GRAND FINAL SELECTION & PREVIEW
More learned judges than this humble scribe had both the Magpies and the Eagles outside the 8 in their pre-season predictions, but that’s the great thing about sport, and particularly the AFL – expect the unexpected! I recounted earlier this week my passion for the game’s past and how every result can add to the rich anthology of historical trends, or create a new unique occurrence for thousands of wide-eyed young fans to pore over and pester their parents about over the dinner table.
While most keen AFL supporters are aware of the oft-quoted Qualifying Final /Grand Final rematch conundrum, one exciting new edition to the stats file has been created this year as 2018 marks the first time since 1995/96/97 that three consecutive Grand Finals have involved 6 different teams. As much as I’d like to analyse that 1997 playoff to try to determine this year’s winner, I expect in the wash-up it will prove futile, considering for too long the fact no team has won the QF and GF against the same opponent using the current top 8 model, nor the fact that the last 5 years have seen a Victorian team defeat an interstate team in the decider. This game will be won on the day, by 22 players more hardened and more committed to the cause and should that occur everyone can tip their lid to the rightful champion of the 2018 season.
WEST COAST EAGLES VS. COLLINGWOOD
An unpopular match up according to the crystal-ball brigade before the season, both teams have proven their credentials throughout the season playing an enterprising style that ultimately usurped their highly fancied fellow finalists. Despite an ill-advised PR campaign by the Magpies calling on all Victorians to get behind the “home” side, both clubs, outside their enormous supporter bases, will be relatively friendless. However as two of only a handful of clubs who survive and thrive without any hand outs or additional assistance from the AFL, they deserve our utmost respect.
Collingwood took most of the season to convince the public they were worthy finalists, often falling just short against those at the top end of the ladder. Of course that line of thinking was completely turned on its head last week with a brutal display of pressure and precision football against the reigning champs. The Eagles have managed their season to perfection, collecting wins at will early in the year allowing them to tinker through the bye rounds and then slowly build to what they expect to be their crescendo on Saturday.
It’s a massive ask to replicate the incredible team effort by the good old Collingwood again this week. They are fit and confident, but can they expect the same output from Cox? Will Simpson allow Sidebottom to run amok? I bet Hutchings is chomping at the bit to take down another victim. Can the mish-mash backline contain the best forward line in the game with six genuine match winners?
Meanwhile West Coast have quietly gone about winning all three games on the MCG this year, including an earlier engagement against this week’s opponent by over eight goals. Importantly, they now play their home games and therefore build their strategy and game plan around a ground identical in size to the world famous cricket ground, completely nullifying the usual advantage Victorian teams enjoy in September.
WHAT A WEST COAST WIN MEANS?
First and foremost – justification. Adam Simpson has travelled the well-worn path to senior coaching, excelling through every challenge, to now stand on the precipice of becoming a premiership coach. The Eagles probably run less players through the midfield than most of the other better sides in the AFL, and this might bring about a change in opposition strategy with a return to the more traditional six backmen, six forwards, albeit with the ability and wherewithal to work up to the opposite 50m line and back with incredible consistency.
WHAT A COLLINGWOOD WIN MEANS?
Look away Essendon and Carlton fans, the Magpies have just joined you on 16 premierships at the top of the tree. Eddie’s gamble to dismiss a club legend and great of the caper with the untried but anointed Nathan Buckley has finally come to fruition.
Everyone loves a redemption story and my selection to stand jubilantly on the dais with Shaun Hart around 5.15pm on Saturday will be the West Coast power forward, Jack Darling. From the moment he was drafted as an 18-year old behemoth, expectations have been sky-high. Good with flashes of brilliance, and a propensity to go missing under the pressure of big finals would best describe his career pre-2018. This season, he started like a freight train, and the broad-shouldered number 27 actually took top billing from his illustrious partner, Josh Kennedy until injury hit. Last week could’ve resulted in an absolute bag, but I think we’ll see him take the game apart this week.
Most years, upon reflection you can point to the eventual premier being the best team for the whole season or at least the dominant force come September, without being derogatory to what would be a famous Collingwood victory, should they ultimately salute, they’ll be neither. A worthy premier no doubt, but an oddity in the modern era. Meanwhile their opponent, possibly through the vast expanse of 3,000 kms of sand or perhaps due to losing three of their best 18, have been underrated for the majority of the year but have put together a stunning H&A campaign, which has been thus far surpassed by their final’s performance. The recent losing experience in 2015 would still be burning inside the players involved, and having been absent from the last day in September in the two seasons that followed, they know this might be their only chance for atonement.
West Coast by 22 points.
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