Collingwood need to win big, Geelong need a close one
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Let’s not beat around the bush. Going into preliminary final weekend, Collingwood and Geelong are close to certain grand finalists. It’s nothing against Hawthorn or West Coast, teams who racked up a win tally this season that could win minor premierships in other years.
It’s just that, well, Collingwood and Geelong in the big one seems so inevitable. There’s a feeling that the whole season has been leading towards this one match-up.
And if “a feeling” isn’t tangible enough for you, there’s some actual evidence that goes along with the idea.
Together the two teams have lost only five games this year. One had a percentage of 167, the other 157 – remarkable considering only one other team in all of the last decade could manage 157 or more.
Both have a history of performing in September and have shown signs they have improved – and addressed deficiencies – since last year. As examples, Collingwood no longer have trouble in front of goal, while Geelong no longer have question marks surrounding their bottom six.
It’s like these two clubs are on a collision course, with the date of impact set for 1 October.
Having said all that, it’s at this point it needs to said no one should be totally discounting the idea of either Hawthorn or West Coast causing an upset this weekend. In fact it’s entirely possible.
The Pies haven’t been overly convincing of late. Their only game since that massive Round 24 loss to Geelong was their win over West Coast in the first week of finals, a result they were forced to work hard for despite Daniel Kerr missing and Dean Cox being subbed off.
The Hawks, who were lacking Cyril Rioli, Brad Sewell and Jordan Lewis the last time these teams met, will prove tough competition.
The Eagles, meanwhile, beat the Cats earlier this year and will fancy their chances of continuing their fairytale run on Saturday. They weren’t overawed by either Collingwood or September footy two weeks ago at the MCG, so it should be no different this weekend.
If the kids can have good games – think Jack Darling, Luke Shuey, Andrew Gaff et al – they’ll stand a decent chance.
So, don’t make the mistake of thinking this weekend is a mere formality.
But it does seem far more likely that the results of the two games will indeed succumb to the inevitable rather than an upset taking place.
If that does happen, it won’t mean we can get nothing out of this weekend. Quite the opposite, in fact.
I’m brought back to 2009, the year of the last “collision course” grand final. The two preliminary finals that year gave us two entirely different results yet both sides managed to get the perfect tune-up for the decider a week later.
St Kilda, who won narrowly in a thriller over the Western Bulldogs, were given a reminder of the areas they needed to work on if they were to be premiers. The game got any jitters the team had out the way and, for a team that had been premiership favourites for several months, served as a timely wake-up call.
Geelong, meanwhile, who thoroughly accounted for Collingwood, were given a reminder of just how powerful a side they can be when switched on. It was important because it had been some time since they last dominated a quality opponent in such a manner, while key players also took confidence from their games rather than ruing what they did wrong.
Two entirely different results. Yet the two teams got exactly what they needed out of both games.
The reason I’m reminded of 2009 is because it seems as though it’s happening all over again, only this time it’s Geelong that could do with a timely reminder of their human side and Collingwood that could do with a timely reminder of just how good they can be.
That might sound a little crazy, especially the suggestion that a close game would be of more benefit to the Cats than a big win.
But the fact is Geelong isn’t invincible. They were the second-worst clearance team in 2011, a bizarre stat for such an experienced midfield unit. Were that 96-point win over the Pies to be followed by two decent-sized finals wins, there would be the risk that a false sense of security would develop.
As for Collingwood, they haven’t been their usual selves lately, and anything to remind players of just how high their potential is can only be a good thing. A hard-fought win wouldn’t come with the same advantages as it would for the Cats, however a confidence-boosting thumping could do the world of good.
So, if we are to follow the Season 2011 script and lock in a Collingwood-Geelong grand final, it may be in the best interests of footy fans to cheer for the Pies to come up big tonight and the Cats to grind out a victory tomorrow.
If the Hawks or Eagles can throw the script out the window, well, all bets are off.
Michael DiFabrizio is completing his journalism degree. As an AFL writer, he has been an expert columnist at The Roar since 2009, and appeared in The Age and on ABC television and radio. Follow Michael on twitter @mdifabrizio