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2020 AFL semi-finals preview

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Roar Guru
6th October, 2020
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Six teams remain in the race for this year’s AFL flag, with four of them to fight for their survival this weekend.

After winning their respective qualifying finals against the Geelong Cats and Richmond Tigers, Port Adelaide and the Brisbane Lions will both enjoy a week off, during which they’ll learn the identity of their preliminary final opponents.

For the first time since 1994, both second-week finals will feature only Victorian teams, but as the southern state begins to slowly emerge out of lockdown after three months, both semi-finals will be played in Queensland.

The Cats and Tigers will look to avoid a straight-sets exit from October when they come up against Collingwood and St Kilda in their semi-finals, to be played at the Gabba and Metricon Stadium respectively.

The final between the Tigers and Saints, which despite being the second semi-final (as per convention in the AFL finals system) will actually be played before the first semi-final, will be the teams’ first in a final since 1973.

The Cats and Pies are facing off in their sixth meeting in a final dating back to the 2007 preliminary final, and will also be their second meeting on neutral territory this season after the teams met at Optus Stadium back in Round 7.

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Here is your guide to this weekend’s two semi-finals.

[3] Richmond vs [6] St Kilda
6:50pm (local), Friday October 9
Metricon Stadium

This season: St Kilda 15.3 (93) defeated Richmond 10.7 (67) at Marvel Stadium in Round 4.
Last meeting in a final: Richmond 15.18 (108) defeated St Kilda 9.14 (68) at the MCG, first semi-final, 1973.

While they did lead at quarter-time in their qualifying final against the Brisbane Lions last Friday night, ill discipline ultimately cost the Tigers, as their dominance in Queensland came to an end.

The 15-point loss marked their first defeat against them anywhere since 2009, and at the Gabba since 2004, while it was also their first defeat in the Sunshine State since Round 1, 2014. It was also the first time Trent Cotchin and Dustin Martin had suffered defeat against the men from the Gabba.

Their focus now turns towards a semi-final showdown against the Saints, who held on for a thrilling three-point win against the Western Bulldogs.

Playing their first finals series since 2011, the Saints banked on the experience of captain Jarryn Geary, veteran ruckman Paddy Ryder and Swans premiership player Dan Hannebery to get them over the line.

Sadly, though, Ryder won’t play again in 2020 due to a hamstring injury he suffered in the dying minutes, while defender Jake Carlisle has returned home to be with his partner who is awaiting the birth of their third child.

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They’ll also be hoping Ben Long’s appeal against a one-match suspension arising from rough conduct succeeds, otherwise St Kilda will have to make at least three changes.

Despite their setbacks, Brett Ratten’s men will fancy their chances, having beaten the Tigers by 26 points at an empty Marvel Stadium back in Round 4.

Ratten has also never lost against Damien Hardwick in the coaches’ box, which should be a good omen for Saints fans, but it’s more realistic that Richmond should book themselves a plane trip to Adelaide for a shot at Port.

For the winner: a trip to the Adelaide Oval to face the minor premiers in the preliminary final next Friday night.
For the loser: a long plane trip back home to Melbourne.

Prediction: Richmond by 17 points.

Jason Castagna of the Tigers celebrates after scoring a goal

Jason Castagna of the Tigers (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

[4] Geelong Cats vs [8] Collingwood
6:25pm (local), Saturday October 10
The Gabba

This season: Collingwood 8.9 (57) defeated Geelong Cats 5.5 (35) at Optus Stadium in Round 7.
Last meeting in a final: Collingwood 9.7 (61) defeated Geelong Cats 7.9 (51) at the MCG, first qualifying final, 2019.

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Who could forget the gripping 2007 preliminary final in which a goal from Gary Ablett saw the Cats get up by five points or the 2011 grand final where a masterclass from Jimmy Bartel denied the Pies back-to-back flags?

Then there was last year’s qualifying final, which saw the Pies win by ten points despite being kept scoreless in the final quarter.

This will be the second time the Cats and Collingwood meet on neutral territory this year, after they faced each other in the Western Australia quarantine hub back in Round 7, with the Pies winning by 22 points.

The Cats’ recent finals woes continued when they lost to the Power by 16 points at the Oval last Thursday night, with Coleman Medallist Tom Hawkins being kept goalless.

This marked their ninth first-week finals defeat dating back to 2010 and eighth since their most recent flag in 2011; significantly, they have also not won a first-week final against an opponent other than Hawthorn since 2009.

Nathan Buckley’s side responded to the Western Australia media labeling them “dirty Pies” by edging out the West Coast Eagles by a solitary point in the elimination final at Optus Stadium and gaining some revenge for their 2018 grand final defeat.

As he did in the 2018 preliminary final, Mason Cox kicked crucial goals as his side won the first final to be decided by a point since the 2006 grand final (which coincidentally saw the Eagles defeat the Sydney Swans to win their third flag).

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It was hailed by some as the greatest coaching achievement by Nathan Buckley, eclipsing his efforts in getting to the grand final in 2018.

Another upset win over the Cats would see the Pies book a date against Brisbane in the preliminary final next week, but despite Geelong’s recent woes, they’ll take the points.

For the winner: stay ‘home’ and face the Brisbane Lions in an away preliminary final at the Gabba next Saturday night.
For the loser: season over.

Prediction: Geelong Cats by eight points.