Happy Grand Final to all,
A week full of festivities and a few footy stories – some of them even concerning the Grand Final. The one that once again gets annual run is whether the umpires should be awarding votes for the Brownlow Medal. We hear the cry “but it’s now just a midfielders medal”, however I can’t recall any of the media awards not going to midfielders who also happen to be the best players. If not the umpires then who? Certainly not the self-promoting ex-footballer media scrum that are responsible for the All-Australian team. I deliberately don’t comment on the All-Australian team selection because I reckon it is a crock of … whatever. Players are selected and promoted by the media and popular opinion and then absolute selections made often by statistical comparisons. There is no denying I love my stats but sometimes you just have look at the player – here is a simple one Luke Hodge vs Andrew Mackie. The umpires might not have the best view of the game, but their assessments of the game are unhindered by external noise and they base their decision on what they saw. I am sure that there are some preconceptions amidst it all but nothing like the selection by panel. No need to change a great tradition and not many poor players win the Brownlow. Now about the Norm Smith……
Scalping gets a run every year too. The dirty rotten scoundrels deserve everything the law throws at them. But hang on I just found this offer for a ticket for $1495 from Etihad Stadium and endorsed by the AFL it comes with brunch and a comedian. Given the AFL web site has the maximum ticket price at $399, then brunch must have the finest caviar washed down with vintage Dom Perignon and they must be flying in Robin Williams for the comedy. The reality this is simply AFL endorsed scalping, not to mention their own “events” office running similar packages. I don’t mind the police cracking down on scalpers, but before Vlad gets too high and mighty he better clean up his own backyard! Welcome to the theatre of the Grand Final!
But before the preview of The Big Show a look at the Preliminary Finals which once again went to form, but not without the Cats serving it right up to Hawthorn who in the end simply over ran their nemesis.
Friday night festivities looked ominous and favourable for the Cats with plenty of precipitation during the day but it all cleared for match time and both combatants served up a treat in the first half. In reality the Hawks were dominant but wasteful and should have lead by 4 goals rather than 4 points at the main break. Hale was storming and showing what a dangerous forward he can be. The coaches were playing Russian Roulette with no tags for StevieJ and Sam Mitchell. StevieJ had to be restrained with Liam Shiels trying to apply the clamps late in the second quarter. A 7 goal 3rd quarter from Geelong was a reminder of not only how good the Cats can be but also how good they are to watch. But it took plenty of effort, Hawthorn made the usual ploy subbing off Bailey for another runner. Despite a brilliant early goal from Caddy, the Hawks simply overran their tired opponents who tried to slow the game down too early. Unbelievably Sam Mitchell was still running around loose creating attack after attack in the final minutes of the game.
Then for the cage match and Fremantle delivered a complete wrestling package. It’s not the most attractive style, but they work better as a unit than any team I have seen. The Swans scored early from their own relentless forward pressure, but it was only a catalyst for Freo tighten the clamps. Once Herman took control of the rucks the game was effectively over – with Freo getting first possession into the forward line the only way out for Sydney appeared to be to concede a goal! The Freo pressure and torment once again breaking down the opposition collective leaving individuals battling their own demons or more particularly Ryan Crowley. The game was broken apart in the second quarter with Freo’s massive effort opening up a 39 point lead which they stretched to a game high 43 during the third quarter. It may as well have been 100 points with the difficulty the Swans had in attack, the eventual 25 point margin flattered Sydney as Freo released the valve and looked forward to this Saturday.
Now we look forward to the last Saturday of September but many wondering just who is deserving of our support?
Best Served Cold ($1.73) vs Strangulation Nation ($2.38)
Revenge might not be quite right as they are not facing Sydney, but the Hawks are certainly looking to avenge last year’s result. They face the purple monster looking to strangle the life out of their opposition and the game itself. As stated no matter the style, Fremantle play as collective as well as any team that has gone before it. Was it the Hawks Grand Final last week? Whilst the curse was one thing to cross off the list, it was just one thing on the path to the major goal. Freo executed the coup two years ago extracting the coach from St Kilda to complete their journey. They arrive a little unexpectedly, but have played fearsome footy to win both finals to get here.
