Finals Week 1 Review
What a week of finals football.
Our preview landed three out of the four matches, missing Brisbane withstanding a Richmond onslaught (and an unenviable recent record against the Tigers) and stamping themselves as a legitimate flag contender.
What we might have underestimated is how the product completely changes with a parochial crowd in attendance. 2020 has forced us to get used to a little less atmosphere, so when we were smacked in the face with Never Tear Us Apart to start the finals series it really hit home. Footy is infinitely better with a full (or semi full, like last weekend) stadium.
The two Saturday matches highlighted how well everyone can get caught up in the popular narrative. Collingwood were apparently "making up the numbers" and the Bulldogs were the team from outside the top four most likely to pinch the flag. The flood of post-match experts coming out of the woodwork AFTER the Eagles and Dogs were sent packing was incredible.
In finals football, sometimes it's a single weakness that is exposed. Or a small turning point that changes everything - Geelong's set shot misses, Richmond's lack of discipline (and the umpires being swept up in the aggression a little), the Bulldogs having no alternative to Tim English, and the Eagles' with a depleted midfield and underdone stars.
As is usually the case, the overreaction to the losing teams who front up again this week has been pretty extreme. Geelong lost a classic coin-flip of a game that could easily have gone the other way. Richmond had their fair share of dominant periods but just couldn't hit the scoreboard like they are used to.
Both of them should be rightful favourites in their matchups this weekend.
Onto the review! Plenty to check out from four brilliant finals...
Port Adelaide v Geelong
We expected something pretty intense, and we got it.
A fair few interesting points to note from this one:
Expected score was 57-52 in favour of Geelong. Tom Hawkins contributed 0.5 and a complete miss from his six shots at goal. Did the season's best goalkicker (at least in terms of volume) allow a couple of low percentage shots to play on his mind?
Some of the criticism of Hawkins is a little unfair, though. The players responsible for their five goals? Stanley (2), Dangerfield, Selwood, Tuohy. Geelong's top 10 goalkickers this season all played on Thursday night, but the likes of Rohan & Miers were basically unsighted. Pretty hard to win a final if your key forward has the yips and the rest of your forwards need a search party.
The game itself was an arm wrestle through the middle of the ground - a lot of midfield stoppages, and a lot of change in possession through the midfield. Ultimately, Port Adelaide just made the most of their chances - 4 goals from turnovers between the arcs. Geelong? 0.6.
In the preview, the clincher in our prediction was the midfield battle. Port managed +8 from stoppages, 3.1 from 9 centre bounce clearances, and laid 17 more tackles between the arcs. Enough to get the job done and finally prove a lot of the doubters wrong
So where to for Geelong? They don't have to change a lot, but might have some selection issues both in their control (what do they do with those small forwards?) and outside of it (how can Selwood possibly play after finger surgery?). The Week 2 preview will be fascinating to see whether the Pies are a good matchup or a terrible one, given their strengths and weaknesses...
Brisbane v Richmond
A little bit to unpack in this one. You can't underestimate what that win does for Brisbane (who went out in straight sets last season, remember) and their confidence. Not only for this season, but for the following seasons in their wide open premiership window.
We had become used to Dylan Grimes just taking care of Charlie Cameron (he held him to a single goal in each of their past two matches, including the 2019 final). Most of the footy shows broke down a couple of errors by Grimes in failing to impact the contest which lead to Charlie Cameron scoring. Great for Brisbane.
The Grimes lockdown role is a classic coaching dilemma - his two season-low disposal counts have been against Brisbane while he tries to take care of Charlie Cameron. In Round 10 it "worked" (Cameron still had four scoring shots, but only 1 goal), and in this game you'd probably say it didn't. So when that sort of role is even a little unsuccessful, you also miss out on Grimes' intercept marking and good decision making.
Speaking of intercept marks, the Lions managed to take away one of Richmond's strength. To hold the Tigers to zero intercept marks in their defensive 50 (Brisbane's forward line) is enormous. Richmond's three highest intercept mark players for the season were held to 1 intercept mark between them.
Clearly the return of Tom Lynch will make a hell of a lot of a difference to Richmond's ability to score. Mabior Chol had performed well as the third tall, but was below his best when having to shoulder a bit more of a load in a full-on qualifying final.
We've said plenty of times before how the Gabba is a centre bounce ground, so territory from the middle is critical. Interesting to see the Lions lost the clearances 7-14 yet kicked 3.1 to 1.1 for the match. Plenty of digging for the two midfield coaching groups off the back of those figures!
