In an intense finish, the GWS Giants have prevailed as our second AFL grand finalist for 2019 after defeating the Collingwood Magpies by four points.
Here are my five talking points from Saturday evening’s preliminary final.
1. Giants’ prelim hoodoo over
There’s a big, big sound from the west of the town…
After preliminary final losses in ’16 and ’17, and a semi-final exit last year, the GWS Giants are through to the big dance for the first time.
The only team to win a final every year for the past four years, it was a big day for the small contingent of fans decked out in the orange and charcoal behind the goals.
Seemingly unfazed by the 70,000 Magpie supporters for most of the match, and silencing them in the third term, the GWS Giants were up and about, controlling the game fairly comfortably for three quarters.
When Collingwood came in the final quarter and went for a run four goals, GWS held on thanks to some brilliant defensive efforts and the ability to hold the footy in at the contest.
With Phil Davis down (though, not out), Nick Haynes and his backline stood up.
Zac Williams in the midfield was a revelation, while Harry Perryman and Matt De Boer put the clamps on Steele Sidebottom and Scott Pendlebury.
2. September rain evens the contest
Melbourne’s wet weather made it a slog on Saturday evening, and the team working harder was able to get the win.
It was evident early that the match would be a low-scoring affair, and tough going with rain falling heavily – just five goals were scored between the sides to half-time.
The rain made it easier to lockdown on players and restrict the skill and speed at which Collingwood prefer to move the ball.
Darcy Moore kept the Pies in it, and when the rain eased, the Magpies got going, and boy, what a difference it made.
Everyone jumped aboard then, and a relentless run it was.
Chris Mayne, quiet for much of the game, was a man possessed in the final term, and Josh Thomas got on the end of a couple lucky goals.
Unfortunately for Collingwood, Eddie McGuire might be God to some, but he does not have control of the weather.
The run after the weather passed was left too late for the Pies to come away with the win.
Brodie Grundy had a remarkable 73 hit-outs, 25 disposals and ten clearances, doing his absolute best.
But at ground level, Collingwood lost the clearances by 16.
3. GWS injury curse continues
If the injury crisis at GWS wasn’t already bad enough, their co-captain Phil Davis battled through injury in this preliminary final.
His trouble began in the warm up, when a dislocated finger was fixed by Adam Tomlinson.
Then, in the opening term – just three minutes into the game – Davis put his hand up and came from the ground following a contest in the defensive goal square.
The skipper headed to the rooms and received treatment on his right leg, a tight calf revealed as the issue.
Davis re-appeared at full-forward, where he put a tackle on Chris Mayne, aggravating his already strapped-up shoulder.
The defender, turned forward, battled through the second half and post-match, he said it was his back.
Meanwhile, coach Leon Cameron said it was a tight calf: “when Phil has a tight calf, it generally comes from his back.”
Will he play next week? I hope so.
4. The ARC caught sleeping
The AFL Review Centre appears to have missed one, an important one, in the final term.
After over-turning a Scott Pendlebury goal earlier in the match, the ARC let a Josh Thomas goal go, all clear, while vision appears to have Heath Shaw and Lachlan Keeffe touching the ball.
Thankfully for the AFL, GWS withstood the Magpies’ onslaught and held on by four points. If they had not, legal action would not have been out of the question.
It was a shocking non-call; the fingers visibly bend backwards. It helped Collingwood in their run of goals and almost got them the win.
The AFL put the review centre together because, ‘what if this happens in a final?’ and sure enough, it appears not even the ARC could make the right decision here.
A bit to play out with this as the AFL says there was “insufficient evidence”, but the video footage and graphics tell us viewers a very different story.
5. How many changes can the Giants make?
Toby Greene comes into the side, that is a no-brainer.
Lachie Whitfield, assuming ten days is enough to recover from appendicitis, plays.
Will Phil Davis be fit to play? He says so.
Does Stephen Coniglio get up for the last game of the season? A chance, says Leon Cameron.
Some huge decisions to be made at selection this week, but how many changes can be made? Two are more than likely, but any further calls could make for some big grand final week stories.
It’s also hard to remove players from a winning side, particularly one who holds on in such a tough manner.
Their grand final opponent is Richmond, who also have some decisions to make on the injury front.
The Tigers are on an 11-win streak, but these Giants – coming from sixth place – have been able to get the job done in finals this year.
We should be in for a cracker next Saturday, with both sides arguably among the best teams over the last three years.