Poorly run clubs don’t win flags.
So, it has come to this: Collingwood against Geelong. It is the grand final we had to have. The two best teams of the season will, somewhat fittingly, end the season at the ‘G.
This game takes a quite different meaning for both sides. For Geelong, it is a chance to prove many wrong. For Collingwood, it is a chance to go back-to-back and to farewell Mick Malthouse on a high note.
Both sides have had very different build-ups up until this point. Collingwood have had to go through two brutal contests against West Coast and Hawthorn. You can argue that the Pies have had the better preparation, as they have the feel for a close contest. Or you can argue that they have battered in the past couple of games, but especially by the Hawks.
Last week would have given Collingwood confidence and belief that they can come back from any situation. But what is concerning about Collingwood’s build-up is that they haven’t been at their best for the past two months. There has been a drop in their domineering best, whether they can rediscover that this week…who knows?
Geelong has had a very solid lead in to the upcoming week. Chris Scott’s men have been building up to this week all season and now it is here. They know what it is like to be in the final, but so do Collingwood.
It is a very confident side from Kardinia Park. They are very calm and confident in their abilities. They had a breeze of a prelim against West Coast, and that would play into their hands. They won’t take anything for granted or panic, just the calmness and confidence they have had all season.
In my view, the game will be won in the midfield. It will pit the Cats mids Bartel, Ling, Kelly, Corey and Selwood against Swan, Pendlebury, Ball, Thomas and Wellingham. One area I found Collingwood exposed by the Hawks was in the middle at the stoppages and clearances. The likes of Sewell, Mitchell and Lewis were brilliant in and under all game. Much will rely on Selwood winning the ball and Kelly and Bartel using it. It will be fascinating to watch.
Swan and Pendlebury are all class. Swan runs all day and Pendlebury can do it all. But whoever gets first use in the middle will go a long way in deciding the decider.
The rucks will be a contest. Geelong has the edge in this area. Ottens is a proven finals performer, and can go forward and cause some trouble. West is a youngster and is an able back-up to Ottens. There is a cloud over Jolly, there is doubt over whether he will play. Doc Larkins has rated him a 25 percent chance to play. He hasn’t been at this best for most of this season, and Geelong will look to expose that.
Which teams forwards can have the bigger impact? The tag teams of Cloke/Dawes and Podisiadly/Hawkins (and at times Ottens) will be a key. Cloke has been impressive. His kicking has improved and his workrate has gotten better. His marking is the forward line’s greatest asset.
Dawes should be ready to go after getting some touch back after a long time out with injury. Collingwood’s smalls in Didak and Blair, will be at the feet of the big boys. Didak hasn’t looked at his cocky best this year, and looked forlorn sitting in the subs vest against Hawthorn. He will need to fire-up.
Podsiadly, like Cloke, can take a grab. He will be needed to kick some goals. Hawkins has come a long way this season, but especially in the finals. He kicked a crucial goal in the Qualifier against Hawthorn and has looked increasingly confident and aggressive. He has justified his selection over Cam Mooney.
The Geelong smalls in Johnson, Varcoe, Stokes and Christensen have combined to feed off the crumbs left by the J-Pod. Johnson will be a key here, but who knows if he will play? They will need him to play and I think he will.
The famed Collingwood group defence has been a key to their success. Suspension and injury has looked to undermine them, but it hasn’t. Shaw and Maxwell haven’t missed a beat, despite missing through different parts of the season. Ben Reid has been injured at the worst part of the season and there are doubts over whether he will play.
Geelong’s defenders in Scarlett, Enright, Mackie and Taylor are experienced campaigners. Their ability to rebound from defensive 50 has been their trademark for the past four years. Wojcinski has been a key to that. The contest here will be who rebounds the best and who can transition from defence to attack more effectively. I really can’t split them here.
This is going to be fascinating and I can’t wait.
My tip: Geelong by less than a goal.