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After the siren: Who'll write a September fairytale?

Ashley Browne  August 27, 2017 9:22 PM

The 10: round 23's best moments The final round of the season produced some fantastic highlights

THE CAST may change, but the storylines ahead of every finals series essentially don't change from year to year.

• Who plays who in week one of the finals?

Which is not to say that this year's finals series won't be a blast. It stands to reason that such a rollercoaster home and away season will be followed by a September with its own twists and turns.

So here are your tried and true September storylines, with a few new characters in the lead roles.

• Missed the eight? Here's your team's first order of business

The team that will feature the most on the front page of the papers

The media romantics will be all-in on Richmond, the one big Melbourne club guaranteed to sell papers, fill column centimetres and generate page impressions. There's the romance of no flag for 37 years, no winning final since 2001 and the three straight elimination final defeats between 2013 and 2015. 

Be it through Kevin Bartlett or even Mick Molloy, the hopes and aspirations of the Tigers will be front and centre of the finals narrative in 2018.

Hardwick backs Tigers' brand to beat Cats 

And it will be a premiership out of the box if they do salute. This is a team whose dominance has been forged by the brilliance of Dustin Martin, the harder edge of Trent Cotchin and the dominance down back of Alex Rance. What Richmond doesn't have is power key forwards and the difference-makers this year have been the small forwards such as Josh Caddy, Jason Castagna and Dan Butler.

The Tigers have been great to watch all year. But they're not quite the Cinderella story of 2017.

Instead, the team you should consider barracking for …

Is Adelaide. The reasons are twofold.

Firstly, the Crows are pleasing on the eye. They build-up through the midfield and then it's off to the races forward of centre. The Crows have great key forwards such as Josh Jenkins, Taylor Walker and Mitch McGovern and have the mercurial Eddie Betts playing at their feet. A big finals series would just about complete the CV for Betts.

But the Crows are also a just a little more than two years removed from the sudden death of coach Phil Walsh, and the resurgence that led to premiership favouritism for the flag started under his watch in 2015. You would need a heart of flint not to feel a bit happy for the Crows if they do win the flag after all they've been through.

Although they will be a bit anxious in Adelaide for the next little while. Two straight losses is hardly the form to be taking into the finals, even with the next two at home.

Nine things we learned from round 23

The historians' pick

Dig deep enough and there is history to be made for every team this September. But none more so than Sydney, and if the Swans do salute it will be one of the great feats in League history.

For those just crawling out from under a rock, or "back from Guatemala" as Denis Pagan used to say, the Swans lost their first six games of the season before winning 14 of their last 16 to march into the finals. The only team they couldn't beat once they started on their streak were the Hawks, who will be sitting at home for the finals.

Since starting 0-6, the Swans have beaten all the 2017 finalists save for the Power and the Eagles. With their midfield firing and Buddy Franklin playing as well as ever (he only jagged a lazy 10 against the Blues on Saturday) finishing outside the top four will likely mean zip for these Swans. Four straight from here to win the flag? No problems at all.

Them again?

We could say the Swans, perennial finalists. But the nomination here is Geelong. The Cats missed the finals to replenish and regenerate in 2015, but otherwise they've been a September constant since 2004 and since their premiership win in 2007 they pretty much go into every season as one of the teams to beat.

This year is no exception, and they were superb at home against the Giants on Saturday night to finish second on the ladder and book themselves two home-state (if not necessarily home-ground finals). They had the rails run last year as well, but blew it after an awful opening quarter and a half in the preliminary final against the Swans.

They do look better this better year, they're certainly deeper through the midfield, and if Joel Selwood returns successfully after his foot injury (and who would bet against him?)  they'll take some beating in September.

I had a mate with an injury like that and he reckons …

Never mind it takes five years of actual study and years of clinical training to be able to properly diagnose sporting injuries, September is when everyone becomes an expert on what ails footballers, and this year is no exception.

Selwood's ankle injury is the big one – getting him back for that first final will be critical for the Cats.

But for all the critics of the bye, from Alastair Clarkson down, one great aspect of the prolonged build-up is the opportunity for injured players to get themselves right.

Around the state leagues: Who pushed their finals case?

Adding another zero …

A sub-plot during most, if not all finals series in recent times, has been the big-name players not signed away for next season. Gary Ablett and Lance Franklin have featured in previous years, but this September we have big names Dustin Martin, Josh Kelly and Jake Lever all out of contract.

This is becoming the new normal and what makes this trio particularly remarkable is that their form all season has been top-shelf. Martin, best on ground again at the MCG on Sunday, is the raging Brownlow favourite and the biggest single reason why the Tigers have barnstormed into third place this season. Kelly is now one of the top five midfielders in the competition and Lever is close to an elite medium defender. None has felt the need to put pen to paper and their form hasn't suffered at all.

If they can carry that home and away form into September then, not only might they add some extra dollars to their next playing contracts, they might have a premiership medal to take home and perhaps share with their new teammates.

Win it for …

There are a few players heading into retirement after this year's finals, but most them already have premiership medals in their keeping. But not Jobe Watson.

Dons make finals: Sweet September dreams come true

The whys and wherefore don't need repeating here. And yes, the Bombers, who were given a late scare by Fremantle on Sunday, are unlikely to run the table and win four finals. But imagine if they do and Watson gets a medal. Brendon Goddard will be right. They will make a film about it.

Making up the numbers 

In most seasons, there is a team or two you think might be making up the numbers when it comes to September. North Melbourne certainly fit that category last year. 

This year? Maybe West Coast, although a 29-point win over Adelaide in the season finale to win through to the finals took some character. They've been streaky all year, the Eagles, usually following a win with a loss, but new season, new beginnings, so who really knows.

It would help enormously if Lewis Jetta can repeat the brilliant final quarter he played on Sunday. One thing about the Eagles, is they do have their fair share of match-winners and they also have Sam Mitchell, who knows a thing or two about winning a final in hostile territory.