Hawks well-placed for monster AFL final
All AFL finals aren’t created equal. While the stakes are always high in September, Friday night’s qualifying final between Hawthorn and Collingwood is a monster.
Unless Geelong set up a preliminary final against the Hawks, it will be the biggest match this month outside the premiership decider.
Consider what’s at stake:
* Hawthorn have never been better-placed at the start of a finals series since Alastair Clarkson became coach in 2005. They finished top for the first time since 1989 – a Hawthorn premiership season.
Only a flag will do for the one club that has won premierships in each of the previous four decades.
* The alarm bells are ringing for Collingwood, who have made the last six finals series, lost last year’s grand final and won the premiership two years ago.
They lost to North Melbourne and West Coast in the last three weeks and the Magpie machine has spluttered, not surged into the finals.
* After all the controversy about the coaching succession plan at Collingwood that ended Mick Malthouse’s tenure last year, the expectations are high for Nathan Buckley in his first finals series as a senior coach.
* The last premiership team to lose their qualifying final was West Coast in 2006.
* It’s Collingwood. It’s Hawthorn. It’s Friday night at the MCG and the opening match of the finals series.
Buckley went onto the front foot this week, saying critics were asking many questions of his team.
Rather than take a cautious public approach, Buckley was bullish about his team’s chances.
“I have absolute belief in their ability to execute a game plan, to attack an opposition with absolute endeavour and (ferocity),” Buckley said.
“We can beat any opposition at any time and we’re pretty confident about our ability to do that on Friday.”
Clarkson will never make a big public statement unless he has to and the Hawks coach has been predictably circumspect ahead of Friday night.
“You’re probably better off going to Bucks’ press conference and asking all the Collingwood questions of them, because really in finals we can’t control anything about them except in the manner we play on Friday night,” he said.
“We’ll need to play at our best to win the game of footy and Collingwood need to do the same to beat us, too – it promises to be a cracker.”
Hawthorn and Collingwood are complete teams who fulfil all the criteria for modern AFL success – midfield class and depth, defensive stability and the capacity to switch their game style quickly if the situation demands.
Then there’s Buddy and Trav.
Hawthorn key forward Lance Franklin has returned from a six-week break to hit ominous form ahead of the finals, kicking four goals against Sydney and four goals in the first quarter against West Coast.
At the other end of the ground, Collingwood’s Travis Cloke had struggled for several weeks before he ripped Essendon apart last weekend with 16 marks and five goals.
One defender cannot stop Franklin or Cloke. They require faultless backline teamwork, with no lapses in concentration.
They will be fascinating sub-plots in a clash that has all the ingredients for a classic final.© AAP 2013
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