Bounce of the ball

AFL Grand Final day tomorrow. Hawthorn take on Fremantle in potentially one of the more intriguing grand finals of recent years.

Both teams had good wins last week. Hawthorn came from behind to defeat their arch-nemesis Geelong. It was an impressive win against a good team, particularly as a number of their prime movers were down on the night. In fact they should have won sooner than they did and with more comfort. They were clearly the better team for 80% of the match, but the fact that they couldn’t close it out until the last 5 minutes highlights a potential weakness.

Freo were even more impressive against the reigning premiers Sydney. This was a virtual no-contest, though the final scoreline doesn’t reflect that. The first half of football by the Dockers was as frenetic and desperate as I’ve ever seen. More than I’ve ever seen. THey closed down any space for the Swans players, hounding them with tackle after tackle and holding their discipline to shut down easy targets. It was the sort of performance that convinced everyone watching that if they can replicate that effort for four quarters against Hawthorn then they’ll be AFL premiers. It’s a big if, however.

I’ve too-ed and fro-ed on my tip in this game. I’d rather the Dockers win. I’ve no great love for the Hawks, though I respect them. The Dockers would be a good story, the underdog come good. They’re the popular favourite with most non-aligned punters. I had great admiration for the discipline and commitment of the team, which obciously extends to the coach, Ross Lyon.

In fact it’s an interesting coaching battle between two of the best coaches in the competition, Lyon and Clarkson. Both are very confident, intelligent, ruthless coaches. They play differing styles – which is one of the appeals of the game tomorrow – one the highest scoring team in the comp against the best defensive unit. Attacking flair against fierce counter-attack.

The other factor in tomorrow’s game is the weather, which looks like being wet. That favours Freo, despite them being from the west, because it blunts one of Hawthorn’s greatest assets, their skill by foot. The ball will be on the ground more, where Freo are so good with their disciplines and bigger bodies.

In the end I’m tipping Hawthorn by about a goal, but there are a lot of ifs, buts and maybes.

If the game plays out like I think it will I reckon that the Dockers will hold sway through the middle of the game. I’m counting on Hawthorn coming over the top ultimately on the back of several factors. I’m guessing that Freo cannot sustain the pressure they imparted the last week for a full game. It takes a lot of effort, mental as well as physical, to close out a team as they do. If they let up for a little while then I think Hawthorn will pounce, and that’s likely towards the end of the game as the players tire. I’m also thinking that as the weather clears late in the game, as forecast, it will advantage Hawthorn. Finally I think it likely one of their big name players will play a big game or a match-winning quarter.

I make that tip without much confidence. It might rain all day or not at all. And if Hawthorn have as many players down tomorrow as they did last week Freo will win – and Hawthorn, for all their supremacy, can be fragile. Finally I could be wrong. You should never underestimate a Ross Lyon coached team, and the players he has are extra tough. If they exert they same extreme pressure as they did last for the full four quarters then we’ll either have a classic contest, or a runaway win to Freo.

There are key players on either side. Mitchell is the critical cog in the Hawthorn machine. He gets hold of the ball plenty and usually does something with it. I doubt Hawthorn can win without him firing. I think Roughead needs a big game too, but he’s not a noted finals specialist. Burgoyne has been great, and is such a clean user of the ball that if he gets away Hawthorn will look good. And of course Hodge.

For Freo Sandilands has been instrumental the last few weeks. If he gets on top, which is likely, then it will go a long way towards a Freo victory. Fyfe and Barlow are key players to – I think one of those might be Norm Smith medallist. Big bodied, hard at it, versatile. Up forward there’s the big Pav. If he has a big game then Freo have it won. Down back though the Freo defence needs to keep the big name Hawk forwards quiet. Then, on either side, there are the wildcards – Rioli versus Walters particularly, and Ballantyne.

Games like this can turn on a moment. It’s one of the things that make them so exciting. The unpredictable moment tomorrow may yet determine the winner. I’m saying Hawthorn, but I have a feeling it will be Freo. How’s that for having a bob each way?

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