On a dramatic last day of the home-and-away season, there was elation at Collingwood and the Western Bulldogs and despair at Carlton. Here’s how it went down, and how the first round of finals will look.
Brisbane Lions v Melbourne, Gabba
When it most mattered, Melbourne produced one of their most powerful performances of the season, destroying Brisbane within a half of football, locking in their top-four spot and reminding the competition that they’re still going to take a lot of beating in September. Question marks persist about their forward line, but Kysaiah Pickett is having a purple patch, and Ben Brown looked as good as he has all year. For the Lions, this was a disaster. They now face an elimination final, probably without the suspended Cam Rayner and Noah Answerth (pending any appeals). Their captain Dayne Zorko also completely lost the plot. At 34 and out of contract, it’s a title he should relinquish if he plays on in 2023.
A personal Dayne Zorko sledge reduced Harrison Petty to tears.Credit:Getty Images
North Melbourne v Gold Coast, Marvel Stadium
Gold Coast have steadied, gaining traction as a club, and belief. They may lose Izak Rankine to Adelaide but the place is so much better equipped to handle his departure with a core of emerging stars. Next year remains the challenge because they must make finals in 2023, having reached 10 wins for the second time in their history. For the Kangaroos, it’s all about Alastair Clarkson as he takes them back to ground zero to rebuild. He has some talent at his disposal but the club deserves draft assistance to once again be competitive. The excitement is warranted as they will build from the ground up in the manner most likely to lead to success.
AFL Finals week 1
Thursday, September 1, Second Elimination Final, Brisbane Lions vs. Richmond at The Gabba, 7.20pm
Friday, September 2, Second Qualifying Final, Melbourne vs. Sydney Swans at the MCG, 7.50pm
Saturday, September 3, First Qualifying Final, Geelong vs. Collingwood at the MCG, 4.35pm; First Elimination Final, Fremantle vs. Western Bulldogs at Optus Stadium, 8.10pm
All times: AEST
Geelong v West Coast, GMHBA Stadium
Having already secured the minor premiership, the Cats predictably belted the lowly Eagles in Patrick Dangerfield‘s 300th game for their 13th straight win. Cameron Guthrie sent a scare through the Cats’ camp when he hurt his shoulder but coach Chris Scott said the hard-running midfielder only went off as a precaution. But Cats defender Jake Kolodjashnij will be in doubt to play in Geelong’s first final after entering the 12-day concussion protocols. “I don’t think we could have given ourselves a much better chance [at the premiership] with the cards that we’ve been dealt,” Scott said. “We’re just really excited to be in this position where we can have a crack at it.” For the Eagles, a club-worst season comes to an end after going 2-20 to finish 17th on the ladder, only ahead of North Melbourne on percentage. West Coast’s only wooden spoon came in 2010 when they went 4-18 and the AFL had 16 teams. “We’ll lick our wounds, it’s been a tough year but we’ve been playing better footy since the bye and today we just got overwhelmed,” coach Adam Simpson said.
Essendon v Richmond, MCG
The TIgers are sweating on Tom Lynch’s fitness.Credit:Getty Images
Forget the Bombers for a minute; the Tigers are back in the finals, having missed the party last year. No one wants to meet the Tigers in September, for they can launch a premiership surge from seventh. Tom Lynch is a wildcard – and he reinforced that on Saturday night. Goalless in the first half, he booted five after the main break before leaving with a sore adductor. He will be a close watch over the next fortnight.Jack Riewoldt is still a threat, while the emerging Noah Cumberland could be an X-factor. Dion Prestia has become the heartbeat of this side, and three-time premiership skipper Trent Cotchin has found greater run in recent weeks. If Dustin Martin returns from injury, and has an impact, the Tigers are primed to challenge the flag-favourite Demons and Cats. Back to the Bombers. Ruckman Sam Draper had a big night and has continued to develop this season. That Darcy Parish started on the bench, and remained there for 13 minutes, was a statement, for he has averaged more than 30 touches per game this season. Does Dyson Heppell stay? Where does Dylan Shiel fit into the bigger picture? Settling on a senior coach would be a handy start.