Assessing the game by lines is tricky with the Fremantle game where all 18 players converge to wherever the ball is, it is a high energy game but they were able to maintain it all day against the Cats and had a breather in junk time last week. The differentiating factor for them is the venue, the MCG is wider than both Subiaco and Geelong so will they be able to spread their defensive structures successfully? We can do whatever we like with stats, they have won only 3 of their last 15 at the G and none against Hawthorn. But the 3 were in the last 5 and included the demolition of the Demons a few weeks ago and more importantly the ambush of the Cats in last year’s Elimination final. Flying out of the gates and attacking they led by 6 goals at ¼ time and then slugged it out for the remainder of the game. Freo gaining an early ascendancy is almost impossible to retrieve. If they fall behind – they grind and grind themselves back into the game.
The Hawthorn-Freo record should also be noted almost for its non-existence, they don’t play each other often and it is usually at York Park. Suffice to say the Hawks have prevailed in the last 4 encounters by 22, 51, 56 and 42 points. But game prior to those was the last final they played against each other, Fremantle reined by 30 points at Subiaco.
Looking at the purple backline, there are question marks on the fitness of their two most creative defenders in McPharlin and Johnson. Teams taking injured players into Grand Finals don’t have great records. If they don’t play then the matchups become even more critical on Franklin, Rioli, Gunston, Breust, Hale, Roughead….last year I wrote about Mitch Morton being the all-important 4th banana. The Hawks have no shortage of bananas! Will the likes of Buddy, Cyril and Roughy be held in check as they were last week? It does not tend to happen two weeks in succession. Provided they can get enough supply the Hawks are capable of producing a winning score.
At the other end though is where the problems could be for the Hawks. Much comment about Sydney not having the forward line talent last week – it mattered not they just could not get the ball cleanly out of the Freo forward line. The relentless pressure from the likes of Ballantyne, Mayne, Walters and co make it very difficult to escape from their clutches and even more difficult to direct the ball to a teammate in the clear. The Hawk defenders will do what they are good at in spoiling and killing the aerial contest – they need to be even better on the ground to get the ball into the hands of their best distributors and decision-makers like Hodge and Mitchell. Their pinpoint passing game will be put to the ultimate test by the Fremantle Pincer Movements, but if they can find a way through there will be rich bounty on the other side. If the predicted poor weather hits during the game it will create even more difficulty.
The area where Freo have been dominant though is in clearances. Herman has not played much footy for the season is fresh and in fine form giving prime access to the likes of Mundy, Barlow, Hill and Fyfe. Hawthorn must curtail this, fortunately they have enough strong-bodied and hard-nosed midfielders that can split the contest. They will need to do it inside as Freo might have them for speed outside with Hill and Pearce. Then there is the big question mark on who Ryan Crowley will stand, it matters not who. What matters is that he is given no peace from any Hawthorn player just as Freo will support whoever Liam Shiels is assigned to. With so much at stake and these teams and coaches having a ruthless streak, this clash has the propensity to for a fair amount of nastiness. It would come as no surprise if a couple of players are targeted early in the game. The first 10 minutes could be brutal. However in the scheme of things what will be critical is that Hawthorn can negate the influence of Herman and provide enough breaks from the middle. Cyril might not have the engine, but he is the Hawks cleanest and most creative in there I suspect his load might be a bit higher this Saturday.
With their structure, discipline and personnel there is plenty of evidence to select Fremantle. This is clearly the best team Get Stuffed Lyon has taken into a Grand Final (sorry Clang) and the satchel swingers have been attacked during the week winding them in from $2.50. I wrote at the beginning of the year that Freo had to lose one to win one, I may be proven wrong late on Saturday afternoon. But for me Hawthorn have had one day in mind now since late on September 29, 2012 and they have the strength of mind and body to withstand whatever Freo present. Doubt also that Buddy and Roughy will be held to one goal. After a dour first half I am predicting the Hawks to open it up and win by 34 points, with Buddy playing his final game in the Brown and Gold but departing with Norman around his neck. That is all after Michael Walters scores the opening goal of the game.
