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AFL finals diary: Preliminary final nirvana and a run in the seconds

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Roar Guru
18th September, 2018
22

Seemingly unperturbed by 18-metre goal squares, the footballing gods have delivered a preliminary final weekend for the ages.

Hawthorn and Greater Western Sydney now vanquished, and the AFL’s final four ready to do battle.

The ‘blockbuster’ tag for Friday night’s Tigers-Magpies clash somehow perfectly apt and an under-sell at the same time.

In Richmond, we have the – surely soon to be lost – combination of dynasty-chasing incumbent and people’s champion.

Their long-time black and white foe looms as the perfect underdog, with Collingwood light on expectation yet justifiably heavy on self-belief.

Together at the home of football, a neighbourly spat playing out under street lights.

In the background – faint but resolute – can be heard the sound of Nathan Buckley’s own ‘redemption song’.

This season’s beard and spreading-grin a hint of hard-earned joie de vivre for the Pies coach.

Buckley – like his adversary, Damien Hardwick, before him – enjoying that rare form of liberation derived from confronting your own coaching mortality and surviving to tell the tale.

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At peace, and yet still covered in invisible scars that only a premiership will ever properly heal.

Nathan Buckley

Magpies coach Nathan Buckley (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

And then the Demons head west, sprinkled in fairy dust.

An interstate circuit-breaker that offers Melbourne the chance to reflect on two hugely significant finals wins, but more importantly the two that remain.

After all, premiership droughts are funny beasts.

Sometimes your best chance to break them is when you are seemingly not ready to.

Wait a year or two and you risk the curse seeing you coming.

It was the Demons I had to thank for finding myself in near-freezing conditions at North Port Oval on Saturday afternoon.

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The VFL preliminary final between my Bombers seconds and the Casey Demons representing an outlet for the mix of AFL finals bonhomie and envy which gripped me after being ringside for Melbourne’s stirring win over the Hawks.

The sea of colourful VB and Carlton Draught cans that greeted me on entry to the Port Melbourne ground lending a Christmas in September-like festivity to proceedings.

Hooded senior Melbourne players doing their best take on paparazzi-shy Hollywood celebrities, all the while struggling to conceal the excitement from the previous night’s heroics written large on their faces.

Bitterly cold, raining and only a solitary, old maxed-out grandstand for shelter, and yet smiles all round.

Fans revelling in a viable contemporary old-school footy experience.

But I digress.

Back to Perth and a relatively muted Eagles outfit standing very much on the outside looking in.

Of course, much of that owes to Victorian football navel-gazing.

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But there is also the lingering stain of its 2015 grand final no-show, coupled with Nic Naitanui’s latest knee injury and Andrew Gaffe’s pre-free agency whack, which has conspired to let the air out of West Coast’s tyres.

Yet, while they may not enjoy the same level of outside interest, the Eagles arguably possess the joker in the finals pack.

In fit-again Josh Kennedy, Jack Darling and swingman Jeremy McGovern, West Coast boasts a cast of throwback, blue-chip gorillas capable of challenging the in vogue small-forward set-up.

Telling perhaps that Richmond, that has done most to debunk the ‘tall forwards win finals’ theory, still feels the need to acquire marquee big man Tom Lynch this off-season.

And now we must wait for these two preliminary finals that promise so much.

Reminding ourselves to savour a penultimate weekend of football that so often surpasses the one that it spawns.