Adelaide v Port Adelaide, Adelaide Oval
It’s been an unsatisfying season for Ken Hinkley’s Port Adelaide but at least they sent off great Robbie Gray in style. Gray kicked two goals and had a hand in four others as the Power trounced their arch rivals. Port’s midfield was dominant but after being beaten preliminary finalists in the past two seasons, they finish 11th on the ladder. The Crows missed the finals for the fifth consecutive year.
GWS v Fremantle, Manuka Oval
Fremantle took care of business against GWS but it didn’t come easily in Canberra, trailing by 31 as the Giants dominated early with the Dockers showing minimal hunger. To much relief for fans, however, Freo had the final say, the last three goals of the day capped by 200-gamer Michael Walters snapping his third major to put the match to bed. The Dockers will face the Western Bulldogs in an elimination final. The match ended Mark McVeigh’s tenure as GWS interim coach with a 4-9 record, although the side’s increased performance level in the back-half of the season has made him a genuine candidate for the permanent position. The Giants end their campaign with a 6-16 record, and face an off-season full of movement as they seek to appoint a new coach and deal with a number of players who are rumoured to want out of the club.
Hawthorn v Western Bulldogs, UTAS Stadium
Marcus Bontempelli gets a kick away.Credit:Getty Images
The Western Bulldogs will need to summon something even more magical than the miracle of 2016 and spirit of 2021 if they are to make any significant finals inroads this September. They have looked further off the pace this season and it is difficult to envisage lightning striking a third time. But they do have a pulse, just. The Bulldogs easily had the Hawks’ measure in the territory battle and at the contest throughout Sunday’s clash but couldn’t capitalise thanks to wayward goalkicking and woeful inefficiency, the likes of which make them the least likely contender among the last eight teams standing. The Bulldogs’ midfield engine, piloted by Josh Dunkley, Tim English, Adam Treloar, Marcus Bontempelli, Jack Macrae and Tom Liberatore, was ascendant and is the one area where they can trouble the competition’s heavyweights Geelong and Melbourne.
Carlton v Collingwood, MCG
Collingwood have the double chance and another emotional win over an old rival. Defensively they will need to be better in the contests if they want to progress in the finals as teams like Geelong will punish them far more severely than Carlton did on Sunday. Jamie Elliott and Jack Ginnivan have the ability to turn games as they showed in the final term but perhaps the Magpies and their leaders will need to be ready for a torrid clash with Geelong to start the finals and some letdown if the Cats get hold of them. Carlton will have some demons from this final month of the season where they failed to get the win they needed to make the finals. But you would back the likes of Patrick Cripps, Sam Docherty and Michael Voss to turn it into inspiration for an even more successful season in 2023. Jesse Motlop’s contribution shouldn’t be forgotten either, the Blues have a young match-winner quietly developing in their forward line, he will only get better with age and maturity.
St Kilda v Sydney, Marvel StadiumAAP
Sydney locked in a top-four spot but fell just short of securing a home AFL qualifying final. Victory guaranteed the Swans a double chance but they were unable to pull off a big enough win over St Kilda to leapfrog second-placed Melbourne. The third-placed Swans will instead face the Demons in Melbourne. Livewire Tom Papley was concussed and substituted for Sam Wicks in the second quarter after colliding with teammate Lance Franklin and hitting his head on the Marvel Stadium turf. If Sydney’s qualifying final against Melbourne is played on Thursday, September 1, Papley won’t be available as he wouldn’t have completed his 12-day concussion protocol. James Rowbottom was excellent for the Swans, collecting 24 disposals, six clearances and a goal while Isaac Heeney (23 disposals, two goals), Chad Warner (20 disposals, one goal) and Will Hayward (three goals) were influential.
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