The finals have so far thrown up some very unexpected and perhaps disappointing results. After one of the most even home-and-away seasons of all time, predictably, the law of averages determined the equilibrium needed to be re-established and so it became that only a single final so far can be considered a ‘close’ game.
Now with only the four best teams over the home-and-away season remaining in the competition, perhaps this week will finally be the week where fans are treated to footy befitting of September and redeem the finals from the anti-spectacle it has been until now.
And all four teams would want it to be close.
Recent history suggests a closely fought preliminary final victory puts a team firmly in the box seat for premiership glory while a comfortable preliminary final win tends to be a major disadvantage.
Whether this trend is physical, psychological or pure coincidence is unclear, but football players, being the bastions of superstition they are, will want every advantage they can get heading into the biggest game of their careers.
And if it means both games finish as absolute classics, I doubt there will be too many footy fans complaining.
Under the spotlight too, will be the pre-finals bye. In what was originally an effort to stop teams resting player en masse in the final round has become a topic of fierce contention among coaches, players, administrators and fans alike.
Wins for Geelong and GWS would only strengthen calls for the knee-jerk change to join the sub rule in the “bad ideas from AFL House” bin. But with the bye supported by several heavyweights including CEO Gillon McLachlan, that is as likely to happen as North Melbourne landing a rival player on a multi-million dollar contract.
Interestingly, the Giants and Cats, both teams which won their qualifying finals last year and went on to lose the preliminary final, have reached the same stage this year but have taken the long route.
Cynics may say this is by design, but only a fool would seriously consider tanking a match and playing an additional sudden death game to gain a minute advantage from an equally minute sample size which can be better explained as an anomaly (i.e. no explanation at all).
Adelaide vs Geelong
Friday, Adelaide Oval, 7.50pm AEST
Friday night will see the Cats head to Adelaide to take on the Crows. The match will pit the two teams with poor recent preliminary final records against each other. Geelong has lost three of its last four preliminary finals while Adelaide has lost its last five.
The teams have met twice this season and have a victory each with three-goal margins in both games.
For better or worse, the spotlight will be on Dangerfield. Adelaide players have insisted the game will be about the club making it to their first grand final since 1998, but have admitted the thought of making the grand final at Dangerfield’s expense will be used as extra motivation.
Adelaide have been the form side of the competition and have never really moved out of premiership favouritism this year, despite a number of lean weeks throughout the year.
They entered the finals series off two straight defeats but responded emphatically against the Giants to earn their preliminary final spot.
Geelong entered the finals with three straight wins but came up against a fired-up Richmond side and Tiger army in full voice in the first week of finals.
Despite earning a home final, the Cats could never really get their game going and only stayed in the game for as long as they did because Richmond could not capitalise on their domination.
But they fought back last week, impressing in their dismantling of raging favourites Sydney. It was the type of momentum-generating win which can catapult any team into form and they will be hoping to end their six-year grand final drought with another positive performance on Friday night.
The game played will be at Adelaide’s home ground which should edge the game slightly in the Crows’ favour, but Geelong’s record at the ground is not terrible. It will be a warm night in the South Australian capital, with temperatures predicted to top 27-degrees during the day before dropping to around 21-degrees for the match.
Tip: Adelaide by 7 points.
Richmond vs GWS
Saturday, MCG, 4.45pm AEST
A sea of yellow and black in a sold out MCG will greet GWS players on Saturday evening as the Giants gun for their first grand final in their history. Likewise, the Tigers are on the cusp of their first grand final since 1982, well before their opponents were even a thought on the whiteboard at AFL House.
Once again, the Giants will have to take on the sentimental favourites of the four preliminary finalists.
The Giants’ form has been erratic in recent weeks. They had a good run of four wins from Rounds 19 to 22 before a lackadaisical showing against the Cats in Round 23. That loss ultimately condemned them to a trip to Adelaide to open the finals series where they were soundly beaten.
But they easily accounted for the Eagles at home in a game they were always expected to win last week. Because of this, their form has been difficult to gauge. Whether they have learnt from their mistakes of 12 months ago remains to be seen.
Richmond, on the other hand, have come into this finals series brimming with confidence straight off two wins to close the home-and-away season with a combined margin of 145 points.
Their Round 21 loss to Geelong was the only blip on their record since Round 17, and they avenged it with a rousing victory in the qualifying final. The Tiger hype train is well and truly on track.
The two sides have met twice this year with a victory apiece. The Giants won the first clash between the sides in round nine, a game famous for Shai Bolton’s late sealer to be chalked off, before the Giants went coast-to-coast and Jeremy Cameron kicked the winning goal to break Tiger hearts for the third week in a row.
The Round 18 clash was an old-fashioned scrap in terrible conditions. The gritty Tigers emerged victorious with the help of superstar duo Dustin Martin and Trent Cotchin. There was to be no repeat of the heartbreak with Richmond eventually running out 19-point winners.
Like the Adelaide-Geelong game, home ground advantage should give Richmond the edge. The Giants have only played at the MCG once this year, and with miserable conditions predicted to be identical to their Round 18 clash, Richmond will be very confident of securing their first grand final berth since Malcolm Fraser was Prime Minister.
Maybe prime ministers named Malcolm are the Tigers’ good luck charm.
Richmond by 16 points.
Arguably only home-ground advantage tip the scales in Adelaide and Richmond’s favour this weekend, but we said as much last year too.
All four teams know that their best footy is capable of beating their opponent, and capable enough to claim the premiership next week. Whether they can piece together a performance worthy of grand final action is their challenge.
The big dance is just a week away, and it’s better to go out swinging than to spend another summer mulling over the “what ifs”.