Top four spots still up for grabs

Michael Cowley Columnist

By Michael Cowley, Michael Cowley is a Roar Expert

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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
    Michael Cowley

    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

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    The Crowd Says (30)

    • August 20th 2013 @ 10:08am
      Brian said | August 20th 2013 @ 10:08am | ! Report

      I think Sydeny are in bigger trouble than most think. If they lose this week to Geelong then irrespective of the Hawks game they will come 4th, face an away QF followed up by a repeat clash with Collingwood at ANZ in week 2. Collingwood would be right to feel very confident going into such a game.

      • Roar Guru

        August 20th 2013 @ 10:42am
        wisey_9 said | August 20th 2013 @ 10:42am | ! Report

        You are right Brian, but we’re getting to the point of the season where if the Swans don’t win those games they probably don’t deserve to be back to back champions. Sides shouldn’t head into September hoping to avoid a team – they should go in believing that they can beat anyone on their day.

        • August 20th 2013 @ 11:45am
          Australian Rules said | August 20th 2013 @ 11:45am | ! Report

          You last sentence is very true wisey, but I don’t think the Hawks would like playing Geelong in Week 1. Imagine the pressue on Geelong if those 2 clubs met in a GF…would the 11 games in a row be for nothing?

          I think it’s the Grand Final that football fans are hoping for.

        • August 20th 2013 @ 11:45am
          Australian Rules said | August 20th 2013 @ 11:45am | ! Report

          You last sentence is very true wisey, but I don’t think the Hawks would like playing Geelong in Week 1. Imagine the pressue on Geelong if those 2 clubs met in a GF…would the 11 games in a row be for nothing?

          I think it’s the Grand Final that football fans are hoping for.

          • August 20th 2013 @ 5:35pm
            David said | August 20th 2013 @ 5:35pm | ! Report

            Maybe parochial Victorians, personally, I’d like to see Syd vs Freo GF. It might not be high scoring but most of the best games aren’t.

        • August 20th 2013 @ 12:02pm
          Penster said | August 20th 2013 @ 12:02pm | ! Report

          Hawks suffer in their jocks at the mention of Geelong and Chairman Jeff’s curse!

      • August 20th 2013 @ 10:45am
        Sam said | August 20th 2013 @ 10:45am | ! Report

        Richmond will finish 5th, have GWS and Essendon in the last two weeks, hard to see them losing either, and Collingwood climbing over them on percentage.

        • August 20th 2013 @ 12:08pm
          Rich_daddy said | August 20th 2013 @ 12:08pm | ! Report

          Agreed. The pies are no certianty to be beat North either.

      • August 20th 2013 @ 4:18pm
        Buzza said | August 20th 2013 @ 4:18pm | ! Report

        Swans beat Collingwood in the Finals last year. No reason why they couldn’t do it again.

    • Roar Guru

      August 20th 2013 @ 10:40am
      Steve J said | August 20th 2013 @ 10:40am | ! Report

      History shows that the top two teams have made the grand final in 4 of the past 6 seasons. That’s how valuable a top two position is.

      Longmire must know this and that should make for the game against the Cats this weekend one of the seasons highlights.

      I am just hoping that the Roos go all out against the Hawks and add another permutation into the mix for the following week. Freo would be loving this! Sitting back (no disrespect to Port and the Saints….. well maybe a little) and watching the other 3 teams in the top four belting each other mere weeks out from the finals commencing.

      • August 20th 2013 @ 12:58pm
        Billy said | August 20th 2013 @ 12:58pm | ! Report

        I don’t think it really shows how valuable a top two spot is, I think it more shows that generally the best two teams finish top two.

      • August 20th 2013 @ 12:58pm
        Billy said | August 20th 2013 @ 12:58pm | ! Report

        I don’t think it really shows how valuable a top two spot is, I think it more shows that generally the best two teams finish top two.

    • August 20th 2013 @ 10:43am
      Balthazar said | August 20th 2013 @ 10:43am | ! Report

      Even if Sydney win against the Cats, it is likely that Freo will beat Port by more and overtake them on percentage (or overtake them in round 23 anyway, as you’d expect a bigger win against St Kilda then Sydney would muster against Hawthorn assuming they win. It would be a great result for Freo!

