The opening round of the 2014 AFL finals produced some thrilling football. As always with finals footy, there were some big winners and big losers. Here’s how the chips have fallen after week 1.
More AFL Finals:
» By history and form, it’s the Hawks and the Swans for the AFL final
» What we learned from the first week of the AFL Finals
» 2014 AFL Draw
» AFL Finals homepage, full coverage
» Latest video highlights
Hawks 15.14 (104)
Cats 10.8 (68)
The first big winners of the weekend, the Hawks, go straight to a home Preliminary final at the MCG and are also in the box seat to claim a spot in the Grand Final.
The Hawks will face either Fremantle or Port Adelaide in the prelim. Neither will be a pushover, but both are interstate teams which gives the Hawks a neat advantage either way.
It was the Hawks superior skills on Friday night that won them the game.
Time and time again they were able to translate their ability to win possession into a scoring opportunity. A premiership hero last year, Jack Gunston slotted three goals to help them skin the Cats.
A hand also to the Hawks key defensive pair. Brian Lake shut Tom Hawkins almost completely out of the game with his defensive work, allowing Josh Gibson to make a mockery of Geelong’s lack of a second dangerous tall.
Gibson finished with twenty-two touches and was instrumental in the win.
They might find the prelim slightly tougher than Sydney will find theirs, but the Hawks will be heavy favourites to make a third consecutive Grand Final.
It’s looking like the end of an era for the Cats, though that’s hardly the first time anyone’s said that, and we’ve been wrong before.
They matched the Hawks to half time on Friday night, but when the heat turned up in the second half, they couldn’t cope.
The Cats will now host North Melbourne in a semi-final this coming Friday, a team they have beaten twice this year and will be confident of beating again.
They will be far less confident coming up against Sydney in the prelim, assuming they make it that far.
The Cats have some good young talent coming through, but it’s hard to believe it will be enough to replace the stars they are going to lose to retirement over the next two to three years.
The lack of a second key forward is a serious problem. One can’t help but think that James Podsiadly would’ve been handy on Friday night.
Unfortunately for Cats fans, it looks like they will fall short at the penultimate hurdle yet again this year, and a drop down the ladder in 2015 is on the cards.
Sydney 13.15 (93)
Fremantle 10.9 (69)
A Qualifying final win gives the Swans a huge advantage going forward. The numbers back it up – the last seven years running it has been the winners of the qualifiers who play off in the Grand Final.
The Swans will now host a Preliminary final at home, against either Geelong or North Melbourne, and will have an extra week’s rest on their opponents.
The Swans were simply able to perform better through the midfield all day and that gave the all-star forward line a chance to sing. Lance Franklin and Ben McGlynn kicked three goals apiece.
Nick Smith and Dane Rampe also deserve some praise as the defensive duo took two of Fremantle’s most dangerous weapons in Hayden Ballantyne and Michael Walters out of the game. The pair scored just one goal between them.
The magic 8-ball says all signs point towards a Grand Final appearance for Sydney.
On the back foot now after losing their qualifier against Sydney, the Dockers face a monumental task to get back into premiership contention from here.
Firstly, they must knock off Port Adelaide for the second time in two weeks. History suggests they should be successful there but they would then come up against a well-rested Hawthorn at the MCG in the prelim, which is a big ask on any given day, particularly in September.
That said, the Dockers were comfortably better than the Hawks last time they met, and assuming they make it to the prelim, they will enter it with a measure of confidence that they can cause an upset.
The lack of Michael Johnson really hurt them on the weekend. Alex Silvagni played well but simply couldn’t match it with Lance Franklin on the big stage. Unfortunately, Fremantle are out of options in the key defender department.
The Dockers really only have three genuine goal-kickers in the side, Matthew Pavlich, Hayden Ballantyne and Michael Walters.
Pavlich fired, kicking four majors, but just one goal from Walters and none from Ballantyne is not good enough in September.
You’ve got to be in it to win it, and Fremantle still are, but it’s a long way back from here.
Kangaroos 14.9 (93)
Bombers 12.9 (81)
North Melbourne Kangaroos
The Kangaroos entered 2014 with a lot of promise and they delivered on Saturday night with a heart-stopping win over the Bombers.
Down by 33-points early in the third term after letting things slip in the first half, North looked like they were about to cause their supporters yet more frustration in a season that, despite a sixth-place finish, has had plenty.
Then the miracle happened – a seven goal haul in the third term that brought them back into the game, three of them coming from key forward Ben Brown, playing just his ninth AFL game.
North were still a point down late in the final term until Drew Petrie kicked the last two goals of the game to win the match.
The Kangaroos will now face Geelong on Friday night, with Brent Harvey set to return to the side.
While history shows that the top four teams rarely ever go out in straight sets, the Kangaroos will enter the match with plenty of confidence.
The Bombers left the MCG red-face on Saturday night after letting slip a 33-point advantage. They were the dominant side in the first half but just couldn’t match North Melbourne when the Kangaroos turned it up a notch in the second half.
The Bombers simply couldn’t get goals on the board on Saturday night and weren’t able to capitalise on their early dominance through the middle. Joe Daniher kicked four majors, but without Jake Carlisle the Essendon forward line was a one trick pony.
It’s a brutal finish to the season for the Bombers who have struggled with the negative impact of the ASADA investigation both on and off field all season.
Now things gets interesting for Essendon as, after a year as caretaker, Mark Thompson hands the baton back to James Hird and football’s most divisive man takes control of the team once more headed to the 2015 season.
Just how the club will deal with Hird’s return, and what the future holds for two-time Premiership coach Thompson, will be two of the biggest talking points of the off-season.
Power 20.12 (132)
Tigers 11.9 (75)
Port Adelaide Power
If there was any question about Port Adelaide’s form, there isn’t now, as the Power demonstrated against Richmond that they well and truly belong among the top tier of this year’s finalists.
While a fifth-place finish on the ladder has all but ruled them out of it, they shape as the most legitimate premiership contender from outside of the top four in some time.
However, they’re still a long way off even getting close. They will face Fremantle away next week, a side they lost to just a week ago.
Overcome that hurdle and they still would have to face a well-rested Hawthorn to make the big one.
Realistically, a premiership this year is a bit of a pipe dream for the Power, but they have won two finals in the last two years now, and they can aim to build on that momentum and that developing culture of success in 2015 as their young list matures further still.
The Tigers were found out as pretenders always are in September. Their effort to make the eight after their terrible start to the season was nothing short of remarkable, but their woeful performance in the elimination final against Port Adelaide made it clear they are not yet a finals-quality side.
Richmond must now looks back and assess one of the most bizarre seasons we have seen from any club in recent history, and try to make sense of it all.
Where are they in their development – is an eighth-place finish higher or lower than what they deserved?
Richmond look like they still have a few steps to go in terms of building a quality side.
Some more forward targets would be high up the list – the gap between Jack Riewoldt and their next best goalkicker is far too wide.
A greater depth of midfielders is needed too, and the backline needs to become more consistent.
Regardless of their deficiencies however, Tigers fans can look at the likes of Cotchin, Ellis, Riewoldt and Rance, and see what might be the nucleus of a premiership side.
Rebuild, and return stronger again in 2015.