The odds are probably about right in my opinion, which makes this a no bet game as their no real value in either side. But if any of those satchel swingers popped up the $2.50 again it might raise some interest.
The Penultimate Losers
Geelong – Had everything in their favour this year – favourable draw, plenty of games at Kardinia Park and a playing list the envy of most clubs. During the season their efforts against the A-graders was outstanding – but there was always that question about well they were really going. Hard to be critical when they were less than a kick away from the Grand Final – but their two losing finals exposed a couple of glaring weaknesses. Firstly, their rucks are not big enough – which could be resolved if Macintosh and Simpson get on the park in 2014. The second is lack of leg speed in defence, Guthrie was great in the finals but his allies back there were exposed. In 2014 they will hope to have fit ruckmen, a fit Tomahawk, more talent from below and of course 8 games at home – that will be balanced by either the loss or aging of some of their champions. How they manage that challenge will be key to their year.
Sydney – The champs suffered from injuries for much of the year, it was a testament to their culture and quality that they were able to have such a successful season. But it was also testament to a pretty soft draw and whilst there were many meritorious wins they could not defeat any of the other top four sides during the year. Whilst the loss of Goodes took flair out of their game, the loss of LRT was the one that was irreplaceable – a player with size and competitiveness that can be used at both ends of the ground. I thought he was worth the risk against Freo. They look forward to 2014 with a similar view to Geelong with a number of aging champs that will require management out of the line-up progressively, on the other hand they also have plenty of young talent coming through.
I expect both teams to be very competitive again in 2014 without a major drop off – it will be up to the also rans to usurp them from their well-deserved A-Grade status.
Friday Night Lights.
The clamour of the Grand Final has the racing fraternity gasping for air at any other time. They have found Friday Night at the Valley and highlight the program with the Moir Stakes (G1, 1200m, WFA), it offers up an interesting field but not one that will get too many though the gate. I suspect the club is banking on a swarm of purple looking for something to keep them occupied on the eve of the Granny. The 5 from 7 record of Samaready has appeal, however most of her racing has been against her own age and sex this is a big step up. A win would not surprise but my top selection will be PGM’s Moment of Change. Will be fitter after his first up run where a lightweight 3yo scooted away with the money and he has never been out of the placings 2nd up. Epaullette has a similar first up record and must be considered as should Bel Sprinter who is flawless 1st Up. A few other chances including Buffering and one having a fair throw at the stumps is the Adelaide trained Conservatorium who has been very consistent of late.
Selections Moonee Valley Race 8 – 4-3-2-10
In the gasp for air we have another big day at Caulfield on Sunday with the Rupert Clarkes Stakes (G1, 1400m, HCP), this used to be the feature race paired with the Underwood Stakes till the government stole Show Day from us! A race of considerable intrigue with the lightweight unknowns up against the tried and tested tough handicappers. We are still a few days out so there is plenty more to consider, but at this stage I favour Solzhenitsyn. If the weather turns to be similar to that day in the life of Ivan Denisovich then Temple of Boom has a terrific chance. Rebel Dane would be a clear selection, however the wide alley will require assessment of the days racing pattern before any declaration. Speediness is in career best form and must be a chance and whilst Strawberry Boy will be the shorty of the lightweights, Dany the Fox is very consistent and does not lump only 52kgs around very often.
Very Early Selections Caulfield Race 8 – 3-8-9-16
A Friday Quaddie
Kicks off with the despised 955m scamper so we will go wide there, followed by the G2 Stutt Stakes for the 3yo also tough. The third leg is the JRA Cup where a few of the B graders try and get themselves qualified for higher honours and closing with the Moir.
Leg 1 – 2,3,4,5,9
Leg 2 – 2,3,4,6
Leg 3 – 1,2,9,10
Leg 4 – 2,3,4
A pretty wide selection and as shown last week if you don’t wide enough early it can be a pretty short run! A $30 investment covering 240 combinations will provide a return of 12.5% of the declared dividend.
Have a great Grand Final weekend everyone, still unsure who to support. Don’t want Get Stuffed Lyon style footy to have success, but at least we won’t see their supporters for six months!
I’ll just hope the Hammers can get better, get back on the park Andy Carroll!