Spring means the beginning of the AFL finals, which morphs everyone and anyone into an expert on who will make the Grand Final and who will ultimately triumph.
I am part of that throng and here are my thoughts on the eight teams that have a chance at glory this year.
The Crows have the team to win it, aided by having a home advantage through to the Grand Final if they win. They are a breathtaking attacking force. They excel at quick football that is set up by a lethally skilled rebounding defence which culminates into a murderer’s row type attack. If you allow them to get out into space, they are nigh on unbeatable.
The main question mark against them is whether they have the mindset to get it done when it matters most. This was put to the test recently in their finals-like game against the Swans where they failed to win.
Key man – Rory Sloane – A great player, but is in doubt for the first final against GWS after recently having his appendix out. If he is out, it will be a huge blow for the Crows.
Verdict– will win the first week to go directly though to the Preliminary Final but then will be taken out by Sydney.
The Cats were impressive in dispatching GWS in the final round. This result was achieved without their inspirational skipper and key play maker Joel Selwood. It alleviated concerns about their over reliance on too few of their players in big games. The depth in their 22 has been enhanced by the likes of Menegola, Guthrie, Parfitt and Buzza stepping up along with recruits such as Zack Tuohy adding to their line up.
Heading into the first week of the finals, their prospects would have been helped if they had a home final at Simonds Stadium but having the game against Richmond scheduled at the MCG could prove decisive.
Key Man: Sam Menegola- A player that always sneaks under opposition radars with his cleverness coming to the fore in key moments.
Verdict: I think the Tigers will beat them in a heart stopper in week one and then the Cats will go out in straight sets to the eventual Premiers, Sydney.
The Tigers could emulate the Bulldogs from last year by ending their 37 year premiership drought. They have a brilliant midfield commanded by Dustin Martin and Trent Cotchin. Their forward line is a very dangerous one with many scoring avenues and is also hard working from a defensive stand point. Their defence is arguably the team’s strong point with the peerless Alex Rance viewed by many as being the best player in the game. David Astbury has accentuated the might of Rance by consistently dominating in the key defensive post. The backline is completed by a whole host of no name defenders that rarely receive due praise for how effective they are.
Key Man- Shaun Grigg – The Tigers have only played one ruckman all season by using Grigg as the second ruck. It is a high risk but high reward ploy which accentuates the Tigers’ speed orientated game style but leaves them susceptible to getting smashed in the ruck and associated clearances. This is a key factor in finals and means that Grigg has to be adequate as a second ruck.
Verdict – Will beat Geelong in the first week to go directly through to the Preliminary Final. They will make the Grand Final but fall to the Sydney Swans.
Greater Western Sydney
This team should be on the verge of a dynasty with their outrageous talent and depth to match.
The worry for the Giants is that oppositions have countered them with new tactics by caging their lethal running rebounders out of defence. The young team has struggled with this in the Home and Away season and it is doubtful whether they can prevail against it in the cauldron of finals.
If they can counter this, they still have the team to win it all. The key will be beating Adelaide in the first week which would set up a home final.
Key Man– Shane Mumford- The big ruck is, in a sense, this team’s godfather. He could pick up the team and carry them on his back if he dominates.
Verdict– Will make the Preliminary Final through the long way around but their dream will end here.
The Sydney Swans
After starting 2017 7-nil, the Swans ended the season firing on all cylinders. They have been there and done that and will have a real fire in their belly to salute once more after coming up short in recent years. Their midfield is full of multi faceted types that can cut you with their attacking instincts as well as suffocate with their defensive acumen. Their defence is very solid and disciplined and well supported by their hard working midfielders. In attack, they used to have an unhealthy reliance on Buddy Franklin in previous seasons. This has, however, been alleviated with the likes of Sam Reid and Tom Papley becoming trusted avenues along with the likes of Isaac Heeney and Gary Rohan who are dangerous when floating forward.
Key Man- Gary Rohan– The only concern is their weakness against teams with real pace. They lack outside runners which will place a great deal of pressure on Gary Rohan.
Verdict– Will win the flag from 5th.
The Power are hard to get a grasp on. They have a team on paper that should be a match for anyone, only to be found out when they come up against other rivals in big games.
Despite this, they still have match winners on every line to give hopes of a run deep into September. With All Australian ruckman Patrick Ryder and many other proven performers such as Boak, Gray and Wingard, they are a dangerous sleeper that could take the finals by storm.
Key Man- Charlie Dixon– When the big forward performs, it takes the Power to another level.
Verdict– Will dispense with the Eagles in week one, but their dreams will end in the next round.
Essendon has become this year’s feel good story by making the finals after being penalised last year due to drug suspensions. They are a young team on the rise that are sure to challenge in the next few years.
Verdict: Every fairytale has a big bad meanie in it. The Dons will discover this at the hands of a red hot Swans team that will eliminate them.
West Coast Eagles
In truth, the Eagles were lucky to make the finals.
If Nic Natanui was fit and able, I would list them as a dangerous sleeper team. But, without their difference maker, they lack an X-factor needed in finals. This could be provided by players like Darling or Gaff starring in the midfield.
Also forward, they have an unhealthy reliance on Josh Kennedy for their goals. To have a chance in the finals, they need to find some other avenues to goal.
Verdict -Their luck will run out against Port Adelaide.
Sydney versus Richmond Grand Final with the Swans winning by 4 goals and Isaac Heeney winning the Norm Smith Medal.