Richmond which would make for a monster Preliminary Final. Their vaunted multi-headed forward line, quiet last week, should relish the familiar conditions at the MCG and provide a far bigger handful than the Swans did last week. Grundy was solid against the Eagles, but a fair way short of his bulldozing best. He will have every opportunity this week against a bare cupboard of Giants bigs. Lobb showed great promise as a forward a few years back, but has gone backwards rapidly since, particularly when charged with responsibility in the ruck.

At selection, the Giants lose their best and most influential player. Kelly is replaced with Ryan Griffin, who was probably the best player in the AFL in 2013, but his output has progressively diminished since, notwithstanding some impressive cameos throughout his time west of Sydney. Lachlan Keeffe replaces the luckless Perryman, presumably to counter the tall Pies forwards, but I’d rather keep those in-form in the side, regardless of match up. The Pies go in unchanged after the trip to Perth and look settled and steely in their resolve to continue on to a near certain sell out the following Friday night.

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Key match ups:

Grundy vs. Lobb – I’m not sure if these two teams formally play for the Gubby Allen trophy, but I’d suggest visiting a local betting agency and putting your hard earned on big Brodie to claim the medal. He will eviscerate Lobb, particularly if the weather turns nasty as is the early forecast.

Pendlebury vs. Ward – I expect the two skippers to play wide of each other and try to set up victory for their respective teams. Ward is a human battering ram and is built for finals, while Pendlebury’s ability to seemingly make time stand still when he’s in possession is an equally valuable trait in the pressure cooker of finals. After an excellent season the Pies captain was clearly hampered by illness last week, I see him bouncing back immediately and being influential in a famous victory for the good old Collingwood.

Phillips vs. Whitfield – First time All Australian and former 1st draft pick, Whitfield showed his class again last week in the absence of Kelly, clearly being the best player on the ground in a rout of their cross town rivals. I think Phillips has the tank to go with him, and also the tools to hurt him going the other way. This is a fascinating match up between two silky running machines.

Howe vs. Greene – I’m again plumping for a surprise here, backing the high marking Pie to be able to compete well enough on the ground to neutralise the influence of the exciting Greene. Young Toby looks pretty comfortable on the big stage, and is an impressive player even accounting for the rough edges. He is one man who could lead his side to glory, but I’m predicting the underrated Pie will take the points.

Final Word:

Despite some impressive victories in the backend to the season, I’m still not sold on the Giants credentials, and in particular coach Cameron’s ability to formulate a gameplan that makes use of his burgeoning talent. Meanwhile Bucks has finally graduated to delivering off the field what he was renowned to deliver on the field and has his team playing an exciting style of football that is hard to counter. On paper you’d always tip the Greater Western Top 10 Draft Picks, but football is not played on paper, the Pies have shown over and over in 2018 they play for each other and believe in their game plan. I see them getting home by 25 points.

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