Adelaide versus Greater Western Sydney
The Crows accentuated their billing as flag favourites by smashing an insipid Giants outfit.
They were commanded by ruckman Sam Jacobs in a dominant display where he controlled the taps and was very effective in his around the ground work. Jacobs lorded over his direct rival, Giants’ ruckman Shane Mumford in what turned out to be the decisive dual in the game. This deprived the Giants of Mumford’s crucial purpose as an enforcer that is usually a source of inspiration for his fellow teammates. With his influence being tamed, the Giants stood out for how meek they were in succumbing to the cauldron-like atmosphere of Adelaide Oval.
Adelaide used similar tactics to those used by Geelong against the Giants. They caged their exit out of defence which in turn stifled their lethal defensive rebounders. This pressure caused many decisive turnovers which led to Crows’ goals as well as skewing the Giant’s entries into their forward 50. This facilitated the Crows’ skilled rebounding backmen who sliced the Giants to ribbons in transition on the spread.
Adelaide’s forward line was reminiscent of a murderers row with Eddie Betts having a field day on Heath Shaw. The veteran Giant is a brilliant defensive rebounder however is too exploitable in finals due to him playing too loose. The danger of Betts was enhanced by the unyielding work rate of the other forwards.
The Crows’ defence dominated the Giants vaunted forward line and their midfield, led by Matt Crouch, was superb.
Adelaide– It will require a powerful team to beat the Crows for this year’s flag, particularly when you consider that Rory Sloane is set to come back into their team.
Greater Western Sydney– The Giants are in trouble with opposition teams now figuring them out. They also have a few passengers on their bus when the heat is at its most intense. Next week at home should see them beat the Eagles, but it is hard to see them getting past a rampant Richmond outfit at a packed MCG, full of rabid Tigers fans, in the preliminary final.
Geelong versus Richmond
This final reminded me of the old boxing adage – work on the body to take an opponent’s mind. The Tigers hit the Cats hard and often in every contest which led to numerous turnovers due to Geelong players being pressured into skill errors by foot.
The other stand out was that Geelong was exposed as being good merely as a home and away team. This loss sealed a 3/9 win and loss record in recent finals which highlights how they come up short against quality teams when the pressure is at its most intense.
As for the Tigers, one cannot come up with enough superlatives. Dustin Martin stole all the headlines for one of the best finals games seen in the modern era. It was certainly up there with Anthony Koutafides’ performance in the 1999 preliminary final when Carlton played Essendon. Trent Cotchin and Alex Rance deserve similar acclaim.
However the victory was more about the evenness throughout Richmond’s 22. Whilst many of the Geelong team were found lacking, the Tigers had 22 red hot goers that all played their role. In defence of Geelong, their prospects were not helped by Joel Selwood obviously playing whilst unfit and Cam Guthrie being injured early in the contest.
The relentless pressure by the Tigers was intense and unyielding which exposed the many weak links in the Cats’ team and exploited them to the hilt.
An interesting aside was the Tigers forward line. It was reminiscent of when Hawthorn made Buddy Franklin a decoy forward which enabled greater scoring avenues. A similar scenario was created by Richmond with Jack Riedwoldt going from being the key forward that the Tigers live or die by to being still a dangerous entity but one that the team no longer has an unhealthy reliance on.
Their defence is also superb, commanded by the stellar Alex Rance and surrounded by a host of defenders who are also very effective in shutting down attacks.
Richmond– Through to the preliminary final and a warm favourite to make the grand final.
Geelong– Look like dead men walking, and will be eliminated by a red hot Sydney team next week.
Sydney versus Essendon
There was an air of inevitability about this game which saw a young Essendon team, who had exceeded expectations by making the finals, come up against a finals-hardened Swans outfit. Sydney has been in blitzing form throughout the second half of the season and the game stuck true to the script with the battle-hardened Swans smashing the Dons.
The key was the raft of Sydney midfielders led by Captain Josh Kennedy dominating the contested football stakes. They obliterated the Essendon midfielders in tight, in the process hitting them hard and often and overpowering their senses.
The pressure was relentless and it exposed the Dons’ inexperience. The young team was not able to stand up to the finals intensity and instead cowered in its wake.
Sydney– It is hard to see how they will stumble against a Cats team on borrowed time next week. This should set up an epic preliminary final in Adelaide against the Crows.
Essendon– The Dons will dust themselves off and challenge again from 2018 onwards. Depending on their trading period, they are a threat for top 4 next year.
Port Adelaide versus West Coast Eagles
The victim mentality galled in the wake of this game, with many attributing Port’s loss to the last second free kick to Luke Shuey- an incorrect decision which set up the match winning goal.
This focus took away from Port Adelaide’s inability to execute adequately in key moments. The stand out was their dreadful goal kicking highlighted by Charlie Dixon kicking 3.6. It was not just their inexplicable kicking for goal but also some dreadful turnovers in key moments.
The focus on Port Adelaide takes away from the very accomplished performance by the Eagles that was full of grit and defiance in the face of being written off before this game. It was a performance commanded by a trio of soon to retire veterans, Sam Mitchell, Matt Priddis and Drew Petrie.
Port Adelaide– An off season of soul searching is required in the wake of this unacceptable performance.
West Coast Eagles– Will be facing the Giants “away” in a game that few will give them a hope in. The key will be whether they can back up last night’s momentous performance.