Departing veteran Easton Wood has backed the Western Bulldogs’ defensive unit to play a key role in keeping the AFL club firmly in flag contention next year.
Eighteen teams started the 2013 AFL season on level terms, and by the end of Saturday night, only two teams will be left to fight it out for the AFL’s holy grail.
Only four teams remain in contention for the flag, and given the unpredictable nature of what has happened so far this finals series, anyone could win the flag.
Hawthorn appear to be the rampaging hot favourites for the premiership, given their impressive season so far and the fact that they are desperate to go one better than last year, but to reach the big dance they will have to overcome the most famous and dreaded hoodoo in modern history – the Kennett curse.
Yes, that’s right – the Hawks will face regular pests Geelong in the first preliminary final, and I have a feeling that whoever wins this match will surely deserve favouritism for the premiership, regardless of who they face in next Saturday’s big match.
It’s well known in AFL circles that Hawthorn haven’t beaten Geelong since the 2008 Grand Final, a match which many expected the Cats to win given their dominant season that year, in which they only lost one match (to Collingwood) to follow on from its 44-year drought ending premiership the previous year.
“What they don’t have, I think, is the quality of some of our players; they don’t have the psychological drive we have. We’ve beaten Geelong when it matters”, said Jeff Kennett, on the ABC current affairs program, Outsiders, in the week leading up to their rematch in the first round of the 2009 season.
Those words, and a private pact made by Paul Chapman among Geelong players “to never lose to Hawthorn again”, have triggered the Cats’ current 11-match winning streak against the Hawks.
But the man who has inspired the Cats to their current dominance against the Hawks will, barring a miracle at the AFL Tribunal, be rubbed out of the preliminary final, which would at least give him a week off should the Cats reach the decider.
It’s also a streak which the Hawks have been favoured to end the last four times they have met, including twice this year.
In particular, on April Fools’ Day, the Hawks had been in the box seat to end that losing streak, when they led by five goals in the second quarter, only to capitulate and lose by seven points.
And in round 19 last year, the Hawks had the ball in their forward 50, within goal-kicking distance with 40 seconds left, only for the ball to eventually find Tom Hawkins, who would kick the match winning goal after the siren, without a single Hawk touching the ball.
However, it’s a brand new ball game this Friday night and the Cats’ past dominance will count for nothing here.
All the Hawks just want to do is end that Kennett curse, but at the same time the Cats will be desperate to keep their dominance against the Hawks going, whilst also maintaining their odd-year dynasty which could translate into a fourth premiership in seven years.
The Hawks will be fresh off the week’s break, and the Cats are coming off a patchy performance against Port Adelaide, so realistically there is no excuse for the Hawks not to win this one.
But I feel that the Cats will win, as they have always done against Hawthorn since that fateful day in 2008.
The other preliminary final pits Fremantle, seen by many as one of the contenders for the flag, up against the wounded defending premiers, the Sydney Swans.
The Dockers turned the AFL finals series on its head when they gate-crashed the Cattery and escaped with a 15-point win in the first week of the finals.
The team had to deal with being the first team to be sent to Simonds Stadium for an AFL final, and a poor record there, where they hadn’t won since 2005.
But this breakthrough victory now has the Dockers within just 120 minutes of their first ever Grand Final, and this Saturday night’s showdown against the wounded Swans presents a great opportunity for Ross Lyon’s men to do so.
While the Dockers should have their best back on deck, the Swans will lose Kurt Tippett and Tom Mitchell, adding to an already long injury toll which has seen them lose Alex Johnson, Lewis Roberts-Thomson, Adam Goodes, Sam Reid and Rhyce Shaw, among others, periodically throughout the season.
It was an amazing effort for the Swans just to overcome Carlton, who had only entered the finals after Essendon were disqualified from the play-offs following their well-documented supplements program.
Tippett and Mitchell disappeared in the first 20 minutes of the match alone and did not return, leaving the Swans with just two fit men on the bench.
Lewis Jetta, in only his second match back from injury, was subbed in for Tippett and immediately made an impact, kicking a crucial goal in the second quarter as the Swans set about keeping their premiership defence alive.
Jarrad McVeigh was also influential, managing 40 possessions, half of them coming in the second quarter alone.
And while the Swans will be heavy underdogs for this match, one thing that will work in their favour is that they haven’t lost a match in Perth since 2009, though the Swans’ last three victories in the world’s most isolated city did come against the West Coast Eagles.
This match could also see a bit of role-reversing, though one thing will remain the same – Sydney are defending premiers.
Freo’s only other preliminary final came also against the Swans in 2006; prior to this year, it was the closest they had ever come to reaching the Grand Final.
But back then, the Dockers were severely inexperienced, as for almost all of them it was their first ever career preliminary final.
They also played at a ground where they had never played before – Telstra Stadium (as it was known back then), which continues to host blockbuster Swans home games to this present day.
This time, the Dockers will be the favourites, even though the Swans will, again, enter this match as the defending premiers, just as they did seven years ago.
And the match will be played at Patersons Stadium, where crowd support for the Dockers is expected to be like no other.
And while Ross Lyon’s men will be favoured to reach the Grand Final, the Swans won’t go down without a fight, as they have done over the last decade.
I’m expecting two close preliminary finals, with the Cats and Dockers to win their respective preliminary finals and thus go through to the decider.