Top four spots still up for grabs
Ben Stratton of the Hawks and Shaun Higgins of the Bulldogs in action during the AFL Round 16 match between the Western Bulldogs and Hawthorn Hawks at Etihad Stadium. (Photo: Sean Garnsworthy/AFL Media)
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Football coaches quite regularly face tough decisions, but Sydney mentor John Longmire will have some intriguing ones put in front of him after this weekend’s clash with Geelong at The Cattery.
A win against the Cats, and Longmire’s Swans will move into second spot on the ladder and a home qualifying final beckons.
Please indulge me and let’s just briefly deal in hypotheticals.
If the Swans beat the Cats, and other results go as expected (Hawthorn beating North Melbourne and Fremantle getting over Port Adelaide), then heading into the last round the Hawks would have top spot sealed on 72 points, Sydney would be second on 66 points, Fremantle third (66 points) on percentage and the Cats fourth with 64 points.
Freo should beat St Kilda in Round 23, and Geelong should be too strong for Brisbane, seeing them finish the season on 70 and 68 points respectively with their ladder position dependant on Sydney’s result against the Hawks.
Confused? Don’t be.
The Swans will need to beat the Hawks to finish second and gain home field advantage in week one of the finals.
If the Swans have beaten the Cats, and the Hawks beaten the Kangaroos going into the clash, with top spot wrapped up, would Alastair Clarkson consider resting a few of his players with nothing but injuries really to gain against the Swans?
Possibly, but, he would also know in this scenario that a Round 23 win means a qualifying final against the Swans, a loss would see them play their bogey side Geelong in week one.
But what about Longmire? He has injured stars Adam Goodes (knee), Lewis Jetta (shin), Sam Reid (quad) and Lewis Roberts-Thomson (knee) all hoping to make their way back into the senior team for the finals.
If second place was up for grabs, would he want to bring one or two or all of them, into the team stone cold for such a crucial clash? And if he doesn’t, can he then bring them in the following week?
Longmire admitted after the Swans win over St Kilda on Sunday that the quartet, while they have been running, haven’t actually started training yet.
Surely it would be a risk putting them into a game with such high stakes, without having had a run?
But what about the alternative scenario? What if the Cats beat the Swans (and they are short odds to do so on their home turf) this weekend?
If it happens and again if the Hawks and Dockers win as expected, then things change dramatically for Round 23.
Sydney would be staring at fourth spot on the ladder, regardless of whether they lost to or defeated the Hawks. It would mean they would play the Hawks on August 30 at ANZ Stadium, then again a week later at the MCG.
What that would present for Longmire is the perfect opportunity to give either Goodes or Jetta or Reid or Roberts-Thomson – or even all of them, a good solid hitout heading into the finals, without the pressure of so much hinging on that Round 23 clash, and then allow him to consider one or all for the finals’ match a week later against Hawthorn.
Of course the alternative is that he simply sticks with the guys who have taken his team into the top four, but would there be any coach in the AFL who wouldn’t want to slot a dual Brownlow Medal winner into their team for the finals?
And what about having Mr Reliably Versatile, Roberts-Thomson in your 22?
Or the speedy Jetta who can turn the game with a sprint down a wing? Or the athletic Reid, who would be a perfect one-two punch alongside Kurt Tippett in the forward line?
One in, two in, all in, none in?
They are all hypotheticals at the moment, I know. But this time next week, coach Longmire will be facing a decision of some sort about his Round 23 team.
If they are all fit, have managed to get through training unscathed, and – apart from match fitness – are ready to go, put your coach’s cap on, and which way would you go?
I know I’ll be looking on curiously around 6.30pm on Thursday, August 29 when the team is announced.
Michael Cowley spent more than 20 years covering sport for the Sydney Morning Herald, including 12 seasons as the paper's AFL writer. During that time he reported on the awful Swans of the 1990s, and then the successful teams of the past decade, including covering their premiership seasons of 2005 and 2012. You can find him on Twitter: @mick_cowley