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After the siren: Prelims a promoter's dream

Patrick Dangerfield and Josh Jenkins will renew acquaintances in Friday night's preliminary final - AFL,Patrick Dangerfield,Dustin Martin,After the Siren,column
Patrick Dangerfield and Josh Jenkins will renew acquaintances in Friday night's preliminary final

JOSH Jenkins might be the biggest Australian fan of American sport going around. Certainly, he is the one with the largest audience.

Pre-game verbal jousting is part and parcel of the landscape over there, so it was no accident when the Crows forward said last week how much he hoped Geelong would beat Sydney last Friday night, in order to set up the dream preliminary final at Adelaide Oval this Friday night, with Patrick Dangerfield coming back to town.

"…if he marches into town with his Geelong teammates, there'd be nothing better than beating him and reminding him that perhaps he should have stuck around with us and he could be a Brownlow medallist and a premiership player," Jenkins said.

It was a play straight out of the NFL and the NBA and while it won't lead to selling extra tickets – this game will sell out almost instantly and likely would several times over – it just adds another layer to what will be a fantastic game.

There will be barely be a spare seat at the MCG the following late afternoon either for a game with storylines just as thick. Richmond hosts Greater Western Sydney in a game that will likely break the record for the largest percentage of supporters from the one club at an AFL final. 

Preliminary finals: Who, where and when

Already, the Melbourne Cricket Club is allowing just one visitor's pass per member for the 4.45pm game, which means they're expecting around 90,000 at the game. Perhaps 1000 of them will be wearing orange.

We've had Dangerfield versus the Crows a few times already and every time it is absorbing. On Saturday, it will be Brett Deledio versus the Tigers for the first time.

The Tigers needed a shake-up at the end of last season; one of the big five had to go and it was Deledio, who departed, bound for the Giants after 243 games and a couple of best and fairests. His start to the season was delayed by a calf injury and he missed both the games against the Tigers this year. 

To add to the occasion, Saturday evening will be his 250th game. The Giants had visions of Deledio playing out of the forward line when he got there, but on Saturday night he returned to more of a half-back/midfield running role.

But without going all Tim Shaw on you, there's more. Giants coach Leon Cameron played 84 games for the Tigers between 2000 and 2003 after a great career with the Bulldogs, while head of football Wayne Campbell captained the Tigers between 2001 and 2004 and played 297 games for the club.

The Western Bulldogs, one of Cameron's former clubs, got the better of him in last year's preliminary final. Will the other one deny him this year?

Cameron and the Giants ran into a Bulldogs-sized roadblock last year. Picture: AFL Photos

If the Giants can bring close to their best – and it's a big 'if' based on their form this year because consistency has been their Achilles heel – they have the running power and speed of ball movement to win on the MCG. Against West Coast on Saturday night they played perhaps their most complete game of the year, running hard offensively and defensively and their tackle pressure was first-class.

In the first half, when the game was up for grabs, they stuck 45 tackles, an un-Giant like return for much of the year.

Full match coverage and stats

The Giants went smaller with Shane Mumford and Jeremy Cameron injured, and it worked. Steve Johnson chimed in with six goals in a vintage performance. Yet listening to Cameron afterwards, he is no certainty to even play next week because his banged-up knees make him a week-to-week proposition.

Five things we learned from Giants v Eagles

Let's hope he does get up and plays well. The MCG in September and Johnson have always made for an alluring mix. And if the Giants can get through on Saturday and the Cats win the night before, then it will be Stevie J versus Geelong for the 2017 flag. You can only imagine the build-up for that one.


A week of soul-searching, two hours of triumph 

If you were to script the events leading up to a cut-throat elimination final, it would likely not feature all that took place at Geelong last week before what might have been the very best win of the Chris Scott era at Kardinia Park.

It started with a team meeting/review session at the club last Saturday.

These things usually take about 45 minutes, but as Cats midfielder Mitch Duncan explained on ABC radio on Saturday, this one lasted barely 10 minutes and pretty much ended with a message from the coach to the players to "grow some balls".

The Cats were terribly poor against Richmond in the qualifying final and there would be no shying away from it.

The unusual week continued with club president Colin Carter suggesting the Geelong supporters were suffering from "finals fatigue" when there were perhaps 25,000 of them among the 95,000 who attended the qualifying final.

Those that were there were presumably the ones who cared and they spent much of the week venting on talkback radio and social media about the coach, the non-selection last week of Daniel Menzel and a record in recent finals that was starting to become a millstone around the collective necks of Geelong.

Heaven forbid, they were starting to sound like Richmond supporters.

Then there was the Friday morning withdrawal of Tom Lonergan, evergreen and soon-to-be-retired Geelong defender and proven Lance Franklin-slayer, because of what skipper Joel Selwood said (we assume in jest) was a "dodgy sausage roll".

The portents for the Cats weren't good, yet by 10.30pm Friday night, the general consensus in the buoyant Geelong rooms was that this was a win to be savoured.

