Round-by-round: Clean Slate

AFL Round 23 Last week, in the wake of the sanctions handed down to Essendon for their supplements program, I said the AFL had much to do in making the competition fair and equitable. But any such worries can wait until after September, because in the meantime the AFL Finals are upon us.Over nine matches, the teams in the top eight positions on the ladder will fight it out with the aim of holding up the silverware at the end of the 2013 AFL season, and writing their names into the history books as winners of footy’s ultimate achievement.Perhaps the most welcome aspect of this year’s finals series is that the drugs scandal isn’t involved. After 189 matches tarnished by the endless attention given to Essendon, performance enhancers and the individuals involved, four weeks of uninterrupted, high-quality contests are just what the AFL needs to revive supporters’ love for the game.Here’s how Week One of the finals will be played: Friday, September 6Hawthorn (1st) vs Sydney (4th), MCG, 7:50pmSaturday, September 7Geelong (2nd) vs Fremantle (3rd), Simonds Stadium, 2:10pmCollingwood (6th) vs Port Adelaide (7th), MCG, 7:45pmSunday, September 8Richmond (5th) vs Carlton (8th), MCG, 3:20pm For those interested, here’s what happened in the final round of the 2013 Home and Away Season. Sydney vs Hawthorn (Friday, August 30)Two teams destined for the finals began the game with a finals-like intensity. It took 10 minutes for the first goal to be scored, and when Sydney drew this first blood, Hawthorn responded within a minute. A subsequent string of well-crafted goals to Sydney put them three goals up at quarter time.The match went to the next level in the second term, as goals flowed and Hawthorn drew within five points of the lead. But Sydney steadied through Rohan to lead by nine points at half-time.In a third term worth remembering, Sydney started with two goals, before Hawthorn’s big guns slammed on three to draw the margin to within four points. The teams went goal for goal until the end of the term, whereby Sydney’s lead was still 10 points.With both sides wanting to win in the last term, the time was ripe for a match-winner, and it came in Hawthorn’s Roughead. With two big goals, the big forward took his match total to four and his season total to 68, making him winner of the Coleman medal. It was enough to hold off a gallant Sydney, who kept coming till the last minute, and gave Hawthorn the game by 12 points. Hawthorn’s win means they’re the minor premiers of 2013. Also, these two will play again next week in the first Qualifying Final, and you’d think they’d win that one even more comfortably given it’ll be in Melbourne.Burgoyne and Sewell both had 27 possessions for Hawthorn, while for Sydney Kennedy had 33 and White scored three goals.Hawthorn 17.10.112 def Sydney 16.4.100 St. Kilda vs Fremantle (Saturday, August 31)With three veteran superstars playing their last game (Milne, Koschitzke, Blake), St. Kilda put on an incredible first term display. They dominated the disposals, Inside 50s and contested possessions, making people wonder if the teams had swapped jumpers before the first bounce. Ironically, Fremantle coach Ross Lyon coached St. Kilda to three Grand Finals before moving to Freo, and he was comprehensively beaten at his own game by his old side at the start of the match. St. Kilda scored 28 points to Fremantle’s doughnut at quarter time.The role reversal continued in the second term, as St. Kilda blazed away to a 51-point lead before Hanneth landed Fremantle’s first 21 minutes in. Another three followed, and St. Kilda’s lead was back to 33 points by half-time. As all three retirees came on in the third term, St. Kilda rediscovered their composure, and with three more goals had the margin at 46 points for three-quarter time.The party was well and truly over in the last term, as Fremantle hung up their boots and the focus turned to getting Koschitzke a goal. Three shanked kicks and a contentious score review denied the big forward, but Milne and Blake registered majors to get the Saints faithful on their feet. By the final siren, St. Kilda were winners by 71 points, the happiest club ever to win only five games in a year.Montagna and Steven racked up 47 disposal for St. Kilda, a club record. Crowley had 28 for a disappointing Fremantle outfit.St. Kilda 16.16.112 def Fremantle 6.5.41 Geelong vs BrisbaneKicking with the wind, Geelong eventually got on top of Brisbane in the first term, kicking five goals to lead by 14 points at quarter time.Brisbane came from 52 points down to beat Brisbane earlier this year, and looked set to pull off another spectacular victory in the second