Finals Week 3: Preliminary Finals – A Neutral Perspective

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I wanted to check my impressionistic recollection that Preliminary Final weekend often produced a combination of one close match and one blowout, or at least a comfortable victory. An examination of the 22 years since the AFL introduced the final eight with its two Prelims revealed that this situation had arisen 12 times; there had been a single instance where both Prelims had been close (6, 9 point margins) and nine cases where the margin had been not less than 24 points (and usually much greater) in both matches.

 

That prepared me for the matches in Melbourne and Sydney. Friday night produced the blowout. Sydney with a flawless opening quarter effectively ended the match as a contest, and had certainly booked their ticket to the Grand Final by half-time. In the battle between Geelong’s flair and Sydney’s organisation, there was an inevitability about the outcome. Sydney’s precision kicking and approach to goal is emphatically demonstrated by reference to the improbably lopsided inside 50 statistics, in Geelong’s favour 72 to 40. However, coupled with the straight kicking evidenced by the final score, that implies that Geelong’s forward thrusts were repelled by a well-organised defence, while Sydney’s attack method was precisely targeted and sliced the Cats defence open leading to the decisive early rush of goals.

 

The second half was played out at a slower tempo as the Swans eased up. This enabled Geelong to make a rally of sorts and reduce the deficit to 30 points on a couple of occasions, a margin which might have made an unlikely resurrection mathematically possible. The concept of mathematical possibility needs of course to be filtered through the way the match is running, for while it is theoretically possible to kick say four goals in five minutes, that can only occur if one team allows itself to be overrun. This made me recall Lou Richards’ commentaries in night matches when he wanted/needed to keep the viewers from switching off. Lou was wont to say There’s still time if they’re good enough when all but the supreme optimists had concluded that the match was settled. On Friday night, however, it was obvious to even the most myopic spectator or viewer that the way the match was going, there was no danger to the Bloods. As if to underscore this fact, each time the Cats made some headway, Sydney were easily able to score a steadier. And as they have done on other occasions this year, they were content to settle for a single goal in the final quarter, as Geelong could manage only one at the other end.

 

Sydney had numerous good players, but Mitchell, Hannebery, Kennedy, Heeney and Rohan were outstanding. For the Cats, Dangerfield played magnificently trying to lift his demoralised teammates and Selwood was a major instigator of the 3rd quarter mini-revival, but few others in the hoops enhanced their reputations.

 

This was an anti-climax when expectations were high, however the brilliant quality of the Swans’ execution compensated to a degree for the lack of the close contest which most of the football community (and certainly neutrals like me) hoped for.

 

So to Saturday night, and the epic which we were denied on Friday. Most observers have been anticipating the end of the Bulldogs’ fairytale since before they embarked on the plane journey to Perth, 8th September. Improbably the Dogs refuse to accept the rest of the football world’s assessment of them. In June I had seen them monstered by Geelong in a manner very similar to what the Swans dished out to the Cats on Friday night – a brilliant first quarter in which the Bulldogs could scarcely get hands on the football, and later in the match an emphatic Geelong response each time a challenge was mounted. The final margin that night was 57 points and it suggested that the Dogs were quite a way short of the serious contenders. Much has been written about the Bulldogs’ marvellous resilience as key players have been felled by injury, but just as this had been tested throughout the season, the degree of difficulty of the examinations has been progressively raised throughout September.

 

On Saturday night in western Sydney, they were indomitable. From other sports, boxing, horse racing, track cycling, we have learned that a champion wins when he can’t. (think Kingston Town, Rocky Marciano, Muhammad Ali, Kurt Fearnley, Kerryn McCann). Western Bulldogs joined that company on Saturday night in my view. They had earned their narrow lead for much of the night through a fierce attack on the ball and admirable collective endeavour. However, when they fell fourteen points behind early in the final quarter, it appeared that the script had been written, and that the romantics would be denied their wishes.

 

What seemed likely to happen was that the side that had endured the hardship three successive death or glory matches, the loss of a key player, and the belated ascendancy of an opposition that enjoyed the physical advantage of key marking forwards, was going to succumb. Oddly the side with the advantages – home territory, no travel, a week’s break – suffered a failure of belief, and left the mere sliver of an opening, which the opportunistic Bulldogs gleefully seized. Another goal to GWS at this point would probably have settled what had been a low-scoring encounter. Yet somehow the Bulldogs scrapped for every ball, produced more numbers to the contest and refused to yield. Added to that was the sublime skills of Johannisen and Bontempelli and an unshakeable belief in the cause, and the Dogs triumphed.

 

David Parkin once picked up a quote from (I think) Mike Clayton the golfer: I may not dazzle you with my brilliance but I’ll grind you to death with my persistence. The Doggies may not be familiar with the expression but they embody it – looking at you Dale Morris, Caleb Daniel, Tom Liberatore, et al.

 

This was a Preliminary Final to stand comparison with the best 1993 Geelong d Nth. Melb., 1999 Carlton d Essendon, 2004 Port Adelaide d St. Kilda, 2007 Geelong d Collingwood, 2012 Hawthorn d Adelaide, 2014 Hawthorn d Port Adelaide.

 

Who can say with confidence what will happen this week? Sydney the logical favourites, or the team of destiny, the sons of the West (or ‘scray, according to test).

Comments

  1. Neil Anderson says:

    Great report from a neutral and Carlton supporter Peter.
    When we saw the Carlton versus Bulldogs match last year you were magnamanious as the Coodabeens would say and kept saying the Bulldogs should still win even when Carlton got in front. I was in desperate for a win and desperate to beat Carlton mode even by a point. Not only for the Bulldog’s position on the ladder, but to atone for so many losses to Carlton over the years.
    After Saturday’s win, the desperation about what will happen next has disappeared. I am comfortable in the fact this Bulldog’s team is capable of playing against any team and winning. There are no more bogey teams to worry about.

  2. Peter Fuller says:

    i have to say Neil that I was riding with you on Saturday night, but I was expecting the Orange army to overwhelm your blokes, particularly when they pushed out to a fourteen point lead. The momentum was with them, yet as I tried to convey in the report, what I saw then was a failure of belief on the Giants’ part and a refusal to concede by the Bullies. It was a triumph of will, perhaps channelling Kerrie Soraghan’s title of the book of resistance to the 1989 merger “Too Tough to Die”. Who is to say that it won’t carry them through on Saturday. Have a great week and best of luck.

  3. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Spot on PB you got it in a nutshell amazing stat re inside 50s re swans v cats efficiency well and truly won.
    I reckon nearly every one of us thought the dogs were gone what a victory for reslienence
    ( add crows v dogs 97 prelim)

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