AFL: The Finals – Week 2

2nd Semi Final – Geelong vs Port Adelaide (Friday, September 13)It was the first game of the Semi Finals, and both teams must have felt the growing pressure: Geelong made more mistakes in the first half than they had for the entire season it seemed, and while Port made poor decisions going forward in the first term, they made it count on the scoreboard in the second. They had an unlikely 23-point lead at half-time.But any hopes of Port’s dream revival season continuing disintegrated in the third term, as Geelong slammed on three goals in the first six minutes of play resuming while their premiership names stepped up.Geelong kept the momentum in the last quarter just long enough to hold Port at bay until the final siren. The gallant Power fought on to be within 10 points with 90 seconds left to play, but a goal from outside 50 to Motlop sealed it outright a minute later, and Geelong secured their first win in the finals by 16 points.The moment: Geelong gave away a free kick for holding in their goal square midway through the last term, and Cornes took the advantage jogging away from the goal mouth with ball in hand. But September specialist Paul Chapman had other ideas, running Cornes down and receiving a free kick for holding the ball 30 metres out. His fourth goal got the crowd on their feet and put Geelong’s margin over two goals, a gap Port wouldn’t be able to bridge for the rest of the match.The upshot: Geelong’s win means they play Hawthorn in the Preliminary Final next Friday, and so the match everyone though would be the Grand Final will happen a week earlier.Port Adelaide could not be happier to be out of the finals, having ended a stellar rebound year (see “The Losers” below) by nearly beating the best team of the past half-decade.Score:Geelong           2.2       3.6       8.12     13.18   (96)Port Adelaide   3.2       7.5       8.5       12.8     (80)Best players: Geelong—Chapman (20 touches, four goals, though he was reported), Kelly (28 touches, seven tackles), Selwood (27 touches, nine marks); Port Adelaide—Boak (26 touches, five tackles), Westhoff (19 touches, three goals) 1st Semi Final – Sydney vs Carlton (Saturday, September 14)The pitch at ANZ Stadium was a major slipping point (literally) for both teams, with Sydney losing key players Tippett and Mitchell after a good start. It looked like Carlton would take their chance and run Sydney over, but they could only draw level before Bolton dribbled home a goal to put Sydney ahead for quarter time.Sydney won themselves the match by outrunning and outworking Carlton in the second term. They dominated the contested and uncontested possessions, tackles and marks Inside 50, thanks in no small part to McVeigh with a record 20 touches for the quarter.The second half was interesting for its symmetry: Sydney’s half-time lead of 22 points only got larger in the third, as they banged on another five goals and Carlton were held scoreless for lack of any forward structure.But in the last term, it was Sydney who was held scoreless, and with four goals Carlton were given a half chance of coming back for the third time in as many weeks. But Sydney closed the game down to win by four goals, giving champion Bolton a worthy send off in his last match at home.The moment: White found Parker for Sydney Inside 50, and the small forward kicked the first goal of the third quarter 10 minutes in. Barely three minutes later, Parker was at it again as he gathered the ball near the boundary, turned Yarran inside out and curled the ball around the post for another goal. This great individual display gave Sydney all the momentum, the Swans followed up with another three goals for the term to put the match beyond doubt.The upshot: Sydney head to Perth next week to play Fremantle in the second Preliminary final, with mounting injuries and negotiating the time difference the major concerns.Carlton are out of the finals having improbably made it halfway to the Grand Final, but have some soul searching to do after a bumpy first year with Mick Malthouse.Score:Sydney             3.3       8.6       13.8     13.8     (86)Carlton             2.3       4.8       4.8       8.14     (62)Best players: Sydney—McVeigh (42 touches, 13 uncontested, nine marks, five tackles, five clearances, two goals), O’Keefe (30 touches, seven tackles); Carlton—Walker (30 touches), Waite (12 marks, three goals) The Losers5th – Port Adelaide Power Of all the teams in this year’s finals series, Port has the most to be proud of. With new chairman David Koch, coach Ken Hinkley and assistant Alan Richardson at the helm, Port won their first five games of the year, having only won that many for all of 2012. Though five straight losses followed, Port again showed how much they had improved in the space of six months by holding their nerve and holding their top eight spot for the rest of the year. Captain Travis Boak had an All-Australian season, while Schulz and Westhoff realized their potential up forward. But it was the young brigade of Wingard, Wines, Hartlett and Ebert that was most impressive. With barely 100 games of AFL experience between them, the four played like seasoned champions the whole year, not yielding to pressure even in the first week of the finals against Collingwood. Wingard also provided the highlight of Port’s year when he kicked his fifth goal with 30 seconds left to give Port a four-point win over rival Adelaide in Round 19.In short, Port showed a lot of promise and a magnificent club culture in 2013, which if it continues may see them challenge for a premiership in future years. 6th – Carlton BluesCarlton’s first season with coach Mick Malthouse was contradictory, and for that reason hard to assess. Though the Blues clearly had difficulty embracing Malthouse’s defence-oriented tactics, and those that had the most trouble earned his criticism, Carlton still did enough to stay in contention for the finals and nab Essendon’s spot at the end of the year. Losing twice to both Mick’s old side Collingwood and Essendon stung, but the Blues showed their gusto and potential in stirring comeback wins over Richmond (twice), Port Adelaide and North Melbourne.It seems Carlton have the makings of a good team — they might even be better if Dale Thomas is poached from Collingwood — but a lack of clear direction in their playing style is the obstacle to them being a top eight side. The Age football writer Rohan Connolly probably summed Carlton’s season up best, even a month before it was over: “Carlton need to decide definitively, and honestly, whether 2013 has been a year in which lofty expectations weren’t met, a year of discovery or one in which it resolved to take a step back in order to go forwards.”by Alexander Darling

September 16th 2013
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