    • August 20th 2013 @ 10:44am
      Griffo said | August 20th 2013 @ 10:44am | ! Report

      It shouldn’t be overlooked that if Sydney win against both Geelong and Hawthorn in the last 2 rounds they still might miss out on a home final. If both wins are narrow, which is quite likely, and Hawthorn beat North Melbourne next week, which is also quite likely, and Fremantle win their two matches against Port at home and St. Kilda away by comfortable or large margins, which is also quite likely, then Fremantle will pass Sydney on percentage putting them 2nd behind Hawthorn. Sydney would have had no benefit to their current position from having beaten the top 2 sides in consecutive weeks and would have to travel to Perth in the first week of the finals.
      Interestingly if Sydney don’t wish to travel to Perth in week one then they can avoid this by losing to either Geelong or Hawthorn.
      I think with the knowledge of there being no guarantees for them they’ll take a balanced approach with regard to introducing players to get back to form and giving players a rest. They can’t just turn on good form but they don’t want to hit their peak in matches that may not make a difference.
      Incidentally Brian if the Swans finish fourth and lose to Hawthorn in week 1 I think they will probably play Richmond. I reckon that they’ll beat Essendon this week who are on the slide then they have the Giants in the final round. Given that they’re in 5th with a slightly better percentage than Collingwood I think they will maintain their position. Collingwood have West Coast and North

      • August 20th 2013 @ 12:08pm
        Rich_daddy said | August 20th 2013 @ 12:08pm | ! Report

        I reckon Sydney would rather play Fremantle even if it is in Perth. Freo have had a pretty soft run in the lead up to finals and I reckon Swans will draw paralells with Adelaide in 2012.

        • August 20th 2013 @ 12:50pm
          Balthazar said | August 20th 2013 @ 12:50pm | ! Report

          But Freo is not Adelaide…. I seem to recall Hawthorn felt the same way about a trip to Perth for a finals game. Do not underestimate the intimidation of the purple army in full voice, or the grittiness that Ross Lyon has instilled in this team.

          I am confortable with Freo paying the Swans or Geelong, the cattery excepted

        • August 20th 2013 @ 1:39pm
          johno said | August 20th 2013 @ 1:39pm | ! Report

          Difference being that Adelaide in 2012 had 2 games against GWS, GC and Port (who were poor last year). They were rated as the softest draw in 2012, and some might argue that’s why they ended 2nd, rather than being the second best team.

          Freo’s total draw in 2013 is rated about middle, on a par with Sydney actually. They pay top 8 contender in Port this weekend, and as Ross has said – the opposition doesn’t matter it’s the way they play the game (113 + 95 point margins shows they are not taking their foot off the pedal)

          Last year Freo played Melbourne in the final game at home and still came out the following week and beat Geelong at the MCG.

          • August 20th 2013 @ 2:27pm
            Rich_daddy said | August 20th 2013 @ 2:27pm | ! Report

            “Freo’s total draw in 2013 is rated about middle, on a par with Sydney actually.”

            Hmm not sure about that. Freo play one Top 8 side twice, that being Richmond.

            In contrast, Sydney will play 3 Top 8 sides twice including Hawthorn and Geelong who are ranked 1st and 2nd respectively. the other being Collingwood.

            Swans two matches against GWS are cancelled out by Freo’s two matches against Melbourne.

            The Swans have had a much tougher draw than Freo.

            For the record, I think Freo 2013 is better than Adelaide 2012 but there are still parallels. Freo is still fairly inexperienced going deep into finals and they only play one top 8 side in their last 6 home and away matches. Not saying a trip to Perth would be easy but if you asked John Longmire which side he would want to play, he would pick the Dockers without a second thought.

            • August 20th 2013 @ 3:38pm
              johno said | August 20th 2013 @ 3:38pm | ! Report

              Don’t believe me – here’s Champion Data’s ratings for the 2013 draw

              1 North Melbourne (1036)
              2 Hawthorn (1028)
              3 Collingwood (1004)
              5 West Coast (988)
              6 Geelong (982)
              7 Sydney (976)
              8 Fremantle (970)
              9 Carlton (968)
              10 Essendon (966)
              = 11 Port Adelaide (962)
              = 11 Richmond (962)
              = 11 St Kilda (962)
              14 GWS (942)
              15 Adelaide (938)
              16 Brisbane Lions (916)
              17 Gold Coast (914)
              18 (Melbourne)

              As I said – Sydney and Freo are about equal …..

