Key talking points from the first week of the AFL finals

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    The first four matches of the 2016 AFL finals series have been contested, and there is plenty to talk about as the fallout from the first week continues, including the exits of Port Adelaide and Essendon.

    The Power had the lights on their 2017 season turned off in heartbreaking circumstances, losing in extra time to the West Coast Eagles after giving away a free-kick in their defensive 50 in the second period of extra time.

    From the resultant play, Luke Shuey would kick the match-winning goal after the final siren to send the Eagles into a Saturday night sudden death semi-final against the GWS Giants in Sydney.

    It will be the fourth time that the two clubs have met this year alone, with the Giants winning all three matches contested – a 33-point win in a pre-season match in Narrandera followed by an eight-point win against the odds in Perth in Round 10, and most recently, by 21 points at home in Round 22.

    Leon Cameron will have no doubt observed Saturday night’s elimination final very closely, 48 hours after his side’s loss to the Adelaide Crows left many questioning whether the Giants still have the hunger to succeed this year.

    The Giants managed just one goal in the first half, but while they lifted after half-time, the damage had already been done.

    It will remain to be seen whether Steve Johnson gains a recall for the clash against the Eagles, after he submitted a solid performance in the scratch match between the Crows’ and Giants’ reserves sides which was played at Football Park on the Friday morning following the AFL qualifying final.

    Steve Johnson GWS Giants Greater Western Sydney Giants AFL 2016

    (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

    Full forward Jeremy Cameron will almost certainly not play again in 2017 after he suffered a hamstring injury in the loss to the Crows, while there are also questions over the fitness of ruckman Shane Mumford.

    It’s the last thing coach Leon Cameron would want as his side fights for its finals survival against the Eagles, who are still buzzing after their dramatic extra-time win over Port Adelaide at the Oval on Saturday night.

    With scores locked at 60-apiece, most of the pro-Port crowd were left on the edge of their seats to see if their side could somehow force a score in the dying minutes of regular time.

    Ultimately, for the first time in a decade, extra time would be required to decide a final, and while the Power started strongly, a goalless second period of extra time would prove costly as their presence in September came to a crashing halt.

    Cruelly, it was Jared Polec who lost the match for them after he gave away a free kick inside their defensive 50 for a careless high tackle on Luke Shuey, who then calmly potted the goal after the final siren to sink the Power’s season and keep that of the Eagles’ going into next week.

    Adam Simpson’s men will have learnt plenty from their recent 21-point loss to the Giants at this Saturday night’s venue, Spotless Stadium.

    That result appeared to have ended the Eagles’ finals hopes, but a sudden turn of events in Round 23 has seen them earn a rematch against last year’s preliminary finalists.

    It will be the first time the Eagles have played a final in Sydney since they lost to the Sydney Swans by 41 points in a sudden death elimination final at ANZ Stadium in a match that was played in torrential rain.

    They’ll want to centre their game plan on shutting down Josh Kelly, who gathered a career-best 43 disposals when the sides met last month.

    Despite the growing speculation over whether he will leave the Giants or not at season’s end, it has not distracted him from performing well on a consistent basis for the club week in, week out.

    Many believe he will leave the club should they salute on the final day of this month, with North Melbourne, Carlton and St Kilda among the clubs heavily chasing his services.

    Josh Kelly GWS Giants AFL 2017

    (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

    Whichever of the Giants and Eagles win on Saturday night will then face Richmond in a preliminary final at the MCG seven nights later, with a starting time still dependent on the winner.

    As it stands, the starting time has been marked with a TBD, and because the Tigers will be hosting an interstate club, it will almost certainly start before 5:10pm, as was the case in last year’s preliminary final between the GWS Giants and Western Bulldogs.

    This is to allow either the Giants or Eagles to be back in their home cities by midnight.

    The Tigers advanced to the final four for the first time since 2001 on the back of its impressive win over the Geelong Cats at the MCG on Friday night.

    In doing so, they smashed two hoodoos in spectacular fashion: its first finals win in 16 years, and just its second win over the Cats since the turn of the century (and first since 2006).

    The win was marshalled by the usual suspects in Dustin Martin and Trent Cotchin, with commentators suggesting that Martin could become the second Tiger in ten months to win the Brownlow Medal (after Cotchin was retrospectively awarded the 2012 medal last December).

    While the win has seen tens of thousands of Richmond supporters nationwide explode into bursts of delirium, it will now remain to be seen whether they can carry the momentum into the preliminary final on Saturday September 23.

