• Fantasy round review: Cometh the final, cometh the captain
• Finals crystal ball: Old foes meet, and who'll finish eighth?
• Forecast the final eight with the 2014 ladder predictor
• Around the state leagues: Bulldog stars as Hogan returns
WHERE to start after such a whirlwind weekend of footy?
Collingwood, Geelong, Richmond, umpires, Buddy … so much to discuss after an utterly captivating 48 hours in which the remote control, Dr Google and Twitter were a footy fan's best friend.
But let's start with Collingwood, whose season unraveled, seemingly for good, at the MCG on Saturday night.
On the surface, it's not all doom and gloom. Beat Greater Western Sydney in the twilight game next Saturday and they could still face a 'win-and-in' scenario against Hawthorn at the MCG the following Friday. That would be a Hawthorn - which, should it have a home final in the bank by then and playing its third game in 12 days - that might choose to give some big guns the night off.
So mathematically, the Pies are still a chance to feature in September. Of course, without Travis Cloke, Ben Reid, Dayne Beams, Scott Pendlebury and Jamie Elliott – all casualties of a horrific night for the Magpies and – whether they are good enough even to get their way past the Giants is debatable. Mathematics might be all they have to clutch on to.
WATCH: Magpies lose three in MCG nightmareThe focus after Saturday night was on the injuries and the Pies were getting sympathy for their plight from even the most unlikely sources.
Nevertheless, the effort against the Lions was lame. Jonathan Brown, carefully trying to straddle the line between still-listed Brisbane Lions player and media commentator, said on Channel Nine on Sunday morning that the defensive pressure from Collingwood was negligible, pointing out that the Lions have averaged seven marks inside 50 this year, but on Saturday night, they garnered 15.
The Pies have flamed out this year and have gone from top four mid-season to likely September spectators. Judging on remarks during the year from coach Nathan Buckley and chief executive Gary Pert, this is considerably below expectations.
However, it can be turned around quickly. The Magpies have drafted well the past few years, found a few players and we haven't yet seen Matthew Scharenberg and Nathan Freeman, both top 10 draft picks from last year. And their top end talent is still pretty good.
But 2015, his fourth season in charge will be a very big year for Nathan Buckley. The list, the structure and the game-plan are now his. He needs to perform and so does his footy club. Collingwood is always a story, but will be particularly so next year.
Fremantle v Hawthorn - some quick takeaways1. I wrote last week that Ross Lyon was remarkably upbeat considering the narrow loss at Geelong. Now it is clear why. The Dockers were tremendous in every department against Hawthorn – grunt, run and scoring pressure. It was the best they have looked since the preliminary final last year. They might just be timing their run to perfection.
2. Nat Fyfe will be well rested for the finals.
3. Brian Lake will be better for the run. So will the Hawthorn backline, which for periods was all at sea with him back in the side.
4. Michael Walters is a gun. No coincidence the Dockers look more potent with him back in the side.
5. It will be tough for the Hawks on Saturday night against their bogey side Geelong, which will have had two more days to prepare. It might take the final game against a depleted Collingwood for the Hawks to shore up a home final to open September.
6. Not quite sure the result reflects a change in the balance of power between these two clubs just yet. Granted, the Hawks had won six straight between the clubs before this one, but five of those were either at the MCG or Aurora Stadium. This was the first clash between them in Perth since Lyon took charge of the Dockers nearly three years ago. And if Freo meets the Hawks again, it is likely to be on Hawthorn's home deck at the MCG. But Freo would certainly take confidence into the next meeting based on Sunday's excellent performance.
7. Go well in September, Matthew Pavlich.
WATCH: Showreel - Super Pav reels 'em in against Hawthorn
The Cats: pretenders or the real deal?There might not be a more divisive team right now than Geelong. It seems that opinion is divided between those that think the Cats are right in the mix for the premiership and others who believe them to be the most fraudulent team to be equal top in recent memories.
I remain firmly in the Geelong-can-win-the-flag camp. There is too much experience, too much ability and too much big-game know-how in that side to think they won't be a factor late in September. Geelong remains the one team Hawthorn genuinely fears.
