AFL: The Finals – Week 3

1st Preliminary Final – Hawthorn vs Geelong (Friday, September 20)“We’ve beaten Geelong when it matters. They don’t have psychological drive we have.” Then Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett, after the Hawks beat Geelong in the 2008 Grand FinalEver since these fatal words, Geelong have found a way to beat Hawthorn in each of the 11 times they met since 2008. “The Kennett curse” has seen Geelong win even when form and match statistics suggest they had no right to, and on Friday night it looked to be no exception.Hawthorn dominated the tackles, hit outs, Inside 50s and scoring shots to start the match, but failed to take their opportunities in the first half. Geelong, by contrast wasted none of their chances up forward. Against the odds, they were one point up at quarter time and only four down at half-time after Hawthorn missed some late shots despite having all the momentum.Geelong really drove the boot in in the third term, aided by some controversial umpiring decisions that resulted in them scoring each time. With seven goals for the term they had almost doubled the half-time score, and left Hawthorn dejected and 20 points in arrears at the final change.The first goal was crucial in the last term. Hawthorn got it, and that all but guaranteed another thriller between the two sides. Though Geelong returned fire through Caddy, the runners Rioli and Burgoyne stood up when it mattered for Hawthorn. They each won crucial contests in the forward half, and the Hawks got the next three goals of the game to take and then hold the lead.The moment: With 36 seconds remaining, Geelong finally broke the Hawks’ defence and Varcoe gathered a floating ball forward. Dodging two Hawks defenders, he lined up and had a shot from 40 out, to level the game and send the teams into extra time, and to ensure the end of the Kennet curse would be postponed, if not denied, and… HE MISSED! If you do believe in curses and hoodoo and all that stuff, then this is the point where you knew the Kennett curse had lifted. Otherwise, Varcoe’s shot would have been a goal and the Hawks would have had to suffer further knowing they couldn’t beat their fierce rival outright. The siren sounded half a minute later, drowned out by the relieved Hawks supporters and with Hawthorn five points in front. In the tenth match of the last 12 encounters between the two sides decided by under a goal, Hawthorn had won at last.The upshot: Hawthorn beat Geelong for the first time in 11 matches and 1820 days. They beat Geelong in their last Grand Final win in 2008, and now they’ve beaten them to secure their second Grand Final birth in as many years.Geelong is knocked out of season 2013 a week before it ends, and this is the first “odd” year in six years that they won’t win the premiership. There goes my tip.Score:Hawthorn          3.5       7.8       10.10   14.18  (102)Geelong           4.0       7.4       14.6     15.7     (97)Best players: Hawthorn—Mitchell (38 touches), Burgoyne (24 touches, seven marks, six tackles, three goals); Geelong—Johnson (32 touches, eight marks, four goals), Selwood (23 touches) 2nd Preliminary Final – Fremantle vs Sydney (Saturday, September 21)Fremantle put on one of the most extraordinary displays of team pressure in living memory, crushing Sydney in the uncontested possessions, contested possessions, one percent-ers, hit outs and Inside 50s. Every Freo player seemed to know exactly what to do at every moment of the match, making it impossible for Sydney to get the ball into their forward half and leaving commentators reaching for the Thesaurus to find words to describe the team display.After five goals to one behind in the second term, Fremantle had a decisive 39-point lead at half-time.By the second half, even the Purple Haze (the name for Freo supporters) seemed to have adopted coach Ross Lyon’s mantra of defence first, applauding every tackle and contested ball won more than they did Freo goals. With 43,000 voices cheering them on, Fremantle extended their lead to over eight goals in the final term before Sydney kicked six — too little, too late — to end the match. Though they had much to celebrate, Fremantle showed admirable respect for retiring Sydney champion Jude Bolton, forming a race down which he was carried off the ground by teammates. How poetic it was that the most prolific tackler the game has ever seen had his career ended by perhaps the most prolific team defence the game has ever seen.The moment: You could almost pick the entire second term as this game’s best moment for Fremantle’s brutal pressure (real and inferred), but the most notable display came from small forward Ballantyne, who won a 50/50 ball on the wing after three different efforts, where laid two tackles on Sydney players, and received a free kick (albeit a contentious one) for high contact himself. This individual effort pretty much summed up Fremantle’s desperation to win every contest around the ground and the team’s flawless adoption of Lyon’s tactics.The upshot: Fremantle will play their first Grand Final next week after 18 years as an AFL club, setting up a fascinating contest between the best attacking club (Hawthorn) and the best defensive club (Freo).Even if they don’t win next week, there will be 17 clubs whose off-season will be dedicated to recreating Hawthorn repelling the “Fremantle crush”. Last Saturday night will be remembered as the birth of Fremantle as a league leader and premiership contender.A year after winning the premiership, Sydney are knocked out of the finals a week before it ends, victims of the defensive trend they themselves began back in the 00’s.Score:Fremantle         2.9       7.11     11.12   14.15   (99)Sydney             2.1       2.2       5.5       11.8     (74)Best players: Fremantle—Mayne (13 tackles), Duffield (29 possessions, nine marks, one goal), Fyfe (27 touches, five marks), Barlow (24 touches, six marks, eight tackles), Sandilands (33 hit outs), Walters (three goals); Sydney—McVeigh (30 touches, five marks), Kennedy (24 touches, eight tackles) The Losers3rd – Geelong Cats People were made to look stupid after they said this in 2008 and 2010 (Geelong won premierships in both years after), but I think this year I’m safe in saying Geelong’s reign as “the Greatest Team of All” is at an end. The players of the premiership era are nearing retirement — Hunt, Chapman, Corey and Enright chief among them — and while Guthrie, Murdoch and Caddy had promising breakout seasons you wouldn’t think they’d be able to replace these multi-premiership champions in effort and resoluteness. Geelong also struggled with consistency many times throughout the year, letting comfortable leads slip against Port Adelaide, Brisbane, and Adelaide. They lost the last three of these matches by under a goal, where they would have been good enough to hold on in their premiership years. This inability to close out games was what brought them undone on Friday night, and I believe the end of their remarkable dominance over Hawthorn also marks the end of the magic for the Cats. After seven years, 15 finals, four Grand Finals and three premierships the Golden Era at Geelong is over. 4th – Sydney SwansDespite their stirring win over clear favourites Hawthorn in last year’s Grand Final, Sydney always seemed off the pace among the league powerhouses in 2013. They were the worst side in the league for marks per game (by contrast Geelong, Hawthorn and Freo were in the top half of teams for this statistic), and though they remained the most prolific tackling team this year, many other sides weren’t far behind their game average of 71. The introduction of Kurt Tippett as full forward half way through the year looked promising initially for Sydney, but they fell into the trap Collingwood has with Travis Cloke in kicking to him too often, such that they looked a less predictable scoring side when Tippett wasn’t there. And like Geelong, the Swans are set to lose big premiership winning names over the next few years: Bolton has retired, Goodes has too many injuries to play his best footy, and McVeigh and O’Keefe are both over 30. To me, it looks like Sydney are out of premiership contention for a few years, though coach John Longmire seems a worthy candidate to keep Sydney off the bottom of the ladder while they rebuild. Next Week: The AFL Grand FinalHawthorn Hawks vs Fremantle DockersSaturday 28th of September, 2:30pmMelbourne Cricket Ground by Alexander Darling

September 23rd 2013
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