It was an amazing start to the AFL finals series this weekend, as the Adelaide Crows and Richmond Tigers booked themselves into preliminary final week, the Sydney Swans breezed past the Essendon Bombers, and Port Adelaide Power and West Coast Eagles played out an all-time classic.
No Rory no worries for Adelaide
The Adelaide Crows were impressive in a 36-point win over Greater Western Sydney in the first qualifying final on Thursday night at Adelaide Oval. The Giants kicked the opening goal before the Crows kicked the next eight goals to put the visitors away.
Star small-forward Eddie Betts lit up Adelaide Oval when the game was at its hottest, kicking three of those eight goals and giving one off to Josh Jenkins. Giants rebounding defender Heath Shaw had the task of marking Betts, and was made to pay heavily for not paying due respect defensively on Betts.
The night wasn’t all perfect for the Crows, however, with dashing defender Brodie Smith suffering an ACL injury which ends his finals campaign. But the Crows will welcome back Rory Sloane for the preliminary final. Meanwhile, GWS coach Leon Cameron has some selection headaches, with key forward Jeremy Cameron injuring his hamstring, and a big decision on whether to recall dropped forward Steve Johnson.
Tigers dare to dream as captain ‘Cotch’ leads the way
Richmond won through to its first preliminary final since 2001 after dispatching Geelong in a 51-point win in the second qualifying final on Friday night at the MCG.
The first half of the game witnessed a proper finals contest, with slow, grinding football being played in the midfield. Richmond were able to slow Geelong down by clogging up the centre of the ground and forcing the Cats to constantly go wide. As a result, Geelong were having trouble trying to break free from the pressure in the middle.
Richmond had a number of key contributors, including Dustin Martin – who started the Tigers’ surge in the last quarter after breaking away from Tom Stewart and Mitch Duncan to perfectly set up teammate Shaun Grigg in front of goal. The eventuating goal put the Tigers 20 points up and they never looked back.
The Tigers were also led strongly by skipper Trent Cotchin, hard midfielder Dion Prestia, and intercepting back-man Nick Vlastuin. The loss means the Cats will host Sydney on Friday night.
Swans blow apart slow Bombers
The Sydney Swans have continued their incredible renaissance by knocking out Essendon by 65 points on Saturday evening in the second elimination final at the SCG.
The Bombers started brightly, led by retiring great Jobe Watson and young midfielder Darcy Parish. Soon after that, though, the Swans started getting on top through captain Josh Kennedy, utility Dean Towers and Luke Parker, with the latter starring in his 150th match.
The game was turned on its head in the second term, with Lance Franklin kicking the first three of Sydney’s 10 goals to kill Essendon off quickly. The Bombers simply couldn’t stop the Swans from getting first use of the ball and getting it in quick enough from their midfield dominance.
Franklin ended up with four goals for the day against Essendon defender Patrick Ambrose in a glaring mismatch. Towers and ruck/forward Callum Sinclair finished with three goals each.
Shuey at the death in extra-time thriller
West Coast pulled off one of the great final escapes, winning by two points after the siren in extra-time in the first elimination final on Saturday night at the Adelaide Oval. This game had many twists and turns, with West Coast bolting out of the blocks early to lead by five goals early in the second quarter, before the Power were inspired by strong forward Charlie Dixon.
As Dixon’s confidence grew, so did Port’s, and the Eagles’ early quick run and carry was stifled up. This game turned into a giant slog in the second half, with Port having a massive 17 inside 50s to one in the third quarter, but were unable to capitalise on their dominance. The Power could only kick 1.3 to 0.1.
But the game opened up a bit more in the last quarter, with scores sitting level for the last few nerve-jangling minutes. In the extra-time period, however, Port raced out to a 13-point lead, and also had a few chances in the second period to bury it, before some daring play through the middle eventually led to the Eagles getting the ball inside forward 50. Luke Shuey won a free for high contact with 26 seconds remaining, and slotted his shot home calmly after the siren to steal the win and stun the Power faithful.
Jeremey McGovern was inspirational, constantly repelling Port Adelaide’s entries with 15 marks. Retiring West Coast champions Drew Petrie and Matt Priddis were influential keeping the Eagles in it, and they will now play away to the Giants next Saturday night.