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Previews with punch – The sudden death of semi-finals

Joel Selwood grimaces as he injures his left ankle against the Swans in round 20. The Geelong skipper still looked proppy last week. Photo: AFL MEDIA

Previews with punch – The sudden death of semi-finals

Rohan Connolly    

GEELONG v SYDNEY (MCG, Friday 7.50pm local time)

It’s a good thing for Geelong that results this season have so regularly defied logic, form and just about any other consideration. Because the frequency with which that’s been happening is about the only comfort the Cats have going into this cut-throat game.

Form? Sydney has that one covered, 15 wins now from its past 17 games and fresh off a 65-point demolition of Essendon last week. History? The Swans have certainly got their opponent covered on that score, five wins from their last six meetings with Geelong, the narrowest margin in any of them still six goals plus.

Venue? Well, this might be a Geelong home game, but it’s actually Sydney with the superior recent record at the MCG, 6-4 (and a couple of those losses by a kick) across the last 10 appearances compared to the Cats’ 5-5.

Personnel? Sydney has all hands on deck, an embarrassment of riches in fact, with the likes of Kurt Tippett and Will Hayward unable to be squeezed into the 22. Geelong has a still proppy-looking Joel Selwood and now, at the worst possible time, has lost a key midfielder in Cam Guthrie. It simply couldn’t not to pick Dan Menzel for a second week in a row.

Much has been written about Geelong’s recent finals record, now 2-7 since the 2011 grand final win. In that whole time, the Cats probably haven’t had the odds stacked against them in any September clash as much as this one.

Their chances of defying all that may well rest with their start to the game, and their ball use going forward.

In its last two losses to Sydney, Geelong has been jumped badly, conceding seven-goal quarters each time.

And in both games, Sydney’s pressure on the ball-carrier and organised defence has rendered the Cats largely impotent despite having more inside 50 entries, a whopping 72 in last year’s preliminary final for a paltry return of just eight goals.

That evening, both Selwood and Patrick Dangerfield had nearly 40 disposals, yet couldn’t inflict anything like the damage you’d expect of either with that much ball.

Without Guthrie, the Cats will need not only “Dangerwood” right at their peak, but peak form as well from Sam Menegola and Mitch Duncan. That’s not just a bonus but an essential given the recent form of Josh Kennedy, Luke Parker, Dan Hannebery, not to mention a cast of support acts all doing their bit.

That’s a hell of a lot which needs to go right, and against expectations. Indeed, if anything other than sheer hunch is taken into the equation, it’s impossible to predict anything but another Sydney win here.

TIP: Sydney by 18 points.

GWS v WEST COAST (Spotless Stadium, Saturday 7.25pm local time)

If you want some pretty compelling evidence of how much tighter the top of the AFL ladder is these days, recent semi-final results are a pretty good guide.

Until 2014, under the current final eight system, we’d had 28 semi-finals, 26 of which had been won by sides rebounding from qualifying final losses. Over the last three seasons, just two out of six qualifying final losers have managed to avoid a straight-sets exit.

That’s ominous news for both Geelong and Greater Western Sydney, though you’d rather be in the Giants’ shoes this week than the Cats’. The Giants at least get a final on a ground their opponent has played at only three times. They’ve beaten West Coast twice this season already.

That said, there’s plenty of “buts” about this game, too. First, the Eagles did play at Spotless Stadium only a few weeks ago, where they more than held their own before going down by 21 points. Their previous trip was the scene of a famous away victory courtesy of Nic Naitanui’s last second snap.

But the biggest buts concern GWS’s own form, and injuries, two issues which have dogged the Giants all season.

After nine wins in their first 11 games, the Giants have won just five of their past 12 (including two draws) and have lost their last two by 44 and 36 points, as good as out of the contest against Adelaide in the qualifying final by half-time.

Those defeats have produced two of their three lowest scores of the season, and their forward set-up has at times bordered on dysfunctional, GWS looking way too top-heavy.

That has to change by necessity as much as design now, with Jeremy Cameron gone for the year. What threatens to hurt even more however, is the similar loss of ruckman Shane Mumford, out of sorts of late, but still a key to the GWS clearance-winning capabilities.

West Coast, meanwhile, has found exactly the sort of resilience it so palpably lacked for so long at the perfect time, its win over Port Adelaide last week gritty to say the least given the Eagles went for more than an hour without kicking a goal, and with just over five minutes to play of extra time, trailed by 13 points.

Experience came in handy indeed for the Eagles last week in the shapes of Drew Petrie, Matt Priddis and Luke Shuey, Petrie’s combination with Nathan Vardy in the ruck and up forward critical.

Another big final from Sam Mitchell (and he makes a habit of it) would have West Coast more than holding its own in the most critical area of the ground. The Eagles might have just a little more going for them right now at either end, also.

The equation has changed dramatically in the space of a couple of weeks. What might have been viewed as a major upset then wouldn’t seem quite the shock now. Indeed, I reckon the Eagles can and will get the job done.

TIP: West Coast by 2 points.

  1. It’s always dangerous to read too much into a Geelong loss that comes after a bye. They are one of the worst performed teams in the AFL after byes.

    It’s only half time, but 6 goals up, they should hold on.

  2. “It’s a good thing for Geelong that results this season have so regularly defied logic, form and just about any other consideration. Because the frequency with which that’s been happening is about the only comfort the Cats have going into this cut-throat game.”

    Prophetic, Rohan. One of our best wins I think in a very long time, and it wasn’t just the brilliance of Dangerfield, and Selwood is clearly not yet back to his best. Some of our best were players who’d not automatically make the 22. If we had to be thrashed by Richmond last week to prove that we could do this, then it was well worth the pain. I woke last Saturday thinking ‘was it really that bad?’ but woke this morning thinking ‘was it really that good?’ From the ridiculous to the sublime. AND we get to see Lonergan play again.

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