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After the siren: The final this season deserved

Ashley Browne  September 10, 2017 3:00 PM

The 10: Finals week one's best moments There were some great highlights across the opening weekend of the finals series

IT STANDS to reason that the most competitive season in League history, one in which a record 28 matches were decided by less than a goal, that we should get an extra-time final.

We needed a close final because in terms of excitement, the opening three games of the finals were stinkers. But thanks to West Coast and Port Adelaide, we now have a game for the ages, one we will enjoy re-living for years and years.

There was so much to digest. Was it a free kick at the end? Well, no. According to the changed interpretations this year, it wasn't a free kick to Luke Shuey, who brought the high contact upon himself. But that's a judgement made with the wisdom of hindsight and watching in slow motion. In real time, the tackle could justifiably have been ruled as too high - and was on Sunday morning by the AFL's umpiring department

Watch the last two minutes: Power v Eagles

Given the AFL flagged at the start of the year that such incidents would be not be paid as free kicks, should we expect by now that the umpires should be alert to that and act accordingly? Probably.

But let's celebrate all that was great about Saturday night at the Adelaide Oval. Firstly, Shuey's kick was magnificent, considering the pressure and the stakes. He had a nervous giggle to himself as he went back to take his shot, and he nailed it.

Then there was the defensive work of Jeremy McGovern, with 15 marks and 11 intercept disposals and Eric Mackenzie, who saved the game late in the fourth quarter when he cannoned into the behind post with the ball, preventing what would have been the match-winning point for Port Adelaide.

How about the leadership of Sam Mitchell? With scores level at the end of regulation, Mitchell called in the Eagles and calmly explained what will happen next. In 25 finals, Mitchell has seen and done just about everything – save for extra-time – but his importance to West Coast was underlined there and then. Call it a hunch, but he will be a super coach when he gets around to making it his full-time vocation starting next year. You could see his instant command of the players.

For now, he has another week to play, as do Drew Petrie and Matt Priddis, who together with Mitchell, played really well on Saturday night. They want the show to go on for as long as it can.

The Eagles face a huge task to get up for the Greater Western Sydney game next week. They return to Perth on Sunday and are back on the plane to Sydney five days later. And stand by for a week of Nic Naitanui madness as the they wrestle with the temptation of bringing him back for his first game in more than a year.

But whatever pressure they face out at Spotless Stadium won't come close to matching what they endured and conquered at Adelaide Oval. They will play with nothing to lose against the Giants, who will carry all the expectation.

It was a dirty night for Port, who, Charlie Dixon aside, couldn't get much going forward of centre. A finish of 10.16 on a night they led the inside 50s 63-46 will haunt coach Ken Hinkley all summer. Whenever it is that the Power return for pre-season training, it is a fair bet that extra goalkicking practice will be in order because as Hinkley noted, it has been an issue all year. Dixon couldn't have done much more, but even he finished with 3.6.

Charlie Dixon was on fire, but his inaccuracy hurt the Power. Picture: AFL Photos

The Power couldn't hold the lead for long enough. They led by more than a goal in the final quarter and then fell behind again. With the home crowd at fever pitch in the first overtime period, they jumped to a 13-point lead and again failed to keep it. Port Adelaide is good, and sometimes irresistible when things go its way. But not for long enough, and that is the painful lesson to be taken away from a final they dominated for long periods but somehow found a way to lose.

What's first on the off-season agenda for Port and Essendon?

The week off, and how to handle it

The ease with which Adelaide and Richmond negotiated their qualifying finals would suggest that both should be the raging favourites when they play their preliminary finals in a fortnight.

Yet footy doesn't work that way, particularly in this, the era of the pre-finals bye when the qualifying final winners end up playing one match in three weeks.

Last year, both Geelong and Greater Western Sydney lost their preliminary finals to the Sydney Swans and Western Bulldogs, who both appeared better for the run the previous week.

In the AFL Record this week, former Sydney premiership coach Paul Roos went as far as to suggest that the ideal pathway through to the premiership might be to lose the opening week and then win the next three games.

But that's not a majority view. "I'd rather be Adelaide," said former Swans, Bulldogs and Suns coach Rodney Eade. "The key is to keep ticking things over, but don't go overboard because they're fit enough as it is."

How will Adelaide handle the extra week off? Picture: AFL Photos

The challenge for Don Pyke and Damien Hardwick is to walk the fine line between refreshing the players physically and mentally, while keeping them active.

David Buttifant, the longtime fitness lieutenant of Mick Malthouse, said the key to the next fortnight is for the clubs to have at least one match-simulated session, ideally on Wednesday and Thursday this week. He said different players can manage different loads at this time of the year, but the workout later this week is the constant.

"Ideally, you'd keep playing but the next best thing is a full-ground workout. No bash and crash, but something that simulates about 75 per cent of a game load.

"They need some time away, but not too much idle time because you have to get them on the treadmill and going again."

Port Adelaide premiership coach Mark Williams said the ACL injury to Brodie Smith is sobering, which is why Adelaide and Richmond will err on the side of caution this week. "Don't smash them, because you can see how easy to is to get injured," he said.

And while Eade and Buttifant suggested that having the weekend off, apart from individual recovery sessions, was a way to keep the players mentally fresh, Williams was bit more old-school, suggesting that the players get together this weekend to watch the games that will determine who they will play next.

