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'Made a mockery of the doubters': How every team fared in a mixed weekend of AFL finals

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Roar Guru
29th August, 2021
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And then there were six. A mixed weekend of finals ends, opening the field for some cracking semi and preliminary finals. Here’s a talking point on each team.

Port Adelaide affirm their premiership credentials
Next up: A preliminary final against either Brisbane or the Western Bulldogs
And that is how you prove your finals legitimacy!

In a sequel of their qualifying final win from last season, Port Adelaide managed to dispel any notion that they were not reputable finals contenders and book themselves a preliminary final in a fortnight’s time. They did so in their best performance of the year.

Aliir Aliir deserves specific praise after a marvellous defensive performance, but much of the team were in fine form. For a team that was regularly criticised for struggling to compete with fellow top eight teams, Friday’s win certainly made a mockery of those doubting the club.

But there’s still one more hurdle to jump through: up next is either going to be a preliminary final against either the Lions or the Western Bulldogs. Recent history is a mixed bag for the Power, given they lost to both of those sides this year – Brisbane by 49 points, the Doggies by 19 – in their bad record against top-eight teams.

The caveat here is last week’s two-point win over the Dogs, which suggests to me they’d be Port’s favoured opposition. Falling at the second last hurdle in 2020, the Power will be keen to make amends and reach their first premiership decider since 2007. Now’s as good a chance as ever.

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Geelong just aren’t trustworthy in finals
Next up: A semi-final clash with GWS
Geelong’s dubious reputation has preceded them into yet another finals campaign. Nominally favourites heading into Friday’s qualifying final, the Cats flopped in the second heftiest loss of the weekend.

In one sense, it was not a particularly surprising loss. Under Chris Scott, Geelong holds a poor record in finals openers: they’re 1-8. In qualifying finals, they only have an Isaac Smith miss to thank for keeping them way from being winless. It’s fair to say that Friday’s result didn’t do that reputation many favours.

Geelong were thoroughly outclassed by an opposition they had beaten at the same ground in June. If they’re losing to a squad they’d proven they can beat, the fact that a team they lost to just four weeks ago is their semi-final opponent is scary. That is the proposition that awaits them against the Giants.

I’d be backing them to bounce back, especially if GWS miss their spark, but they’re very close to making 2020’s final campaign the exception, not the rule.

It’s impossible not to feel proud of Sydney’s campaign
Next up: The off season
There is no sugar-coating just how rough that result was for the Swans. They were perhaps the only team able to beat Essendon in the ‘surprise packet’ stakes this year, and to have such a promising season fall so desperately close was as heartbreaking as it was frustrating, given the multitude of chances they blew.

Thus, given they will not be featuring in the finals from here on out, their minds will be set for next year. But to look at next year, you must look at this year, and it truly was a season that belied prediction.

Errol Gulden of the Swans celebrates after kicking a goal

Errol Gulden and the young Swans can be proud of their 2021 campaign (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Describing his group as “shattered”, John Longmire alluded to the challenges the club has faced. He’s right. Spending half a season on the road, winning seven from their last eight games and heading into finals the second least experienced and second youngest team in the eight, it’s a campaign the Swans would be proud of.

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Big things beckon next year.

Can GWS do it without Greene?
Next up: A semi-final against Geelong
Toby Greene is apparently the only takeaway from Saturday’s Tasmanian final, and to be fair, it will have ramifications for the team. By the letter of the law, Greene’s actions are absolutely deserving of a suspension, and given at the time of writing it is confirmed he is headed to the tribunal, it would be outrageous if he gets anything less than a week. That could be a problem for the Giants.

Take their Round 21 clash with Geelong – who they’ll meet in a semi-final next Saturday. In that clash, Greene was stupid good, kicking four goals off 16 touches in perhaps the best exemplification of his talent he displayed this year.

I’ve made it plain that Greene’s the type of player who can rally the club; a showy leader who has a tendency for the impossible. He’s all but certain to be missing next week, though, which beckons the question: can the Giants do it without him?

Melbourne have to battle past Demons in a fortnight’s time
Next up: A preliminary final against either Geelong or GWS
The Demons just keep on going on. If Port got close to premiership favouritism with their excellent win the day prior, the Demons reaffirmed their grasp on that claim with a strong win over the Lions. It’s a win driven in Melbourne’s impeccable ability to dominate across the ground.

Christian Petracca celebrates a goal

(Photo by Sarah Reed/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

As my colleague Stirling Coates noted in his post-game wrap, the statistics behind the win simply reaffirm just how good they were. In the midfield especially they were untouchable – though, of course, Brisbane’s pathetic effort in that area probably contributed.

But as ever with Melbourne, there’s a feeling of uneasiness about them. Perhaps it’s because I am not used to living in a world that has the Demons has legitimate premiership contenders; perhaps it’s because the last time they cruised through a qualifying final they fell hard in a preliminary final (even more worryingly: like this year will be that clash was in Perth, too).

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The Dees are on the cusp of big things, but the hard part begins now.

It’s Lachie Neale’s world and we’re just living in it
Next up: A semi-final clash with Western Bulldogs
If there was ever a team to be thankful they have a double chance, it’s Brisbane. The Lions were horrendous on Saturday evening, falling well flat and scarcely displaying the form they showed in the later parts of the home-and-away season.

But there’s one clear bright spot from their loss: Lachie Neale. Neale was simply magnificent. 46 disposals – 25 of those contested – 13 clearances, and an involvement in a third of Brisbane’s scores. No other player can claim anything close to the influence he held on the Lions’ midfield, and while they are impressive statistics, it’s unsustainable.

Lachie Neale

Lachie Neale (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

The Lions need a significant upping in the influence of their other key players, especially when they’re coming up against the Bulldogs next Friday. For what it’s worth, they’ve already got an inherent advantage in that game.

The pure fact of being able to hold next weekend’s semi-final in Queensland at the Gabba will benefit the Lions, given they hold a fantastic record there – they won nine of their ten matches there this year, four of those against top-eight clubs.

A strange old win as the Dogs go through to Week 2
Next up: a semi-final clash with Brisbane
Challenged by the Bombers in the first half, it was not difficult to envision the Bulldogs losing their first final against an Essendon side up and about. It especially was plausible given the poor form the side had found themselves in to end the home-and-away season.

Alas, their opposition failed to make the most of their chances, the Dogs were much better in the wet Tasmanian climate and, yes, some controversial umpiring occurred. These all combined to contribute to a strong win for Luke Beveridge’s side.

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The third quarter was the difference. The Dogs looked stronger and cleaner as Essendon’s youth struggled to break through. Cody Weightman was the beneficiary of four free kicks but converting them into four goals at the same time the Dons were failing the simple stuff illustrated the gulf between the two.

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There won’t be as big a gulf against Brisbane, who they play next. If they can replicate the second half effort, they are every chance. They were forced to do it the hard way, but they’ve done this before.

6,203 days later, Essendon have never been closer to winning a final
Next up: The off season
The pain of losing their seventh consecutive final will be difficult for the Dons to mask, but this is a club that has never been closer to winning a final. The club has punched well above their weight this year, and it’s important to be circumspect in the aftermath of yesterday’s disappointing loss.

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Essendon were far and away the youngest and least experienced squad to make the eight – and remarkably in among the top four for those metrics league-wide.

There will be a lot of conversation about whether another team might have had more of an impact in finals than Essendon. But to that, I’d suggest it was better to have a young, exciting team feature in September than any of the experienced clubs who missed out, ala West Coast and Richmond.

It honestly makes me feel good knowing that the two teams that got eliminated from finals are two of the league’s squads with the most potential. The comparisons to the Swans are endless, but the Bombers, like Sydney, aren’t too far away from winning a final as soon as next year.

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