Love the finals

I love this time of year. The footy finals have started and there’s a buzz in the air and the footy steps up a notch, harder, faster, tougher. The only thing that could improve it was if my team was playing. Next year.

It’s been a big start to the finals series. On Thursday the Bulldogs travelled to Perth and gave the Eagles a spanking. If I were an Eagles supporter I’d be embarrassed. The Eagles were hot favourites playing at home and just didn’t turn up. They were never really in the game, with the Bulldogs playing with much greater intensity and purpose. The Eagles played as if they expected to win and the Bulldogs made them pay.

Very good coaching performance from Luke Beveridge, who is top shelf.

On Friday Hawthorn took on Geelong in the most anticipated contest of the finals. These two teams have a great history. The games are always tight and fierce. There has to be a dud contest some day, but the match on Friday wasn’t one of them. It was one for the ages.

I’d had a couple of drinks after work and got home with the game 10 minutes in progress. I didn’t shift from the couch for the rest of the night.

I thought it was a strange game. Hawthorn played to a level while Geelong surged and fell back. The worst players on the ground were Geelong’s – finals footy always finds out people – and the best players were spread among the two teams, without a real stand-out.

I don’t really understand how Geelong won. Or maybe I do.  Hawthorn were the better team, but didn’t execute when they were on top. Geelong hung in there, then came again. A few pivotal moments, including a kick after the siren, and Geelong had it won by 2 points.

The implications of this game are interesting. Geelong get a rest now and play in 2 weeks. Hawthorn backs up next week to take on the Bulldogs.

I think the Bulldogs match up well against Hawthorn. Their brand of hard, running football combined with competition best contested ball work can disrupt Hawthorn. Coming back from Perth though makes it tougher. Hawthorn will start slight favourites, but I wonder if they have a killer blow left in them. Their great attribute is consistency and efficiency. They’re professional and won’t have the dips in performance other teams do. They’re always in the game. They’re aided in that by their efficiency with ball in hand, being the best kicking team in the competition. You have to beat them because they won’t lose it, and winning finals is hard.

They have a small forward line, lack depth and quality in the rucks, and are getting old. They played well against Geelong, but still lost. If the Bulldogs surge, as they did against the Eagles, then it might be over for the Hawks.

Whoever wins that will have to take on the Giants in two weeks time. In an electrifying game yesterday the Giants dismantled the Swans. They’re an exciting team to watch. They run in numbers flipping the ball around, and hit the contest hard. They’re young and bold. It’s hard not to admire them, but they are a team artificially contrived thanks to the AFL”s generosity. It’s no wonder they’re so good. They’ll be good for years.

Like most people I expected the Swans to win. They were the popular flag tip. They looked slow yesterday, but I wouldn’t rule them out yet. Some of their best players had quiet games, and there was an absolutely pivotal non-umpiring decision that went against them in the 3rd quarter that may well have changed the destiny of the match. They’ll bounce back, but have to do it the hard way.

They’ll play Adelaide last week after the Crows easily disposed of North Melbourne. It was the expected result and it’s hard to draw a line through form based on that.

The Kangaroos were clearly the worst team in the 8, and had trailed off badly in the back half of the season. Then, inexplicably, they were gutted a few weeks ago when it was announced that 4 players would be forcibly retired at season’s end, including the games record holder. It was very strange timing and poorly done. It didn’t make a lot of sense either as the team was heading into the finals series, and had gone into the season on the back of a recruiting strategy that focussed on seasoned pros. The time to abandon that was after the finals, not before. It was an admission of defeat, and that’s how the team played.

I reckon Hawthorn will just get over the Bulldogs and the Swans will beat the Crows in Sydney. That will mean the Hawks take on GWS in Sydney the week after, and the Swans take on the Cats.

I think a fresh, young and emboldened GWS playing at home might be too much for Hawthorn. And I still rate the Swans better than Geelong. The Swans will bounce back. Even though they won, I thought the last 4 on the Geelong’s list were badly exposed on Friday, and even some of their old warriors – Bartel, Mackie, Taylor and Enright – showed signs of slowing down.

If I’m right that means we get a grand final of GWS playing the Swans again at the MCG – an all NSW final. There’s a bit to go until that happens, but at that point I might have my hard-earned on Sydney – I think Buddy will be on fire.


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