Tigers a case study in business management

It was Brendon Goddard who once said of Essendon that if it could somehow win a premiership after all it went through with the supplements scandal, then Hollywood would come calling, because a movie surely beckoned.

At Richmond, a premiership in 2017 won't likely mean a trail of producers and directors passing through the doors at Punt Road. But it might well make for an interesting case study for a Masters of Business Administration.

What is becoming increasingly clear is that Richmond's surge in 2017 is on the back of a large investment in people and culture. Yes, having Dusty Martin at the peak of his game helps enormously, but the faith the Tigers have placed in their players and coaches has also played a huge part.

Five things we learned from Geelong v Richmond

Before she ducked back upstairs for a celebratory glass of wine on Friday night, Richmond president Peggy O'Neal spoke to this column from the raucous Tiger rooms of the thinking at the club 12 months ago when it was on the precipice. Hard questions were asked, but unlike the infamous Tigers of the Ian Wilson-Graeme Richmond era, no rash decisions were made. Damien Hardwick would continue to be backed in as coach.

"Patience is important and there's no such thing as a quick fix," O'Neal said. "We're in it for the long haul and we make decisions for the long-term future of the club.

"We did ask ourselves what would happen if we went backwards this year, but we thought he was the right man for the job. We never, ever wavered on that. It was a risk we thought we should take and it has worked out that way."

It is a credit to O'Neal and chief executive Brendon Gale that they ignored the shrill voices for Hardwick to be replaced after the disappointing eight-win season in 2016. Rather than make the easy decision, O'Neal said the Tigers reviewed everything. "It was a review, not of football but for football. What do you need to take the next step?"

The first step was hiring Neil Balme away from Collingwood as the head of football. O'Neal paused, then smiled broadly when asked what the former Tiger premiership player but more to the point, wise old football head, had brought to Richmond.

"Experience and a sense of calmness when he speaks. When he came to the club last year, we were all pretty down and he made us feel better about ourselves straight away. He said, 'I don't think you're that far away.'

"And when you have someone who hasn't been involved in it say that, and it was backed up by Damien who said we'll play finals this year… I mean, thought we might but I'm pleasantly surprised that it has come to this level this far.

"But hey, we're deserving."

That they are.

There is a lot of love for the Tigers as they head to the prelim. Picture: AFL Photos

Cats on the edge

THE WORDS 'feral' and 'Geelong supporters' aren't usually paired together, but there was fair bit of anger from the Geelong supporters in the aftermath of Friday night's loss to Richmond. The Cats have won just two of their nine finals since their 2011 premiership flag – all played in Victoria – and their chief concerns over the weekend are the decision to drop Daniel Menzel, who kicked 38 goals for the season, and whether Joel Selwood should have played.

Cats still keen on keeping dumped Menzel

The Cats kicked five goals for the match, so the Menzel move didn't look great in hindsight, while Selwood was clearly less than 100 per cent. When the inspirational Selwood puts up his hand to play, you back him in every time. But he didn't impose himself on the contest and the hope for Geelong's sake is that he will be better for the run.  

Geelong does so much so well during the home and away season to put itself in the best possible position to attack September, but that finals record is starting to shape as a millstone. The Cats can't be looking ahead with a great degree of confidence to Friday night against the Swans, who have handily beaten them in their past three encounters.

Other observations

1. Going back to his Hawthorn days, Lance Franklin has always tormented Essendon and on Saturday at the SCG he did so again. He entered the elimination final with 64 goals from 14 games against the Bombers and he added four goals to that tally on the weekend, all in the second term and while sporting a heat pack on his upper leg after a receiving a massive corkie in the opening stanza. The Swans were magnificent in the opening half on Saturday and it was Franklin more than anyone who blew the game open. He'll have woken very sore on Sunday morning, but the man is a machine and he'll be ready to go at the MCG on Friday night.

2. For the second game in a row, one poor quarter killed off any hopes of GWS getting a big win on the road and, while the Giants are still alive, it is hard to feel to chipper about their hopes from here. Leon Cameron praised their second half against Adelaide, but the sting was out of the game by then. They didn't appear to miss Steve Johnson, but the temptation will be strong to bring him back for the cut-throat semi-final against West Coast and hope for one last dose of September magic. The thinking here is that he plays.

3. Have we seen the last of Jackson Trengove in a Port jumper? More than likely with young defenders Tom Clurey and Dougal Howard standing up well on Saturday night. Trengove becomes another big name to follow in what is shaping as an intriguing trade period next month.

4. Such is the importance that commercial TV networks place on their news services (remember the grief Seven used to cop on Sundays for not showing the team songs) that it was never going to hang around for the classy farewell to Jobe Watson at the SCG on Saturday evening. But I'm not sure Fox Footy, which had no excuse, showed it as it happened, either. Essendon fans are entitled to feel miffed at that one, given the brilliant images of the Nick Riewoldt, Luke Hodge and Robert Murphy farewells, to name just a few, that we have seen in recent weeks.

WATCH: Watson and Kelly say farewell

5. Take a bow, Sam Jacobs. To play on Thursday night and make such a contribution on the eve of his brother's funeral was just outstanding. But we shouldn't be too surprised. The Crows have become the masters of playing through real-life adversity, which is why so many people would like to see them win the flag this year. They deserve it.

6. Luke Hodge used to make the MCG his September playground. I think he handed the keys to Dustin Martin.