Friday’s preliminary final between Sydney and Collingwood promises to be an enthralling contest.
In the usual build up to a big match, media commentators and armchair critics alike will be scouring over statistics and previous encounters to hopefully give some insight into who will prevail.
It would not take them along to discover a glaring statistic; that Collingwood have won the past 11 matches against Sydney, including the last seven at ANZ Stadium. The last time Sydney defeated Collingwood was way back in 2005. Perhaps this is an omen as 2005 was the year the Swans won their first flag in 72 years.
It seems extraordinary that with the success Sydney has enjoyed over the past seven years, one team has had such a hold over them. Indeed, in the majority of these matches, the Swans have not even been close to the Pies at the final siren.
There does not appear to be any obvious reason why Sydney have struggled so badly against Collingwood. Perhaps it has been Sydney’s inability to contain Collingwood’s pace and their key forwards. But the Swans have triumphed recently against Geelong and Hawthorn, sides which also possess formidable midfields and forwards.
Whatever the reason, the Swans will have to figure it out if they are to make it through to the grand final. A piece of history that is on Sydney’s side is the fact that since 2000, 21 out of the 24 preliminary finals have been won by sides that have had the week off.
A small caveat in that statistic is Sydney was one of those teams who did fail to reach the grand final, losing to Brisbane at home in 2003.
Of course history doesn’t dictate future results and if Sydney are to triumph, here are the things they have to do:
1. Get the defensive match-ups right.
In my opinion, Sydney got their defensive match-ups wrong when they played Collingwood back in Round 21. The Pies, to their credit, isolated Tarrant, Dawes and Cloke, which put pressure on the defence.
Despite not having much impact on the match, Cloke still managed three goals and it was obvious in one-on-one contests that he had Heath Grundy’s measure. This time Ted Richards or Lewis Robertson Thomson need to take him, and get Alex Johnson and Grundy to peel off and help out. Thomson was excellent against Adelaide and John Longmire would have to seriously consider keeping him down there.
2. Make Collingwood’s defence accountable.
Sydney badly missed Sam Reid in Round 21 and their forward line lacked structure, particularly in the last quarter when they were surging forward which multiple entries in the forward 50.
Reid’s presence will be vital and Mitch Morton finding form with two goals against the Crows is particularly timely. These factors will take the pressure off Adam Goodes, who is not a natural forward and had a shocker against Collingwood last time.
However, Goodes showed against the Crows what he can do when he able to get more free reign and the Pies will certainly be wary of him.
3. Contain the midfield.
Easier said than done, but Collingwood got on top in the clearances in Round 21, particularly in the centre. Sydney had a 17-point lead midway through the third quarter but bled goals when the Pies got on top.
The Pies have a star studded midfield, so the initial hard tag should go to Dayne Beams who was best afield in Round 21. The Pies have superior outside runners, so Sydney will be looking to keep the ball in tight like they did against Adelaide.
So what’s the verdict?
Collingwood will be confident that can keep the streak going, but the Swans will also be confident having knocked off their other recent bogey side in Adelaide two weeks ago.
Collingwood are coming off a six-day break, Sydney 13. Sydney are probably traveling a little better on the injury front with Ben McGlynn their only injury concern, while the Pies have Nick Maxwell out suspended and Chris Dawes and Alan Didak in doubt.
The Swans have every advantage available in having a week off and home ground support.
In a tight contest, those factors could be the difference
Tip: Sydney by six points.