Can't wait to dig into this week's matchup for Richmond. Gut feel is they will bounce back with a vengeance.
St Kilda v Western Bulldogs
The preview took the Saints side, basically off the back of the Ryder/Marshall combination and their marking power up forward. And that's exactly what happened.
It was fascinating to read everyone talking about the lack of Bulldogs' talls AFTER the game - why did so few point to that being a real issue against a very evenly-matched opponent who possessed perhaps the best ruck/forward 1-2 punch in the game?
So the Saints managed 6.3 from marks/set shots for the game. King and Ryder with 2 each, Geary (who was brilliant) and Membrey with one each. They had the weapons to beat the Bulldogs, and they did the job.
Up the other end, the Dogs had Naughton off the back of a broken cheekbone (3 contested marks in the final quarter once they threw caution to the wind in search of a miracle comeback) and Josh Bruce. Unless you play a team with severe defensive frailties - the Saints aren't perfect but at least they have enough discipline and talent to defend properly - then winning a final will be tough with that sort of forward setup. Huge watch on the Bulldogs' trade/free agency period
The best sign for St Kilda, and the worrying sign for the Bulldogs, was the Saints kicking 5.2 from defensive 50 turnovers. It's unusual for those sorts of figures in a final when defence is at a premium.
St Kilda absorbed 60% of the match being played in their back half but used it to their advantage. 9 intercept marks in their defensive 50 is right up there with some of the highest tallies for the season by any side - to do that in a final and ease the pressure immediately, but then also use it as an offensive weapon once you do is a real positive. Or does it just show how far off the Dogs were?
The numbers also show what happens when you "park the bus" and try to defend a lead in AFL football. The Demons have failed in similar fashion plenty of times before (among other sides), and the Saints nearly shot themselves in the foot by doing the same. The -16 Inside 50 count for the game was bloated because of the whopping 13 more inside 50s the Dogs enjoyed in the final term when they were kicking into what seemed like 18 Saints players. 80% of the quarter was played in the Dogs forward half. HUGE.
West Coast v Collingwood
Pretty happy to be one of the few who gave Collingwood a real chance in this one. Too many "experts" commented on West Coast's average lead-up form only after they had been beaten.
We had been waiting so long for Collingwood to unlock a bit of speed and flair to give themselves the best chance of posting a winning total - the Eagles weren't smashing the scoreboard themselves, so a couple of extra goals thanks to some creativity can make a huge difference. And it did.
Not often you score 5 goals from centre bounces and lose a final! But the Eagles managed it. They did an amazing job at exploiting their advantage in there (we are still convinced Grundy is injured), in what should have been the difference between winning and losing. The Pies hung in there by kicking 2.1 themselves at least, which was critical to at least go some way towards evening it up.
A great one for expected score, here. 77-63 in favour of the Eagles. Without knowing for sure, it's probably a combination of West Coast kicking 8.5 from set shots (the misses all came from 40+ aside from a single tricky one on the boundary) and the two freak final quarter goals from Mihocek and De Goey.
The rest of the figures are pretty unremarkable - the Pies just found a way. It was a huge effort given the quarantine conditions, the absolutely bananas crowd who were 100% against them, and the threat of Nic Naitanui just tearing the whole game apart. In the end, the Eagles were probably a bit stiff, but it's definitely a win for the argument that a fast start is critical interstate. Particularly in a final.
Are the Pies ripe for a flat one this weekend, now? Looking forward to the preview to see how the two teams match up
Finals Week 1 Burning Question:
Which game will end up as the best of the weekend?
Gee, it was close! We picked the Saints v Bulldogs but that was arguably the worst of them.
Eagles v Pies was probably the winner, here. Honourable mention to Port v Geelong and Brisbane v Richmond, but the excitement of the Pies' fast start and the absolutely intense finish gives them the nod
Who Won The Week?
Has to be Brisbane. While we didn't dive into the 0-16 record as a big enough issue as others, the fact they performed against the flag favourites, didn't take a backward step and played like a team who really belonged is a massive tick.
A preliminary final loss (theoretically against Geelong) would be seen as a failure of a season, but the win against Richmond should give them the platform to compete as genuine flag contenders this year and more to come
Our finals Week 2 preview will land on Friday. Hopefully we can continue to find the winners and the right narrative for how the games are likely to play out...
Check back Friday for everything!