Surprise results have changed the face of the Australian Football League’s final series, making this weekend’s matches all the more enticing.
Four teams will be battling it out to progress one step further in the premiership race, while Hawthorn and Fremantle get a rest.
Although each of last weekend’s four victorious teams would be more than pleased with their results, Fremantle were the big winners. They may have lived up to their “Anywhere Anytime” catch-cry, but more importantly, the Dockers are in the strongest-ever position to feature in a Grand Final for the first time in the club’s 19-year history.
Meanwhile, if it is anything to base predictions on, the way that the results played out last weekend means that no outcome is certain in Week 2.
AFL Finals—Week 1
Hawthorns defeat of last year’s Grand Final winners Sydney in their First Qualifying Final was not really unexpected, but the 15 goal.15 behind (105 points) to 7.9 (51) score-line was.
With scores tied at 4.7 (31) at half time it looked like a thriller was unfolding at the MCG. But the Sydney’s second-half capitulation was disappointing (for Swan’s fans) and notably easy (for Hawk’s fans).
Hawthorn’s player depth is impressive, while Sydney were exposed in that area with too few stepping up to the standards needed to win finals on Friday night (Sept 6).
Considering that one of the Hawk’s mercurial goal-scorers Lance “Buddy” Franklin was missing due to suspension and the equally magical Cyril Rioli a late injury withdrawal, they still poured on the goals through 11 different goal scorers.
Sydney, also missing key playmakers the likes of Adam Goodes and Lewis Roberts-Thomson, appeared ineffective going forward and had no answer to Hawthorn’s attack.
Down in Geelong, the Cats hosted the Fremantle Dockers in the Second Qualifying Final on Saturday afternoon (Sept 7). Playing any match at home, where they are rarely beaten, Geelong entered the final as the overwhelming expected victors. But the underdog Dockers pulled off one of the biggest, if not the most-important, surprise wins of the year.
The final score-line 12.15 (87) to 9.18 (72) tells a tale. Both teams were inaccurate, but Geelong’s wastefulness from the first minute set the tone for their match.
In a remarkable start to the game and before the opening bounce, Geelong’s forward James Podsiadly received a free kick from Fremantle defender Zac Dawson for high contact. “J-Pod” missed the resultant easy shot at goal to score a behind.
Geelong may have been without goal kicker Tom Hawkins, who was a late injury withdrawal, but Fremantle were relentless in defence. They choked Geelong’s forward zone, then rebounded forward punishingly throughout the game to become the second team to defeat Geelong at the venue since Round 21, 2007.
If the Geelong-Fremantle result earlier in the day was the shock of the AFL Finals Series for Week-1, then Collingwood and Port Adelaide weren’t paying attention. Later that night, in the Second Elimination Final at MCG, Port won 12.15 (87) to 9.9 (63) in a massive upset.
It’s been a Cinderella rise for the Port Adelaide Power since finishing 14th out of the 18 teams in 2012 (16th of 17 in 2011). Finishing 7th after a 23 Round season this year was remarkable. Travelling to Melbourne to defeat the Collingwood Magpies (last year’s Preliminary Finalists and the 2011 Grand Final runner-up) was an astonishing feat beyond the imaginings of even the most ardent Power fan.
Port have turned around their off-field financial concerns, while on-field their fortunes have risen dramatically. Continuing to grow self-belief, just how far the young and enthusiastic Port team can go remains to be seen.
The Magpies’ confidence has taken a massive hit with many expecting them to brush aside the inexperienced aspirants. Their coach, Nathan Buckley, said after the game that they will have to have a complete review of their playing list and coaching department if they are to find improvement.
Meanwhile, Carlton overcame Richmond’s early dominance in the First Elimination Final to win 18.8 (116) to 14.12 (96) in the Sunday twilight (Sept 8) match before a record elimination final crowd of 94,690. Again, the result was expected to be a lot closer with Carlton swamping the Tigers in the last quarter.
The writing was on the wall some 10 minutes into the game when Richmond’s Reece Conca was substituted out of the game injured. Frequently, when a player is lost to injury early, the team tires quicker having less interchange rotations than their opponents.
The Tigers proved this trend, when they goaled and led by a match-high 32-points just minutes into the third quarter, only to be overrun by the Blues. The Tigers kicked three more goals in the match, while the Blues kicked 12 for a 52-point turnaround.
Take nothing away from Carlton—included in the finals series after Essendon were ruled-out from competing following sanctions resulting from their 2012 vitamin supplement program. The Blues proved that they have a genuine ability to shape the finals. Richmond on the other hand, bundled out of their first finals appearance since they last made it in 2001, cannot blame the result entirely on early injuries.
As the name suggests, the losers of the respective elimination finals (from the four teams who finished the home-and-away season fifth to eighth on the standings ladder) did not progress to Week 2.
AFL FInals—Week 2
Both winners of the respective qualifying finals (teams who finished in the top four on the ladder) will have the benefit of a week’s rest before hosting their respective Preliminary Final.
For Hawthorn this means another match at home at the Melbourne Cricket Ground—where the Grand Final will be played. Franklin will be back from suspension, Rioli from his ankle injury, and other players will have had a chance to ease niggling injuries. The Hawks look ominous.
Meanwhile—and this is where the ramifications of Fremantle’s outstanding victory truly pays off the most—the Docker’s will have that invaluable rest before a home final at Patersons Stadium in Perth, Western Australia. If Geelong had a presumed advantage hosting Freo last weekend, then Freo has an almost-equal benefit at Patersons. It is now unquestionable that they are genuine premiership contenders.
While the pair are resting however, the losers of the qualifying finals and winners of the elimination finals will continue the grind: Geelong will meet Port Adelaide in the First Semi-final at the MCG on Friday night (Sept 13); and Sydney will host Carlton in the Second Semi-final at the ANZ Stadium in Sydney on Saturday night (Sept 14).
Hawkins could be back for Geelong, which ought to straighten them up somewhat. Against the Cat’s experience and starpower, Port will have to draw on every ounce of inspiration to get over the line this weekend—they can, but doubts remain regarding the youngsters ability to maintain the intensity. The loser will be eliminated, while the winner will travel to Melbourne to meet Hawthorn in a Preliminary Final.
Goodes and Robert-Thomson are likely inclusions for the Swans and could re-ignite last year’s Premiers—based on last weekend’s loss they will need a vast improvement or they may be facing an ignominious straight-set exit. Meanwhile, rank outsiders, Carlton will be again out to prove themselves and make the most of their chances following the nature of their historic inclusion in this year’s finals. The winner will travel across the Nullarbor Plain to play Fremantle in a Preliminary Final.
Whatever the outcome, hundreds of thousands footy fans will be watching Week 2 in the 2013 AFL Finals Series in eager anticipation.