term. Piling on the tackles, they blew Geelong out of the water with six goals to two for the term, and led by six points by half-time.Geelong met Brisbane’s tackling pressure in the third term, and though Brisbane extended their lead to 10 points early in the piece Geelong came charging home. With four of the last five goals of the term, Geelong had restored their lead to 20 points at the final change.Brisbane had one last quarter to make the finals, and they put everything into it. After Caddy snapped home the first goal, McGrath banged home his sixth and switched Brisbane on. In a stunning fight back, Brisbane booted another four across the term to cut the margin to two points with one minute remaining. But unlike last time, there would be no fairy tale. Lester gathered and snapped for goal with 15 seconds left, but it was touched on the line and Geelong won by the narrowest of margins.Bartel and Stokes both had 35 touches for Geelong, while Chapman had 26 and two goals. Rockliff put in a last minute bid for Best and Fairest with 37 for Brisbane.Geelong 15.22.112 def Brisbane 17.9.111 Port Adelaide vs CarltonWith Essendon’s demise, Port moved to 7th and Carlton 8th on the ladder during the week. Carlton thus were playing to win, to prove they weren’t in the eight by default, but early on they did nothing to suggest otherwise. With no pressure on them, Port doubled their disposal and slammed on the first three goals of the game. They led by 17 points at quarter time.It was the same in the second term, as Port annihilated Carlton at kicking efficiency and Ebert fired. Port led by 32 points at half-time.Carlton improved their pressure in the third term, and were able to get on top in some key statistical areas. They were an outside chance, down by 29 points at three-quarter time.That chance became a reality in the final term. Carlton brought the margin back to under a kick with four goals in 10 minutes. Like Friday night, the match took on a finals intensity, as Port scored another goal to get breathing space. But Carlton seized the lead minutes later after another three quick goals. In a frantic final five minutes, both teams scored two goals, Broadbent hit the post to put the margin back to one point, the ball was thrown in on Port’s forward line with three seconds left, and Carlton secured their finals spot and credibility in exhilarating fashion. What a fitting way to say goodbye to AAMI Stadium as an AFL venue.Walker finished with 25 touches for Carlton, while Murphy had 22 and three goals. Port’s Cornes had a lazy 35 touches while Schulz and Ebert were good with three goals.Carlton 15.14.104 def Port Adelaide 15.13.103 Essendon vs Richmond“Dead rubber” was the term most used to describe Essendon’s last match of the year, where they were effectively playing for nothing. Their game reflected that for 25 minutes of the first term, when Richmond outscored them four goals to zip. But Essendon clawed their way back in the dying stages, kicking two goals and exploiting Richmond’s lack of marking pressure. Richmond’s lead was nine points at quarter time.Though the game became more free flowing in the second term, neither team could register a big score. Both teams scored one goal and Richmond’s lead was 13 points at half-time.Richmond got going in the third term, kicking the first four goals in quick time and racing to a six-goal lead. They held this for three-quarter time.With the game over, both teams played the last quarter with little enthusiasm. Both scored four goals, but the attention had turned to who’d keep their spot for Richmond in the finals next week and the audacity of a Collingwood supporter to wander into the Richmond cheer squad. Richmond won by 39 points, but while they left the field early, Essendon stayed on to thank their supporters around the fence for sticking by them. No doubt the allegiance of 60,000 members will help the bruised and battered club rebuild over the next few years.Ellis made his mark with 35 touches for Richmond, while Edwards and Vickery all but sealed their spots in next week’s team with four goals each. Stanton had 33 touches for Essendon.Richmond 15.14.104 def Essendon 9.11.65 West Coast vs AdelaideIt’s rather fitting Adelaide and West Coast played each other in the last round; both brought so much promise into 2013, only to have very disappointing seasons. But it was West Coast that continued their abysmal form of recent times, held goalless by a clearly determined Adelaide who kicked four themselves. The quarter time margin was 25 points.Though Adelaide’s scoring slowed in the second term, West Coast didn’t catch up, and continued playing like they wanted the