But the Cats have ridden their luck, getting the rub of the green from the umpires late in both matches against Carlton, both one-kick games won by Geelong. The first time was the non free-kick for high contact to Troy Menzel, while on Friday night Allen Christensen put the Cats ahead for good after the free kick for chopping of the arms that umpires coach Hayden Kennedy ruled the following day should not have been paid.
And it was only a week ago that Cats escaped with the win over Fremantle after both Matthew Pavlich and David Mundy narrowly missed shots for goal in the final few minutes.
The Cats can grind out the wins but let's take a look at some history. Geelong's percentage as it stands is a poor 112.8, which we know is largely courtesy of the thrashing they received from the Sydney Swans earlier in the year.
With games to come against Hawthorn and the Brisbane Lions, their end of year percentage is likely to be somewhere between 110 and 115. And as the following table illustrates, there have been eight teams to win the premiership with a percentage of less than 115.
1. 81.6 Fitzroy (1916)
2. 86.4 Fitzroy (1917)
3. 101.7 Melbourne (1900)
4. 106.9 Carlton (1945)
5. 108.8 Fitzroy (1922)
6. 112.3 Carlton (1970)
7. 114.2 Hawthorn (1976)
8. 114.9 Essendon (1912)
In addition 10 more teams have won with percentages of between 115 and 120, the most recent of which was the Swans (116.4) in 2005.
So it doesn't matter that the Cats aren't putting teams away and kicking cricket-like scores. They are winners, period. And that's what matters most at this time of year.
QUESTION TIMEWhat's with this all this empowering the umpires?
Having spent a week with the umpires last month, the impression quickly gained is they like their two-way conversations and that irrespective of their seniority and experience, they are encouraged to speak up and speak their mind. They also have sophisticated communication devices that on game day allow them to speak to each other and to the coaches upstairs. The umpires have been big for many years now on creating this concept of 'team' and with that the freedom and encouragement to over-rule a decision on the ground by an umpire who believes he has the best view. Brendan Hosking made the wrong call on Friday night and again, as part of the honest, two-way feedback that is part of umpiring now, his error was made public the following morning. The empowerment is OK because that will lead to better-developed and higher-performing umpires. But the same system also compels them to own their mistakes, which will the requirement for Hosking this week.
Who is John Coleman?
I know who John Coleman is. And I should hope you do too. What I'd love to know is how many of the newly-minted Swans fans sitting among 'Team Buddy' or whatever his entourage is known as, understand the significance of his nine-goal haul against St Kilda on Saturday, because it puts him in the box seat to win the Coleman Medal. Fair play to Lance Franklin for an outstanding 2014 to date. It is just a shame Jarryd Roughead's suspension robbed us of a thrilling race to the line for this year's medal featuring two very good mates.
WATCH: Showreel - Franklin piles on nine in milestone game
Ashley Browne: The Tigers will be in the eight next weekend if they beat St Kilda (which they will) and North beats Adelaide (which it should). But to stay there, they will need to beat the Saints by plenty, to ensure they have some percentage to play with if they lose to the Swans in round 23, which is likely. They also need West Coast to lose one of their last two, against either Melbourne or Gold Coast. What will help Richmond is for the Swans to rest a few players and given the game is on the cow paddock also known as ANZ Stadium, that remains a possibility. But irrespective of whether they make it, the Tigers have taken us on a hell of a ride the past month.
Watch the last two minutes from Saturday night's Adelaide-Richmond thriller
AB: They are accountable to the AFL. They work for the AFL and are paid for by the AFL. The association is simply their 'trade union' for want of a better word. Umpires bosses Wayne Campbell and Hayden Kennedy report to Mark Evans, the GM of football for the AFL and there is a constructive dialogue taking place regularly between them about standards, accountability and pathways.
AB: Until the technology is right, what they need to do is back the goal umpire in. He has best view of the goal line. Sloane's kick was clearly a goal and the poor goal umpire must have felt like a goose having to over-rule it.
AB: Cracking win by the Bombers under the circumstances. Put the clamps on the West Coast talls after half-time and got things going up forward themselves. Jason Winderlich to full-forward was a great move (should he really be retiring?), while Travis Colyer's final quarter was key. Essendon should make the finals now and if the opening clash is against North Melbourne, it has every chance to win.
Watch the last two minutes as the Bombers steal an amazing win