A Happy Grand Finale to All,
And we can all take a breath now that “The Days of our Travis” saga is completed.
In the beginning the Hawks opened up as favourites for the flag – went through a bit of a trough in form mid-season and for a while Top 4 was in jeopardy – which may have been the case except that the Bombers disintegrated in such spectacular fashion that the ladder saw more change than normal in the back half of the season. Although as results went for the Hawks the Bomber disintegration was probably of little relevance.
Meanwhile the Swans have continued to build and maintain their team, culture and ethics. Many, myself included, have been foretelling of their descent down the pecking order (had them 7-8 at the season start). But their systems and culture have been so great they only have four players from the 2005 premiership team remaining, however they all still play with the same intensity and team ethos that was established under Paul Roos.
The winner on Saturday will have the coach and the 22 players receive medals for their achievement on the day. The question I have is should those medals alone recognise the achievements of the winning club throughout the year? I have heard arguments that say other players in the squad should also receive medals – but to hear those with the experience indicate that it would be hollow for a non-participant to receive a premiership medallion. I would tend to agree with that sentiment.
However the game has changed so much that there are many more contributors to getting the ultimate prize. The role of the bit players at each club help them get to the final destination. Tom Murphy might not play this week, but should Hawthorn solute he has played a big part in their success. “Neon” Leon did not play in the winning Grand Final team, but was a major factor in the Pies success through 2010. What about the poor sod at Hawthorn who has to play in the “skins” team on Buddy in the pre-season, probably doesn’t get a game all year but is part of the squad. I am sure each club recognises the contributions of all along with their huge support staff. There is room for an AFL Premiership award to entire player (and coaching?) squad for the winning club. This should be an extra from the medallion which is rightfully for the team on the ground, they all have a unique and special bond to last a lifetime. As with all of these things where do we draw the line – we read this week that Hawthorn even has a radiologist on the bench. (Bound to be a topic for next year!)
The squad has been particularly important at Hawthorn this year. They have started favourite in each year since their 2008 victory, however have had their campaign marred by injury every year. They have generally been healthier this season, but have certainly also copped their share of injuries with notable absences of Franklin (5 matches) and Hodge (14 matches). They have improved the depth of their squad to be able to cover these and will head into the Big One at full strength apart from the unfortunate Brendan Whitecross and Brent Guerra. Meanwhile Sydney have once again been remarkable healthy for the entire season save for some disruptions late in the season to Sam Reid and Jude Bolton, but are missing Gary Rohan and Ben McGlynn from their best 22.
Last week we saw the stats rule again and this pontificator go 100%. The Pies tried hard but it was a tough campaign and the Swans got on top early and were not going to let go. Meanwhile in a game that was supposed to be a picnic, it almost finished up at Hanging Rock for the Hawks. A gallant effort by the Crows; they exposed the Hawk kicking, separated Gibson and had them on the chase for all but 10 minutes of the game. And then Hawthorn played the Joker – with Cyril Rioli making the difference.
Now to this week!
Mayblooms ($1.56) vs Blood-Stained Angels ($2.76)
The Hawthorn formula was successfully executed by Sydney early in the year in Launceston in particular with the loss of Gibson early in the game. Their first quarter in Sydney in Round 22 shows they are more than capable of doing it again and Hawthorn looked pretty shaky last week. But as shaky as they looked they did dominate possession, however were very wasteful whereas the Crows were very efficient. If they play in that manner again Sydney will win.
However they will have the General back from illness, for a team with so much “personality” Luke Hodge’s influence on the team and their game is significant. Who the Swans will have to look after Hodge will be interesting, I would suggest they would not be calling Matty Stokes for advice! Possibly St Jude? Meanwhile there is “The Big Show” to look after, Buddy and Cyril are the match winners for the Hawks that need to be contained. Suspect Smith will take Cyril, but I reckon “Horse” may have played ducks and drakes in Round 22 and maybe LRT or Reg are destined for Franklin. This releases Ted to do what he does best and play on nobody, cutting off forays from the opposition.
At the other end the Hawks will do what they can to release Gibson. The question is how will the Swans try and exploit Schoenmakers? I do think he will get a lot more support from his cohorts this week. How the Bloods try and stretch the Hawk defence will be important but difficult especially if Hodge is sent back to control the game from there. This game could come down to who has the best 4th Banana – Morton or Breust!
But in the middle will be the most decisive battle this game, in particular should the predicted storm and pestilence hit the MCG. Both clubs are well equipped for poor conditions. Sewell, Mitchell and Lewis are made for heavy conditions and the entire Swan’s midfield brigade love the mud – with Jetta probably the exception. Hawthorn will need a better effort from their “fringe” players Smith, Suckling, et al – unHawthorn in many ways but important in linking up and stretching the opposition with their speed and long kicking. I reckon Mummy and Pyke will be better than Hale and Roughy in the ruck duels, but Roughead’s mobility and forward skills might make a big difference. Overall I reckon the Swans go deeper in the inside of the midfield, but the Hawks can return the favour with a bit more devastation when the ball gets outside.
This game is too close to call but I believe that last week’s scare will be good for the Hawks and they will eke out victory by 11 points, Sydney’s recent MCG record doesn’t help either. But with such a close game the Bloods are undoubtedly the betting value at anything better than $2.50. In the other markets for Norman and the first goalkicker. Norman has often been a consolation prize for the close up in the Brownlow, which makes Sam Mitchell the obvious choice but in looking for a bit more value the pundits who judge this award have a love affair with Rioli a fair bet at $16.50 on the Exchange. Like him too for first goalkicker, left one out with Smith inside fifty just like training at school with Mr Holding and not bad value at $15. But for one from left field, Jude Bolton has been a goalkicker this year and if he takes up defensive forward role $42 might be worth considering.
Action on the Turf
We wait till Sunday at the Heath for the Sir Rupert Clark Stakes over 1400m for the main race of the weekend. Where we see PG Moody bringing Moment of Change back from Sydney as favourite, drawn in the carpark though and no wet track form to speak of. Also liked the Queenslander Solzhenitsyn but lack of wet form steers me away, however Mr Make Believe has great credentials if it gets really wet and is worth an each way ticket. We also have Epaulette as a short priced favourite in the Guineas Prelude, if it wins it places the Sydney 3yo form well above the locals.
Friday night the Valley hosts the Grand Final Eve meeting featuring the G2 Bill Stutt Stakes for the 3yo over 1600m. The main interest here being in Gai’s outstanding colt Piero having its first go around The Valley before the planned assault on the Cox Plate in a month’s time. $1.15 is too short for a punt, but a very interesting race to watch and another with the Sydney star testing the locals.
OK so I have picked with the head and gone Hawthorn, but just don’t want to see them win,