AFL Finals 2013

BY Alasdair Beer

6 Sep

AFL Finals 2013

With the regular season concluded and the bottom teams left to rue missed opportunities and set fire to dwarves, the AFL’s top eight sides embark on their finals campaigns this week. Operating since 2000 under the McIntyre system, the AFL finals series can appear convoluted to outsiders, but is easily explained.

Week One – Qualifying and Elimination Finals

AFL finals are set out in a tournament format, with the first, second, fifth and eighth placed teams on one side and the remaining four clubs on the other.

The top four teams are rewarded for their performance in the season proper by being awarded ‘double chances’ and are matched up between themselves, with first playing fourth, whilst second plays third. In both instances, the higher ranking team plays at home. These first-week fixtures are known as qualifying finals.

The teams who finished fifth to eighth are likewise split into two matches, with fifth playing eighth and sixth playing seventh. As before, the higher team plays at home. Should a team lose one of these fixtures, they are knocked out of the finals; as such, these are called elimination finals.

Week Two – Semi Finals

The sides who won their qualifying finals receive a bye in this week, and go straight to a preliminary final in week three. The two losers receive their second chance, and are matched against the elimination final winners as follows:

Loser 1st vs 4th – Winner 5th vs 8th

Loser 2nd vs 3rd – Winner 6th vs 7th

Week Three – Preliminary Finals

The qualifying final winners play the semi final winners at home; because the system is designed to favour the top four teams, the draw crosses over at this point to prevent a replay of qualifying finals. This is depicted below.

Week Four - The Grand Final

The last Saturday in September; the Big Dance; 'paint your face and glass someone'; call it what you will, the Grand Final is arguably the biggest event on the Australian sporting calendar. Played perennially at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (despite there being no Victorian teams involved in 2004, 2005 or 2006), the Grand Final brings attendance of over 110,000 people, with millions tuning in from home. Like the Superbowl, the Grand Final is home to an annual halftime show; unlike the Superbowl, this tends to involve a bald guy dancing around a Batmobile.

Week One Preview

First Qualifying Final - Hawthorn (1st) vs Sydney (4th)

Friday's rematch of last year's Grand Final - which the Swans won by ten points - sees last years premiers coming into the match having lost both their encounters with Hawthorn this year, including a two-goal loss in Sydney last week. Hawthorn will be without star forward Lance Franklin, who is serving a one-match ban for a high bump on Sydney's Nick Malceski, but should welcome back key players Cyril Rioli and Brent Guerra. For their part, Sydney regain Kurt Tippett, Daniel Hannebery and Nick Smith. Hawthorn have been irrepressible of late and go in favourites, though finals games tend to have an added physicality and emphasis on contested football, conditions under which the Swans thrive. Sydney's tall marking forwards troubled Hawthorn at times last week, and the return of Tippett means less defensive attention for the likes of Jesse White and Mike Pyke. Luke Hodge, Grant Birchall, Shaun Burgoyne, Isaac Smith and Guerra give Hawthorn tremendous drive from half-back, and the Swans will need their own runners to find form. Lewis Jetta, who has been missing through injury since round 11, will be a key inclusion for this reason.

Verdict: Even without Franklin, the Hawks should be marginally too strong.

Second Qualifying Final - Geelong (2nd) vs Fremantle (3rd)

Perhaps the most absorbing contest of the first week's finals sees Geelong host Fremantle in the first final ever played at Simonds Stadium. Geelong have a phenomenal record at the business end of the season, having appeared in four grand finals between 2007 and 2011 (winning three of them), whilst Fremantle coach Ross Lyon favours a finals-friendly contested style of play which took St Kilda to two grand finals under his stewardship. The Cats are undefeated at home this season, and belted an injury-depeleted Fremantle in Geelong earlier this year. Fremantle's Ryan Crowley restricted Geelong captain Joel Selwood to just thirteen disposals that day, and will be critical again as Selwood has been the competition's dominant midfielder over the past month. Geelong's Harry Taylor is unlikely to allow Fremantle star Matthew Pavlich much latitude, leaving the scoring responsibility to fall to Hayden Ballantyne, Michael Walters and Chris Mayne. The trio are some of the hardest-working and dangerous forwards in the competition, and will need to redouble their efforts to keep pressure on Geelong's skilful backline. Geelong, for their part, have the experience and skill to hurt the Dockers - the likes of Johnson, Bartel, Selwood and Chapman won't be overawed by the occasion - but Fremantle's big-bodied midfield and relentless tackling will make them competitive.

Verdict - Precedent points to Geelong, but not by much.

First Elimination Final - Richmond (5th) vs Carlton (8th)

Carlton scraped into the finals following Essendon's point deduction, beating Port Adelaide by a point in Round 23. They face arch-rival Richmond, who improved seven places on last year and who play their first final since 2001. The Tigers are a highly-skilled unit, with pace across every line and, in Brett Deledio, Dustin Martin and Jack Riewoldt, the dynamism to swing tight matches in their favour. Captain Trent Cotchin has become one of the elite midfielders of the competition, but was comprehensively smothered by Carlton's Ed Curnow in the Blues' ten-point Round 21 win; both men's performance will be critical on Sunday. Carlton's Chris Judd returns from injury this week, and his presence will be a tangible boost for his team; throughout his career Judd has excelled in big games, and is one of only two players in the past thirty years to be voted best afield despite being on the losing side of a Grand Final. Finals football is notable for it's intensity and physicality in comparison to regular season fixtures, and Carlton have averaged more contested marks, contested possessions, tackles and one-percenters (pressure acts) than Richmond over the course of the season.

Verdict: Richmond's last premiership jumper was made on a warp-weighted loom, and the Blues' experience will see them scrap to an upset.

Second Elimination Final - Collingwood (6th) vs Port Adelaide (7th)

Rebounding from a dismal 2012 to start the year with a five-game winning streak, Port have been the climbers of 2013. New coach Ken Hinkley blooded a number of new players and accelerated the development of the likes of Hamish Hartlett, Chad Wingard, Brad Ebert and Travis Boak, who have quietly become one of the most talented midfields in the competition. Hartlett returns from suspension this week, and his composure will be integral to negotiating Collingwood's frenetic tackling. The Pies - tipped for premiers by at least one handsome observer - have cobbled together a strangely pendulous season, beating both Geelong and Sydney (in Sydney), whilst copping two pastings from Hawthorn and a loss to the largely prepubescent Gold Coast. Their best is as good as anyone's, and they retain the spine of their 2010 premiership side: Dane Swan and Scott Pendlebury both flourish in big matches, and their plethora of small forwards pose a threat even if Travis Cloke is nullified.

Verdict: This is Port Adelaide's first final since 2007 - the same year they last beat Collingwood in Melbourne. Collingwood by five goals.

Alasdair Beer

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