Full match coverage and stats

"One of the best wins for a long time. It was fantastic," Carter told this column. "Everyone thought things were stacked against us but I think we have been underrated. The Swans are a fantastic team so that was a brilliant win."

He heard the disquiet over the course of the week. Was it unfair? "I think so," he continued. "Chris Scott and his team have done an amazing job rebuilding the team. I think there were five players out there tonight who played in our 2011 premiership side, so to be up there contending is pretty amazing and to actually have a win like that against a few odds was pretty fantastic."

Geelong president Colin Carter. Picture: AFL Photos

A longtime leading management consultant, Carter knows a thing or two about workplace environment and morale. To that end, he felt the need to have a quiet coffee with the coach during the week. "Just to encourage him," he explained.

"I might wander through the coaching department every couple of weeks and chat to whoever is around. I saw him this week and we caught up. There was nothing particularly special about it, but I wanted him to know that we were encouraging him."

Every Cat rated from the second semi-final

In a way, Friday night was one for the 'true believers' at Geelong. Carter recognised the displeasure of the supporters although he found it disappointing.

"Over the last 10 years our club has had the best winning record of any team in the competition for the last 100 years. The one thing I do know is that if we lose a game it's not because of a lack of trying.

"The supporters have had a pretty good run but having said that, they were fantastic tonight." 

A lot like the team. 

A night when everything went right

The semi-final win will be remembered for Scott's three positional moves.

The first was through necessity. Lonergan's withdrawal meant moving Harry Taylor back in defence. Franklin wasn't 100 per cent fit because of last week's corked though and was his own worst enemy with some poor conversion, but when the game was hot early, the Geelong veteran was in complete command. There wasn't much time to hatch a plan; he only got wind of the change of plans the afternoon of the game.

Patrick Dangerfield to full-forward had been predicted in some quarters, but did Scott have the courage to pull the trigger? Given the Cats had lost their past three to the Swans, he had to offer something different and this was the obvious move.

How the match was won: Scott's Dangerfield masterstroke

In the first half, Dangerfield was all over the estimable Dane Rampe and it resembled an NFL game, where teams go repeatedly to their best wide receiver in the hope that if he doesn't catch the ball, he will earn the flag for pass interference. Rampe was in all sorts of bother against Dangerfield from the get-go and eventually the Swans had to turn to Nick Smith.

Dangerfield finished with four goals, all in the first half. There were Geelong players with better figures, but Dangerfield turned the game on its head and the game Geelong's way for good. Where he lines up against the Crows on Friday night will be the talking point of the week.

Chris Scott's coaching was a key to Geelong's big win. Picture: AFL Photos

Mark Blicavs on Josh Kennedy was also a good move. Kennedy is a September specialist, perhaps the most consistent finals performer now that Luke Hodge has retired. He had 20 possessions on Friday night, but it was his least influential finals performance for some time.

But with the exhortation to "grow some balls" still ringing in their wars, so many Cats lifted. Steve Motlop, the No.1 whipping boy when the Cats are down, was physical and commanding without the ball and a third-quarter tackle brought Geelong supporters to their feet. Menzel was busy all night and justified his recall to the side. Duncan and Sam Menegola dominated the midfield to the stage where Dangerfield didn't need to play there, save for a few minutes in the third term when the Swans were trying to rally. 

It was a great coaching performance. Tactically savvy and with some fire and brimstone as well. Scott isn't going anywhere any time soon at Geelong, but Friday night will instill plenty of belief at Geelong that they have the right man behind the wheel.

What will he bring to Adelaide Oval on Friday night?

Other observations

1. That's four years and counting for Franklin at the Swans and still no premiership. The big 'Bud' has delivered so much for the club and the average home crowd of 33,000 at the SCG this year is as much his doing, as anyone. He's been good for business, no question, and the club has made two Grand Finals, and two semi-finals in his time there, but a Sydney flag to go with his two at the Hawks remains elusive. However, I'm not totally buying the argument that it doesn't really matter whether or not the Swans win a flag with Franklin. It matters to Franklin. If it was only about the dollars, then he might well have accepted the offer from the Giants at the same time that was equally generous. He pushed to get to the Swans because he thought the prospects of team success with them was greater than at the then-fledgling Giants. There's no way he'd be thinking he made the wrong move at the end of 2013, but he would have looked at the Swans list at the time and thought it likely he'd have won a flag in the red and white by now. He still might, but he and the team might only have all the elements in place for one or two more seasons to get it done.

What the Swans and Eagles must do first

2. Nice touch by the Eagles to allow retiring trio Drew Petrie, Matt Priddis and Sam Mitchell to play out the final few minutes of Saturday night's game in the midfield. It was a poor night for West Coast and those three champions of the game deserved a better send-off, but the disappointment will likely be fleeting as they each look back at the totality of their magnificent careers. Mitchell finished with two goals – just the eighth multiple-goal game of his career – and Hawthorn supporters still hope that next year's fixture might open the possibility of him sneaking back to Melbourne for some sort of MCG farewell. There never really was the opportunity for them to say goodbye. 

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs