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'Shades of 2016 for the Doggies, but...': Talking points from the AFL's semi-final weekend

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Roar Guru
5th September, 2021
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It isn’t often when late-breaking trade news overshadows a weekend of semi-finals, but that’s what happened on an otherwise footy-free Sunday night.

Here’s some water-cooler talking points.

A clinical Geelong conquer their finals demons, setting up a prelim with themselves
Next up: a preliminary final with Melbourne

The Cats making a preliminary final is not surprising by virtue of history. It goes without saying that Geelong’s terrible record in qualifying finals is well established – a pattern which continued following their first up loss to Port Adelaide the week before last.

But something which, puzzlingly, is not as awful as you would assume is their record in semi-finals: they’ve won five from six of them the week after stumbling in qualifying finals. And so it was that they prevailed in their encounter with the Giants on Friday night, albeit not without a challenge.

The worrying signs in the Port loss largely evaporated on the field during the clash, with the Cats managing to affirm that their subjectively boring style of play can hold up in finals.

They were able to hold off the Giants when they challenged, largely owing to a more clinical performance up front. Using the period during which GWS were most in the game, Geelong were able to foster an ultimately unsurmountable lead; not by playing with flair, but by simply making the most of their chances.

That’s the story of the Cats.

There is just one problem. Need it go without saying that their preliminary final record under Chris Scott is almost as bad as their qualifying final record?

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They will be up against the Demons; a team that have been so powerful throughout the year. The Dees have the weight of expectation hanging above them – much more so than the perennially challenging Cats – but are also a more exciting and impactful side.

Honestly, I doubt they would be massively worried about playing the Chris Scott’s squad.

Patrick Dangerfield of the Cats looks on with blood on his face

(Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

Outgunned but not outshone, the Giants end their season amidst injury and controversy
Next up: the off season

Much like their New South Wales footy counterparts in the Swans, the GWS Giants have been a team performing beyond what injuries – and intuition – would have suggested this season. Thus, it was simultaneously predictable yet disappointing to see the weight of injuries catch up to the club.

My fellow Roarer Stirling Coates articulated it pretty well in his post clash piece after the Giants’ loss, but it bears repeating that this was a GWS side missing talent everywhere – but particularly up forward.

Toby Greene’s suspension was borne out of a tendency to push the line; but in pushing the line he is playing with a ferocious ability to produce game-winning moments. There was an obvious lack of his presence up forward, much as there was an absence of another small forward in Brent Daniels.

The unexpected late unavailability of Jesse Hogan, too, exacerbated the existing absence of Jeremy Finlayson and left Harry Himmelberg besieged as the Giants’ lone key forward option in the typically enigmatic area of GWS’s squad.

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We will never know for certain whether or not more luck in the medical room, or a different tribunal result, would have contributed enough to change a result – even a full-strength Giants would likely have been underdogs against the Cats. But while they won’t rue this loss for a long while, it’s a reminder that football is a cruel game.

The Lachie Neale rumours a vexing conundrum for the Lions already reckoning with a loss
Next up: the off season.

And one team taking stock of the realisation that football can be an unbelievably cruel sport is the Lions, who experienced agony, ecstasy and agony again in a matter of minutes at the death of Saturday night’s final. The team was so closely matched with the Western Bulldogs for much of the night, and while Zac Bailey’s final goal to even the scores with 90 seconds left was one of my favourite moments from the season so far, they fell excruciatingly short.

There wasn’t much that could have swung this one either way, and that’s the kicker for the Lions.

But the real shock was the news that Lachie Neale was likely to request a trade back to the club he’d left three years ago: Fremantle. There’s sure to be a lot of discussion about this one – you’ll likely be hearing from myself more on this sometime soon – but the first impression is the logistics of such a move a sure to be a sticking point between the Dockers and Brisbane (and potentially a third club).

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It does leave Brisbane to a tricky reckoning to make. The depth of their midfield remains impressive – Cam Rayner slotting back into the side in 2022 helps – but Neale’s an irreplaceable character more than his on-field traits. His defection to the Lions coincided with the start of their resurgence, and he remains a vitally integral player. The Lions will be pleased with the fact that there’s no animosity between player and club, but there’s a long road ahead here.

Neale’s prospective departure cannot turn into a proverbial rock being thrown through the Lions’ premiership window. I’m confident it won’t be, but their next moves will be wild to watch.

Lachie Neale

Lachie Neale (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Shades of 2016 for the Doggies, but a big weight added with Cody Weightman’s injury
Next up: a preliminary final with Port Adelaide

Getting a strong sense of déjà vu around this Doggies outfit? You’re not the only one.

With their win in Saturday’s awesome clash in Queensland, Luke Beveridge’s team are headed off to a preliminary final with Port Adelaide in what is a remarkably similar run to their only premiership win this century. In shadows of 2016 being repeated this season, the Dogs smashed a team after a hefty road trip (Eagles in Perth, Essendon in Tasmania), endured a semi-final against a team heavily favoured and more so considered premiership contenders (Hawks, Brisbane) and now jump into a preliminary final against a difficult side away from home (GWS, Port).

But the win over Brisbane might hinder them more than help the Dogs; though it’s likely that Marcus Bontempelli will be alright, and Hayden Crozier and Ed Richards expected to be good to go for potential returns, electrifying forward Cody Weightman ruling out of the preliminary final is a big loss. It’s an both an unsurprising worry and a source of unusual comfort.

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Given his performance in the third quarter of their elimination final against the Bombers and the first half of the weekend’s game not coincidently coinciding with the superb flair of the Dogs, not having him will mean the Dogs will have to adapt. And therein lies the comfort: Bailey Smith’s three goals exemplifying just how talented the Doggies have it up forward.

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