This weekend’s footy always brings on mixed emotions for me.
On the one hand, I love Preliminary Final weekend as it produces the best finals footy outside of the Grand Final.
On the other hand, it is a reminder that the season is almost over and I am closer to having 6 months of lifeless existence.
I digress; many Prelims have gone down in folklore as some of the best footy matches ever played.
From Jim Stynes’ brain snap in 1987 to the Tudor to Ablett passage in 1994 all the way through to last year’s Hawks-Crows thriller, Prelims epitomise our great game.
It’s hard; it’s passionate and always tight – everyone involved knows the prize that awaits them.
Prelim weekend is also colloquially known as ‘the people’s weekend’ as the general footy masses make this match their ‘Grand Final’ due to the lack of tickets available for the real thing.
In 2013, footy fans will be treated to two cracking Grand Final qualifiers.
On Saturday, we have a potential Grand Final virgin taking on an old hand who knows there way around this time of the year.
But tonight, we have footy’s equivalent of Ali-Foreman, Tyson-Lewis and Fenech-Nelson on show.
Geelong vs. Hawthorn (Friday, MCG, 7:50pm)
So much has changed since Hawthorn last defeated Geelong.
At the time of the Hawks premiership victory over the Cats in 08, George W Bush was US President, Kevin Rudd was actually a popular PM, Pink’s ‘So What’ was the number one single and Social Media was in its infancy.
When you take that into consideration, Hawthorn-Geelong as a contest looks more like McGrath-Atherton than an Ali-Foreman match-up.
But that line of thinking overlooks the titanic struggles these two have had in the last five years.
In the 11 matches played between these two since 2008, 8 have been decided by 10 points or less with five matches having a final margin of three points or less.
These results underline how level these two great sides are, which makes tonights match a difficult one to tip.
One defining feature of this rivalry is how well the two match-up on the field.
For example, while Hawthorn has Josh Gibson’s ability to rebound with the football, Geelong have Harry Taylor and Andrew Mackie doing the same thing.
While Geelong has the mercurial skill of Stevie Johnson, Hawthorn has the freakish talent of Lance Franklin in their forward line.
And while Geelong are lucky enough to have the a player like Joel Selwood full of courage and tenacity in midfield, Hawthorn have a general in Luke Hodge running back with the flight of the ball at half-back.
Previous results also are an unreliable form guide, which will comfort Geelong whose last month has been far from exemplary.
So the X Factor in games like this will come from Geelong and Hawthorn’s weaknesses.
The slightest weakness will be the game changer and for me, the Geelong forward line is a concern.
While the Hawks have in-form players such as Roughead and Gunston combined with a rested up Lance Franklin, Geelong’s goal scoring options are looking sickly.
Paul Chapman is out suspended, Tom Hawkins looks crippled while Vardy and the J-Pod are struggling.
In a game that is destined to be close, Geelong’s fraught forward line may be their kryptonite.
Key Match-Up: Harry Taylor vs. Lance Franklin
Taylor is in golden form while Franklin is fresh after a week’s holiday. With Geelong’s forwards below par, Geelong’s defence needs to nullify the Hawks key targets especially the freak that is Lance Franklin. If Taylor can reduce Franklin’s influence, the night will be a lot easier for Chris Scott and the team.
It will be close but Hawthorn’s potency up forward compared to the lagging Cats will get them over the line by 3 points in an epic duel.
Fremantle vs. Sydney (Subiaco, Saturday, 5:45pm)
I’m really looking forward to this contest.
In one corner, you have Fremantle who are looking to make their first Grand Final in what has been an underachieving 20-year history.
In the other corner, you have Sydney who have been to the big dance three times in the last eight years and know what it takes to win a Premiership.
Both sides come into this Prelim with entirely different form guides.
Bar a few hiccups, Fremantle have been clinical over the second half of the season losing just 3 of their last 14 matches.
Sydney on the other hand, has lost three of their last five all against sides they need to beat in order to win the flag.
Freo come into the match with a relatively solid unit that have played most of the season together.
Sydney in contrast, has lost a huge amount of their side through injury and has resorted to blooding debutants to fill the gaps.
Gary Rohan and Ben McGlynn are back to face the Dockers but the Swans have paid a heavy price with two mentioned above replacing key forward Kurt Tippett and rising star Tom Mitchell who both suffered serious injuries last week against Carlton.
While other sides wilt in the face of a mounting injury list, the Swans love nothing more than being cast as the underdogs.
It is for this reason; I feel this will be closer than most pundits and bookies think.
Both Fremantle and Sydney are renowned for their work at the contest.
They love nothing more than starving opponents of possession while using their brute strength to force the ball forward.
Both Fremantle (Michael Barlow Ryan Crowley) and Sydney (Josh Kennedy, Ben McGlynn) have some of the best-contested ball players in the competition that will make the contested ball engaging viewing.
Whoever can control this will play in next week’s Grand Final.
Another leveller of this Prelim is Sydney’s experience at the pointy end of the season.
Fremantle have made just one Preliminary Final in their history (2006 vs. Sydney).
Only 6 remain from that match (Pavlich, Johnson, McPharlin, Sandilands, Crowley and Mundy) while a solid core of the Swans played last year.
If the match gets tight into the final quarter, does Fremantle have the necessary experience and mental capacity to hold strong or will Sydney grind them down with their experience?
Key Match Up; Ryan Crowley vs. Kieran Jack
Crowley last time out nullified Geelong enigma Stevie J, while Jack had a good game against the Blues on Saturday (30 disposals and 2 goals). I cannot see Crowley going to anyone other than the Swans livewire who has a cracking ability to find the ball in the deepest of contests. Crowley is the master tagger and needs to keep Jack from imposing himself in midfield.
The Swans will fight hard as they always do but this is the year of the ‘Purple Haze’. Fremantle will overcome the Swans in a tight contest and win by 15 points.