match to end there and then. Adelaide were 30 points up at half-time.After a scoring drought to start the second half, Adelaide really drove the boot in: they slammed on seven straight goals to push their margin out to 68 points by three-quarter time.With another four goals to one in the final term, Adelaide executed West Coast’s third thrashing in as many weeks and ninth defeat at home. Appropriately, the win will see them move above West Coast in the final league ladder.By the final siren, Adelaide had tripled West Coast’s score, not a fitting send off for Eagles premiership midfielder Andrew Embley in his 250th and final game.Priddis and Selwood both had in excess of 30 touches for West Coast, but ruckman Cox was more effective with 27 disposals and as many hit outs, while Turnbridge also ensured his first two AFL goals were worth remembering. Dangerfield put in one last bout of brilliance with 29 touches and three goals, while Thomson also had 33.Adelaide 19.15.129 def West Coast 5.13.43 Gold Coast vs GWS (Sunday, September 1)The two expansion teams faced off in the last round, and the match was a good measure of how far each had come. Gold Coast got the hot start with three quick goals, and kept this lead at quarter time after GWS got into the match.The Suns had an identical purple patch to start the second term, pushing their margin to beyond six goals. Though GWS began to win the ball out of the centre thereafter, they couldn’t recover from Gold Coasts’ early burst, and the Suns were 41-point leaders at half-time.Ablett and Prestia fired in the third term for the Suns, and by three-quarter time Gold Coast had more than double GWS’s score and a lead of 53 points.GWS’s poor season and Gold Coast’s maturation into a bona-fide AFL club was made perfectly obvious in the last term, when the Suns kicked six goals to two and executed their eighth win of the year by 83 points. Not the ideal send off for GWS (and former Essendon) coach Kevin Sheedy, but his career and legacy are formidable nonetheless.Ablett put in a last-ditch grab for three Brownlow votes with 33 touches and four goals, matched by Prestia in disposals and Boston in goals. Adams had 28 for Sydney.Gold Coast 22.14.146 def GWS 9.9.63 Collingwood vs North MelbourneThough Carlton’s win meant they had nothing to play for, North didn’t lie down for Collingwood. In fact, with eight first term goals, North reminded supporters they were the best first quarter team of the year. They led the Cloke-conscious Pies by 15 points after a free-flowing first quarter.Collingwood’s big forwards immediately put the match back on even terms to start the second, and though North responded, Cloke and Reid were relentless up forward. Collingwood were in front by three points at half-time, thanks to them and the siren beating Goldstein to a goal.The game only got more engrossing after half-time, as the game hardened up and the teams went goal for goal. A late surge by North put them four points in front at the final break.The teams traded goals as the match reached fever pitch in the final term, but a string of three goals to North gave them a margin to defend. And unlike so many matches this year, they did just that, winning by 11 points and proving why they are the best side not in the finals.Cloke and Reid finished with five each for Collingwood, while Pendlebury had another quality match with 33 touches and two goals. Ziebell’s 27 touches (and four goals) were just as good as Harvey’s 31 for North.North Melbourne 19.11.125 def Collingwood 17.12.114 Western Bulldogs vs MelbourneThough the Dogs got the fast start, Melbourne scored three unanswered goals through the middle of the first term, enough for them to hold a slim two-point margin at quarter time.As Melbourne had done to them in the last encounter, the Dogs put on a nine-goal term in the second. Young and old got on the scoring sheet for the team out west, and they had opened up a commanding 43-point lead by half-time.The Dogs inched their way to 50 points in front in a slow third term, before Melbourne rallied to score the last three goals of the quarter to cut the three-quarter time margin to five goals.Melbourne continued to show spirit in their last quarter for the year, kicking four goals to two. But again it was a case of too little too late, and the Dogs finished a promising year with a 20-point win.In his last game, Cross got 27 possessions for the Dogs, while captain Boyd got a lazy 40 and Liberatore 36. Grimes had 23 for Melbourne while Watts kicked four goals.Western Bulldogs 16.11.107 def Melbourne 13.9.87by Alexander Darling

September 2nd 2013
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