After 23 rounds of the most thrilling AFL home-and-away season in yonks, this year’s finals series is shaping up as a ripper.
The majority of footy scribes are tipping Adelaide to win the flag. Of course, many of those same tipsters had the Western Bulldogs going back-to-back at the start of the year, and they couldn’t even sneak into the finals.
Interestingly, the Crows have come off the boil, with two losses on the trot, and are no longer favourites for the flag, despite finishing first on the ladder.
What’s fascinating about the Doggies’ performance last year is how they produced a purple patch of footy at just the right time, and benefited enormously by having a week off before the finals. Coming from seventh to win the flag has never happened before. But maybe, just maybe, something similar could happen again.
This year it could be the team who finished in sixth spot at the end of the home-and-away season who take the flag: the rampaging Sydney Swans.
Let me say up front that I’m not a big fan of the controversial one-week break for all teams before the start of the finals. Not only does it leave footy-mad fans across the country with no AFL for an entire weekend prior to the finals, it takes away a significant advantage for the teams finishing in the top four.
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But Sydney, thanks to this controversial fixturing, look more dangerous than ever. They have a home final in the first week at the SCG, where they play extremely well, and their fanatical supporters can get right behind them.
What’s more, they’ve been playing elimination football pretty much since April 29, when they were 0-6. They’ve lost two games since then, both extremely close contests, to their bogey team Hawthorn and the master coach Alastair Clarkson.
But with Hawthorn gone, there’s no one left who has any sort of psychological advantage over Sydney.
Injury-wise they don’t seem to have too many worries either, which is in complete contrast to the start of the year. If anything, the problem for John Longmire and his coaching staff is trying to fit everyone in.
First up though, the Swans will need to get the job done against Essendon.
At various stages this year, the Bombers have looked as good as anyone. They can play an exciting brand of aggressive, running footy that can hurt you if they get on the outside, they’ve got some legitimate superstars, plus they also seem to line up very well against the Swans.
The last encounter between these two saw Sydney trailing by 19 points with less than five minutes remaining. However, the Swans kicked four unanswered goals to pinch the Round 14 contest by one point, after Gary Rohan marked in the dying seconds and then goaled after the siren.
The punters have Sydney the shortest price of any team playing in the first week of the finals, at around $1.20, and you’d think they’d find a way to get over the line against the Bombers given the imperious form they’re in as a group.
Should Sydney beat Essendon, they then play the loser of Richmond vs Geelong, both of whom they’ve beaten recently. It’ll be at the MCG or Skilled, and they’ve won on both these grounds this year as well.
Of the remaining teams, they’ve beaten Adelaide (in Adelaide) and cross-town rivals Greater Western Sydney, neither of whom are in sparkling form.
The only team in the eight the Swans haven’t beaten this year is Port Adelaide, and that was way back in Round 1, when Sydney was missing a host of players and introduced a bunch of talented first-gamers, many of whom have gone on to blossom as the season has unfolded.
If the stars align and Sydney should win the grand final in 2017, it would mean an incredible run of 16 wins out of a possible 18.
There’s a long long way to go, but Sydney winning the flag is not as crazy as it sounds. In some ways it would be a bigger fairytale than the Doggies winning last year.