The final round of the AFL Home and Away season is always a time of contradictions. Sadness for the fans and players of 10 teams who for them, Round 23 is the last time they will take to the field. Sadness as we say goodbye to legends (and some not) of the game who have decided it’s time to call time on their football careers. Apprehension for coaches of teams that didn’t make finals. Will they be looking for a job come Christmas time?
But mostly, round 23 brings excitement – because finals are just around the corner. Yes, it’s the most wonderful time of year!
So with the home and away season over we’re going to take a look at the first week of the finals.
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Now let’s get to our ridiculously early take on week 1 of the finals, which promises to bring some hotly contested matches. Here’s our mega early take on each match:
Qualifying Final 1 – Geelong (1st) vs Collingwood (4th), Friday 6th September, 7:50pm AEST, MCG
Can it really be 8 years since these two clubs played in the 2011 AFL Grand Final? These two only met once in 2019, way back in Round 1. The Cats prevailed that night, but only just. Since that meeting the fortunes of both teams have fluctuated. The Cats hit the top of the ladder early in the year and only briefly surrended their ladder leading position last week after a narrow loss to the Lions. They secured the minor premiership only after dispatching the Blues on Saturday evening and then watching the Lions lose to Richmond on Sunday.
Since the bye their form has been patchy. They come into the finals on the back of a 5 win 5 loss run. The Pies have been a little all over the shop this year. Injuries have decimated them again and yet lucks a fortune. Just as the doomsdayers were closing in the fixture threw them a bone.
The last four weeks they faced the bottom side, second bottom side, a splutting Crows outfit (albeit interstate) and then a Bombers team missing a huge number of their first 22. They enter the finals on the back of a 6 win 4 loss run since the bye.
Still most would have the Cats winning this game on form over the whole year. Their midfield brigade are lethal, with Ablett, Selwood, Kelly and Dangerfield leading the way. Mind you, the Pies midfield was considered the league benchmarks earlier in the year.
Adding to the intrigue is the constant whinging of Chris Scott regarding the Cats having to play their final at the MCG, rather than in the cosy confines of GMHBA Stadium. Mind you the Cats have a 4-1 record at the MCG this year, so they’re no slouches. The Pies have a 9-5 record at the G.
Fingers crossed for everyone, this should be a cracking contest. Our early take: Cats by 12 points.
Qualifying Final 2 – Brisbane (2nd) vs Richmond (3rd), Saturday 7th September, 7:25pm AEST, Gabba
Unlike the Cats and Pies, you only have to look to yesterday for the last time these two met and it was the Tigers emerging trimphant. However, this is the only time the two teams met this year (don’t you love the ‘fixture’, yeah not really) and there’s no point looking to last year since the Lions are a completely different outfit to the 2018 model.
There are two key questions as we head into this match. How will the Lions fare in the heat of finals battle? And how will the Tigers travel?
Yes, the Lions lost yesterday but they are a completely different proposition at the Gabba, that’s for sure. But as we all know, when the finals roll around, the intensity of matches goes up significantly. The Tigers won the premiership just two years ago and are full of players with no only finals experience but Grand Final experience and premiership medallions to-boot. Luke Hodge and Lachie Neale are the only two players on the Lions list with Grand Final experience.
Question is, will it matter? This Lions outfit have smashed almost every “hoodoo” they had. They’ve won at home, they’ve won away, they’ve won close games and they’ve destroyed some teams. But the Tigers in finals is a different kettle of fish. Can they do anything to dent Dusty Martin’s influence? Can their forwards all fire on the one day? If they do, they will be well on their way to a home preliminary final.
What about the Tigers and travel? They travelled five times this season for a record of 3 wins and 2 losses. The two losses were early in the season when they were suffering from a spate of injuries to key players. The last time they travelled was against the lowly Suns which means next to nothing. I don’t think it will matter. I don’t think it’s a negative or a positive for the Tigers.
Our pick: We’re going out on on a limb here. We think the Gabbatoire will be packed to the rafters with rabbid fans who will have the place pumping and get the Lions over the line by 4 points (get the paramedics on standby!)
Elimination Final 1 – West Coast (5th) vs Essendon (8th), Thursday 5th September, 6:10pm AWST, Optus Stadium
Perhaps the least attractive of the four finals for an impartial supporter. Only a few weeks back the Eagles were looking ominous then but an away loss to the Tigers and then their much publicised loss to the Hawks on Saturday night saw then drop to fifth. The reigning premiers will get this home final, but that will be it. More so they will need to win three in row to go back-to-back.
As for the Bombers, well, what can you say. At stages this year they’ve looked amazing and yet only three weeks ago they put in the worst performance of 2019 of any club. Quite frankly, they were disgusting and injuries were no excuse.
On Friday night they rested – sorry I mean had more injuries – and only just went down to the Pies. Early on they looked electric but when the Pies put the brakes on defensively not so much. Can they even get close to the Eagles that’s the question?
Their defensive pillar in Hurley is touch and go to play after a fresh shoulder injury. Without him how on earth do they stop Kennedy, Darling, Rioli and the rest of their forward brigade.
We can’t see them going close and predicting an Optus Stadium massacre, West Coast fans waving their jackets after the siren and the Eagles by 65 points!
Elimination Final 2 – Greater Western Sydney (6th) vs Western Bulldogs (7th), Saturday 7th September, 3:20pm AEST, Giants Stadium
If you believe the media then the Giants may as well not show up for this game. I mean the Dogs are unstoppable. They’re on the way to the flag, don’t you know?
OK, let’s just pump the breaks there a little. Yes, the Dogs have come home with a wet sail, no question, but really who have they beaten. We’ll get the obvious one out of the way – yes they beat the Cats, back in round 16.
Since the bye they have played half of their matches against top eight teams for a record of three wins and two losses, not exactly earth shatteringly, competition destroying form. Truth is that most of their big wins have come against sides in struggle town. Having said that, they do play a damn exciting brand of footy and have been one of the highest scoring sides in the competition- and that’s something we definitely won’t be complaining about.
What about the Giants? Should they bother turning up? Well of course they should. Worth noting that Coleman Medal winner Jeremy Cameron and Shane Mumford (admittedly in the twilight of his career) were both missing the last time these two met.
They, like a few other finalists, have had their list stripped bare at times by injuries to a raft of players. But with the finals beckoning their list actually doesn’t look too bad anymore. Question will be, how they can combat the irresistable form of the Dogs. Stephen Coniglio may also be back, further strengthening their midfield pack.
But with the finals beckoning their list actually doesn’t look too bad anymore. Question will be, how they can combat the irresistable form of the Dogs. Stephen Coniglio may also be back, further strengthening their midfield pack.
As for the result… we’re tipping the Giants to cause a giant boilover…. by 1 point – just for the hell of it.