              • August 20th 2013 @ 4:26pm
                Rich_daddy said | August 20th 2013 @ 4:26pm | ! Report

                That analysis was based on 2012 premiership points. Some teams have dropped off considerably (Adelaide for example which Freo played twice) and others have moved up (Geelong back in top 2 which Sydney play twice) which obviously would change rankings. Understand the way the AFL designed the draw Freo and Swans draw were level pegging statistically, but as the results panned out, Freo’s draw was easier than Sydney’s.

                My analysis is based on actual performance and ladder positions in 2013.

            • August 20th 2013 @ 3:59pm
              Balthazar said | August 20th 2013 @ 3:59pm | ! Report

              That’s interesting as Freo has a better H/A record against the Swans than most. Swans are also pretty unfamiliar at playing Freo at Subi (2 in 10 years? or something like that), as opposed to the postage stamp of the SCG. And plenty of teams make it to the big dance after a second semi final. I think this team – not changed much from last year – will feel comfortable in a finals environment. Swans on the other hand look like they will be struggling with injuries for the remainder of the year.

              I reckon Horse would have plenty of second thoughts . All of the top 4 are good teams and have different strengths and weakeness. One of Freo’s strengths is the fortress that the House of Pain has become for it – only the Cats can claim the same kind of home town advantage and finals are not played at Simmonds

              • August 20th 2013 @ 4:33pm
                Rich_daddy said | August 20th 2013 @ 4:33pm | ! Report

                All good points, but as a Swans fan I stand by views. Swans have good record at Subiaco, albiet against the Eagles but were only interstate side to beat them there in 2011 and 2012. Can’t read into Home record for Freo V Swans as they hardly play there.

                Freo’s soft run into finals may result in a bit of a shock come week 1 of finals. Whoever Sydney plays it will be a tough game, but I fancy their chances against the Dockers far more compared to Hawthorn and Geelong.

              • August 20th 2013 @ 5:07pm
                johno said | August 20th 2013 @ 5:07pm | ! Report

                Sydney have only played Freo at Subi 4 times since 2001, the last time was in 2010.

                In fact we can make up silly stats like – Sydney have only beaten Freo at Subiaco once since 1999 ….

                Everyone thought Freo’s soft run (Melbourne in round 23) last year would mean the Cats would romp it in at the MCG in week 1 of the finals.

      • August 20th 2013 @ 4:03pm
        kick to kick said | August 20th 2013 @ 4:03pm | ! Report

        Good points. The permutations are very interesting within an already decided top four. Freo are even a chance at top if Hawks lose to Kangas and Swans, even if Swans win at Geelong. The odds are Freo will win both remaining games with a strong percentage boost. Actually Freo are likely to end with the highest percentage in the league which is usually a sign of genuine quality … though I think the Hawks will finish top with Swans fourth and probably Geelong second, Freo third – though the last two could easily switch.

        As a Swans fan I’d settle for 4th. An away qualifying final against Hawthorn isn’t the end of the world. I still think Hawthorn is the toughest opponent in the comp. A Swans win would mean a home prelim – a loss would see a home elimination final probably against Richmond – and if that is won, an away prelim likely against Freo or Geelong. That would be better than an away preliminary final against Hawthorn – leaving that to a GF rematch if the Swans are lucky enough to get that far.

        But the GF could be between any two of that set.

        No club has yet won a flag from 4th, under the current system . Sydney went within one point in 2006 and actually had an easier run to the GF than in 2005.

    • August 20th 2013 @ 11:51am
      Nick said | August 20th 2013 @ 11:51am | ! Report

      I think the swans are premiership favourites whether they finish 1-4. Their style of footy is proven to win in September and as they showed last year against Adelaide they can play a bogey side away from home and still perform when they need to.

    • August 20th 2013 @ 12:05pm
      Rich_daddy said | August 20th 2013 @ 12:05pm | ! Report

      Certaintly a double or nothing scenario for the Swans. Irrespective they would like to beat at least one of the teams for their own confidence. Should they lose to Geelong, they might as well put their reserves out against Hawthorn the following week. In terms of the injured players to bring back in, Goodes and LRT are in as they are versatile and experienced. Sam Reid has not shown enough this season and with Jesse White in good form, you keep him in the side.

      The jury is out on Jetta. He definently has X factor, but he has not had a great season and has gone missing in several games. Maybe take a punt on him and start him as a sub.

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