After a year of confusion and uncertainty, the AFL Finals series exploded last weekend. A couple of heart-stoppers brought out the best in the game. Now, let’s see what the semi-finals can bring.
First Qualifying Final
Port Adelaide 9.4 (58) defeated Geelong 5.12 (42)
The Cats are quietened
Geelong looked the goods early when Rhys Stanley got off to a flyer, but the Power worked their way in front in a gritty contest to lock in a home preliminary final.
Tom Hawkins was the big story of the night after spraying his numerous shots at goal, while Charlie Dixon had moments against Harry Taylor that revved Port Adelaide into gear. In the middle, Travis Boak and Tom Rockliff were hard and tough, while Zak Butters’ courage and ferocity at the contest set the tone for the night.
Patrick Dangerfield and Brendan Parfitt did everything they could for the Cats, but they were condemned to a cut-throat semi-final after their forward line went missing at a crucial stage. The former produced a stunning running goal to revive his side. Unfortunately, Gryan Miers, Gary Rohan and Gary Ablett all had quiet nights – a killer when Hawkins was off-target.
Verdict: The Power continue to float under the radar, while Geelong must fix their act fast.
Second Qualifying Final
Brisbane 10.9 (69) defeated Richmond 8.6 (54)
Lions topple the Tigers
Richmond were heavy favourites after going into the game off the back of a superb Queensland run. When Daniel Rich slammed home the game’s first goal, the home side had a reason to believe it was finally going to be their night.
Brisbane snatched the ascendancy yet couldn’t quite convert it into the killer lead they desired. Oscar McInerney was terrific in the ruck, and Charlie Cameron caught Richmond off guard when he played higher up the ground and snagged three goals following the ball back inside forward 50.
Lachie Neale rebounded after a horror first quarter, and with Hugh McCluggage dominating, the Lions grabbed the lead in the second half. Jack Riewoldt’s strong start faded, and the Tigers sorely missed Tom Lynch. Dustin Martin continued to valiantly try, but Richmond were off and couldn’t quite bridge the gap when it mattered.
Verdict: Brisbane are set up for a run at the flag now. Richmond weren’t expecting this, and must fight hard to win another premiership.
Second Elimination Final
St Kilda 10.7 (67) defeated Western Bulldogs 9.10 (64)
Saints hold on
In what was the first blockbuster clash of a super Saturday, these two Victorian clubs played out a memorable elimination final. Josh Bruce kicked the scoring off against his old club, but then went missing.
In the first term the Bulldogs looked the better side – Marcus Bontempelli and Jack Macrae did their usual thing, while Bailey Williams filled in for the tagged Caleb Daniel across half-back. But the Saints soon grabbed the momentum and came hitting back. Jarryn Geary did an impressive job on Daniel, becoming dangerous up forward and slotting important goals. Max King destroyed Alex Keath and the Bulldogs defence with some telling contested marks that allowed Rowan Marshall and Tim Membrey to run amuck.
Don’t undersell the performance of Dan Hannebery. All of St Kilda’s midfielders were impressive, but Hannebery did an amazing job just to get fit for the clash. His experienced touch turned forays forward into goals; he and Brad Hill were the catalysts in this tight win.
The Dogs had one last chance when Aaron Naughton began flying high, but their lack of composure in front of goal cost them. St Kilda deserved this win, but it came at a price; we won’t see Ben Long (suspension), Paddy Ryder (injury) or Jake Carlisle (personal reasons) for their semi-final showdown with the Tigers.
Verdict: A wonderful night for long-suffering St Kilda fans. A frustrating end to the season for Bulldogs fans who expected more.
First Elimination Final
West Coast 11.9 (75) defeated by Collingwood 12.4 (76)
Upsets out west
They were written off all week. They were the ‘dirty’ Pies who were forced to shelter some club members in campervans and were treated as enemies to the state of WA all week long. All of this makes this result even more remarkable.
It all started with Mason Cox; the American cast back to memories of that 2018 preliminary final against Richmond when he clunked three marks for three goals in the space of five first quarter minutes. He settled the Pies, and a silly 50 metre penalty gave Taylor Adams another.
But Josh Kennedy, Liam Ryan and Jack Darling have a habit of performing against the Pies. They all brought the Eagles back into the contest, while Tim Kelly struggled to perform under a Levi Greenwood tag.
The game continued to go goal for goal; for periods of the second half Collingwood were just holding on under West Coast’s heavy fire. But when Darcy Cameron gave Brodie Grundy a chop out in the ruck, the midfield got on top and Adams could catapult the ball forward.
In a stunning last quarter, West Coast regained the lead before Collingwood went on a rampage. Brody Mihocek destroyed Jeremy McGovern in the final term, and Jordan De Goey popped up in the clutch moments to give Collingwood the narrowest of wins.
Verdict: That one has to hurt for Eagles fans, while Collingwood march on against all odds.
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Richmond v St Kilda
The return of Lynch
It’s going to be a massive in for the Tigers.
Richmond badly missed Tom Lynch’s presence last week when Riewoldt was well-held by Harris Andrews. With Carlisle out for the Saints, Lynch will have a big chance to exploit St Kilda’s smaller defence.
He should also benefit those around him. When Martin and Shai Bolton rest forward, they will have a merry time crumbing at the feet of Lynch. It’s no secret he makes Richmond’s forward line more dynamic; can he win them another final?
Can the Saints out-run the Tigers?
St Kilda’s pace is going to be key here. When they smacked the Tigers earlier in the season they played at breakneck speed, beating Richmond for pace while being clean enough to make minimal mistakes.
The Saints, if they are to spring an almighty September upset, must take the game on. Richmond will not die wondering, so they will get a chance to hurt the Tigers on the counterattack if they are composed under pressure. Jack Steele, Zak Jones and Hunter Clark will be critical in the midfield – if they can nullify Prestia, Cotchin and Martin while exploding from stoppages, they could give their forwards enough chances to boost a winning score.
Tip: It would be terrific if the Saints can match the Tigers up at Metricon, but I just can’t see it happening. Tigers by 25.
Geelong v Collingwood
Are the Cats going to handle the finals heat?
Geelong have their backs to the wall. Despite performing admirably down in Adelaide last week, their shocking conversion and lack of composure in key times hurt them. Now, they must fix their poor finals record with a massive win here.
One thing going the Cats’ way is their much-improved record in semi-final clashes. They seem to play best in these cut-throat games, but they will have to find a way to slow down the Pies.
If they are to win, the likes of Cam Guthrie, Sam Menegola and Mitch Duncan must all play their part and ensure the heavy lifting isn’t left to Dangerfield and Selwood.
After such a wonderful away win, the Pies have a key chance to go on a finals fairy tale run. The main way they’ll do this is by continuing to play fast and fearless footy – the style that got them to within a whisker of the 2018 flag. Handballs and playing on can only benefit Cox and Mihocek, while De Goey can also wreak havoc up forward.
If Jordan Roughead can nullify Hawkins, Brayden Maynard and Jack Crisp could become weapons off half-back. Brodie Grundy has a prime chance to recapture form alongside Cameron – the Pies are one win away from being a massive finals threat.
Tip: The Cats could easily stamp their authority in this one, especially at the Gabba. But I’m going with the Pies for a dream run, as long as they stay fearless. Magpies by 13.
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