    By virtue of its win over the Giants on Thursday night, the Adelaide Crows will host the other preliminary final, and as the highest-ranked winner from week one, will do so on Friday, September 22.

    It was a case of no Sloane, no worries, as the Crows set up their victory with a dominant first half, during which they also lost Brodie Smith to a long-term knee injury which will keep him sidelined for up to 12 months.

    It will be just the second time the club has hosted a preliminary final, and this is where their finals mentality will be contested, regardless of who, out of the Geelong Cats and Sydney Swans, they face.

    The semi-final between the Cats and Swans is a rematch of last year’s preliminary final, which the Swans dominated from start to finish to win by 37 points.

    Once again John Longmire’s men will start favourites to progress to the preliminary final following its dominant 65-point win over Essendon in the elimination final at the SCG.

    Callum Sinclair Sydney Swans AFL 2017

    (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/AFL Media/Getty Images)

    The decision by the club to back out of its ANZ Stadium contract 12 months early has paid dividends, with the match attracting an SCG ground record crowd of 46,323.

    They were on hand to see some more magic from Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin, who kicked four goals, all in the second quarter, before being rested in the final term with his thigh on ice.

    Now, the Swans will have every reason to be confident that it can again knock the Cats out of premiership contention, especially with Chris Scott’s men coming off a dismal performance against Richmond.

    It was a forgettable 200th AFL game for Patrick Dangerfield, with his side now very likely to crash out of September in straight sets for the second time in four years, also taking into account its recent poor record against the Swans.

    If the Swans do progress to the preliminary final against the Crows, it will pit together the two form teams of the competition by a country mile, the Crows having been either first or second on the ladder throughout the regular season and the Swans having won 15 of their past 17 matches since Round 6.

    This includes their most recent meeting in Round 22, when the Swans came from nine points down to win a close one by just three points at the Adelaide Oval on a Friday night.

    They had absolutely no right to win that match; just as Callum Mills thought he would be pinged for holding the ball after being tackled by Eddie Betts, he was instead the beneficiary of a fifty-metre penalty after the umpire ruled he had not played on (despite the vision suggesting otherwise).

    If Betts had received the free kick, chances are he would have kicked the goal to put the Crows 15 points up and the finals fixture would be completely different to what it is now.

    The Swans have also won eight of their past 11 clashes against the Crows, so the red and white faithful will have every reason to be confident that it can progress to its fourth grand final in six years.

    But first thing’s first – the Swans need to overcome the Cats at the MCG on Friday night before they can plan any further.

    For the Bombers, the defeat has not only ended their so-called “comeback story”, but it also means they now have the longest finals winning drought of any club (bar Gold Coast), having not won a final since it defeated Melbourne by five points in the first elimination final at the MCG in 2004.

    In fact, today marks exactly thirteen years since their finals drought started with a ten-point loss to the Geelong Cats in a semi-final at the MCG.

    It was also a sad end for former captain Jobe Watson, whose last few years was clouded by the supplements saga which saw him stripped of the Brownlow Medal he won in 2012.

    Another club veteran, Brent Stanton, has also officially bowed out despite having not played since the club’s Round 11 loss to the GWS Giants.

    Their retirements leave Heath Hocking, who played just two games this season, as the only remaining player from the Kevin Sheedy coaching days.

    The defeat is also proof that the Bombers still have a long way to go if they are to achieve the ultimate success in the years to come.

    Still, reaching the finals 12 months after claiming the wooden spoon is still a massive achievement in itself and coach John Worsfold should be commended for the way he has transformed the club over the past two years.

    And so, the race for the 2017 AFL premiership is now down to six clubs, with the Adelaide Crows and Richmond set to enjoy this weekend off while they wait to see who they will face in their respective preliminary finals.

    Finals Week 2 fixtures

    Friday, September 15
    [2] Geelong Cats versus [6] Sydney Swans, MCG, 7:50pm
    Winner plays the Adelaide Crows at the Adelaide Oval on Friday, September 22, 7:50pm.

    Saturday, September 16
    [4] GWS Giants versus [8] West Coast Eagles, Spotless Stadium, 7:25pm
    Winner plays Richmond at the MCG on Saturday, September 23, time TBC.

    The Club Roar Awards have been run and won! Olympic Gold Medallist and all-round legend Steven Bradbury has announced who's getting a share in $10,000! Check out the winners HERE!