The elimination final losers are always a talking point out of the first week of finals, and this year has been no exception.
We build up all finalists in the lead-up, especially so now with the extended break, and treat them all equally. The gap between eighth and ninth might only be a game or even just percentage, but the gap to first and the top four is always more significant.
Still, every finalist has an enormous focus on them, as we look for reasons to be optimistic about their chances of winning the flag.
Geelong and Sydney are this year’s elimination final losers, and the heat has been on them in the aftermath about exactly where they are at as football teams. There is a lot of symmetry between the two clubs.
The Cats and Swans have been two of the finals stalwarts this decade, if not this century. They are the perennial contenders.
Chris Scott won the 2011 premiership in his first season as coach of Geelong, John Longmire won the 2012 flag in his second year at the helm of Sydney. Both coaches started at the same time, at the end of 2010, taking over clubs that had only missed the finals once each since 2004.
Both teams have finished in the top four, four times since winning their last premiership, but failed to add another flag from these lofty positions. The Swans have at least made two grand finals, but the Cats have failed to progress beyond preliminary finals.
Both clubs have added in players in the conversation for the best player in the game at the time.
Lance Franklin came to Sydney for 2014 after they had finished in the top four on the ladder in 2013, and propelled them to two grand finals in the next three years. The advent of free agency meant that the Swans didn’t have to give anything up for the former Hawk superstar.
Patrick Dangerfield was added to Geelong’s list for 2016 after they had finished 10th in 2015 (but top four in 2013-14), and immediately had an impact. He won the Brownlow medal in 2016, finished second in 2017, and sent the Cats straight back up to the pointy end of the ladder, finishing second each time.
Buddy has played 10 finals for Sydney, averaging 16 touches and 3.6 goals per game in wins, but only 14 disposals and one goal per game in losses. In fact, he has kicked just one goal in the Swans last four losing finals, and they have averaged 48 points per game in those.
In the five finals he played in 2016-17 for Geelong, Dangerfield averaged 31 disposals, 17 contested possessions, five clearances, five tackles and the thick part of two goals a game. There’s only so much one man can do.
Both Geelong and Sydney appear to be in a bit of a middle of the ladder no man’s land, with imbalances in their list that will not easily be overcome.
Yes, the Cats finished second last year, but they lost their two finals by 51 and 61 points against fellow top four sides. They were proven to be a long way off the pace when it counted, and their fall down the ladder this year has added more evidence to this.
They only lost to Melbourne by 29 points on Friday night, but it felt more than that watching live with 16 scoring shots to 25, and being held to only six goals.
The Swans have finished top six the last two seasons, but lost their finals by 59 and 49 points, scoring less than 40 points each time. They too have fallen a long way short when the heat has been on.
Sydney have Franklin, Josh Kennedy, Jarrad McVeigh, Heath Grundy, Nick Smith and Kieren Jack on the wrong side of 30 already, and Dan Hannebery who is playing like it. They have a host of likely youngsters that will likely not mature in time while these veterans are still capable.
Geelong has the top end of talent like Dangerfield, Joel Selwood (albeit what appears to be quite a severe decline), an aging Gary Ablett, Tom Hawkins, Mitch Duncan, with the likes of Tom Stewart and Tim Kelly pressing into that group despite being young in their careers as mature age players. But they do not presently have the depth to complement them.
Longmire and Scott are two defence first coaches that do not play the forward pressure game that is currently successful.
Sydney have long absorbed big inside 50 numbers against them, and then played slingshot football out of the back half. It won them the 2012 premiership, but does not stand up in the current game come finals time, against the better sides.
Geelong play slow, conservative, controlled football, in a time when the competition benchmark plays a forward momentum and kinetic brand.
The Swans and Cats have failed once again, despite being in apparent contention, and something needs to change for each club if they are to land another flag with the current nucleus as players.
Game style is probably the first port of call. Maximising their assets is another. And ensuring there is more balance in their list than we’re currently seeing is another piece of the puzzle.