The 2021 AFL finals are here, and reigning premiers Richmond aren’t in it for the first time since 2016.
And even though the Demons claimed the minor premiership, this thing could still be won by any of the eight remaining teams.
Yes, the race for the flag is that wide open.
The Bombers and Giants survived being eliminated with wins over the Pies and Suns respectively in Round 23 and are now two of eight teams vying for a premiership.
The Eagles, Tigers and Dockers weren’t so lucky. West Coast were hammered by the Lions. Likewise, the Saints smashed the Dockers by 58. Richmond’s draw with Hawthorn ended their year. Tigers fans are finally put out of their misery, as their sad 2021 and league dominance comes to an end.
So now we know who the final eight teams are, here’s everything you need to know about the AFL finals, the teams and match-ups, the biggest X factor, the concerns and who’s the most likely candidate to win the whole thing.
Qualifying Final 2: Port Adelaide Power (2) versus Geelong Cats (3)
Friday at 7:50pm, Adelaide Oval
You could argue the Cats are shaky after giving up a 44-point lead to Melbourne, but they’ve still been a form team, winning six of their last eight. The thing is, Port Adelaide are also in hot form: they’ve won 11 of their last 13 games, losing to the Cats and the Demons. The Cats might have their measure. In June Geelong beat the Power by 21 at Adelaide Oval. Can they repeat that same effort in a final on the same ground? I think they can.
Elimination Final 2: Sydney Swans (6) versus Greater Western Sydney Giants (7)
Saturday at 3:20pm, UTAS Stadium
This might be the most entertaining match of the finals in Week 1. They tied the head-to-head record at 1-1 the year. The Giants beat the Swans at the SCG by two and Sydney won by 26 at Metricon in July. Buddy Franklin is starting to find form. He’s kicked 48 this year – that’s 15 in the last five matches and six in Round 23 against the Suns. The Swans have won seven of their last eight. Jake Lloyd is averaging 28.2 disposals a game. The Giants will be looking at Toby Greene to work his magic. He has kicked 42 goals this year and GWS have won four of their last five with wins over the Cats, Tigers and Bombers. They also beat the Demons at the MCG by nine.
Qualifying Final 1: Melbourne Demons (1) versus Brisbane Lions (4)
Saturday, 7:30 pm at Adelaide Oval
Melbourne should have confidence they can beat any team in the eight after an inspiring comeback win from 44 points down against Geelong at the Cattery in Round 23. Against the top-eight teams they’re carrying an 8-2 record. Last time they played the Lions they won by 22, booting an impressive 12.10 to 7.5 after quarter-time. But beating Brisbane won’t be easy. The Lions are 7-3 in the last ten weeks, which included some hulking wins of 38 (Eagles), 85 (Pies), 64 (Dockers), 44 (Cats) and 64 (Giants). They have the weapons. It’s just a matter of whether or not they can get them working against a stingy Demons outfit.
Elimination Final 1: Western Bulldogs (5) versus Essendon Bombers (8)
Sunday at 3:20pm, UTAS Stadium
This is a match-up the Bulldogs probably didn’t want. They’re up against a youthful team with nothing to lose. The Bombers have won five of their last seven, including three in a row and a win over the Bulldogs earlier this month. Jake Stringer has been playing inspired football, with 37 goals this year, and he has been the No. 1 AFL player since Round 15. Zach Merrett and Darcy Parish have also been keys to Essendon’s winning run. Without Josh Bruce (48 goals), the Bulldogs have kicked 5.7 and 10.4 and are yet to find a way to win without their key forward. That’s a huge concern on the eve of finals.
The most obvious one is: can the Bulldogs rediscover their flair and brutal home-and-away form? They are pitted against a dangerous team in Essendon, who they lost to by 13 points three weeks ago. Since then they’ve gone 0-3 and lost key forward Josh Bruce. They’ve appeared to have lost some confidence, and you get the feeling Marcus Bontempelli will have to do some extraordinary things to keep the Bulldogs in the premiership hunt. They were supposed to finish in the top two and have fallen to fifth. A straight-sets exit looms for the Bulldogs if they can’t rediscover their mojo in front of goals.
Max Gawn has been the ultimate ruckman in the AFL for the past five years. He rose on the big stage against the Cats in Round 23 with an after-the-siren matchwinning goal, which tells us he’s ready to take on those high-pressure moments in finals. At 29 years old, he’s playing in his peak years. With Melbourne rising as contenders, their premiership window is open for the next few years. If Gawn can add a premiership to his name — maybe even two or three — he’d go down as arguably one of the ruck greats in recent history.
Not many picked Essendon to make finals this year – in fact many picked them to be a bottom-four team. The Bombers are the team least likely to win the flag, but they also carry good form and have lots of upside. They’ve only beaten one top-eight side, but they’re playing better football and have been consistently good and more cohesive in the last two months. Stringer – Essendon’s Swiss Army knife – looms as their finals saviour, but can he keep repeating his hot form? Can their back six hold up? They haven’t won a final since 2004, but the elimination final against a struggling Bulldogs could be their best chance to break the drought.
It’s been Melbourne’s year. It started with a 9-0 run. They won 11 of 12 games. They beat the Cats. They beat the Tigers. And then the wins kept coming: Bulldogs, Lions, Bombers, Power, Eagles and Cats. They won their last four games. Max Gawn, Clayton Oliver and Christian Petracca have been rampant all year. Bayley Fritsch has 47 goals. And defensive duo Steven May and Jake Lever have been in All Australian form with their intercept work. From top to bottom this 2021 team is playing formidable football, they’re cohesive and they’re in the best position to break their 57-year premiership drought.
Premiership prediction: Melbourne Demons.