PRAISE THE BIG MEN
THEY get little love, and are even ostracised on occasions, in the major individual awards of any home and away season.
But finals and premierships are never won without impact from rucks and key position players.
Week one of the 2020 Toyota AFL Finals Series was a very good one for the big men, particularly those from St Kilda and Collingwood. Paddy Ryder won't be seen again this season due to a hamstring tear, but he was best afield for the Saints in Saturday's elimination final win against Western Bulldogs with two goals, four big marks and 20 hitouts. Jake Carlisle and Dougal Howard down back were influential, Rowan Marshall teamed well with Ryder and Max King was beautifully poised at key moments.
Much focus has been placed on Brodie Grundy sitting on the bench at key moments of the final quarter of Collingwood's epic elimination final win against West Coast at Optus Stadium, but having made the bold call at team selection to include Darcy Cameron, it only made sense to use him at key times against the rampaging Nic Naitanui (surely he wins the Eagles' best and fairest). Naitanui was outstanding, yet again, but the Grundy-Cameron combo worked.
As did the 211cm Mason Cox. For the second time in his incredible AFL journey, Cox set up a famous Collingwood finals win by kicking three goals in a quarter - those goals against the Eagles coming early in the first. The performance may not have been as spectacular as the three goals he booted in the second quarter of the 2018 preliminary final against Richmond which prompted the MCG to erupt in a "USA, USA" chant, but factoring in the form troubles he and his club have endured in 2020, it was just as important. And even some of the game's greats can’t boast that they have twice booted three goals in a quarter in a final.
Charlie Cameron, Jarryd Lyons, Hugh McCluggage, Daniel Rich and Lachie Neale got the headlines out of Brisbane's momentous qualifying final win against Richmond on Friday, but that win was set up by the ground-wide presence of Oscar McInerney and Stef Martin in the ruck, and Harris Andrews' reading of the play. Andrews is already a two-time All-Australian, and yet he may not have even scratched the surface of his talents.
PRAISE THE ROLE PLAYER
TWO players who have always loved a scrap helped their teams secure elimination finals wins in week one of 2020 series.
Saint Jarryn Geary's shutdown role as a forward on Western Bulldog Caleb Daniel, a 2020 All-Australian, worked so well that he managed a bonus two goals in a game won by his team by three points.
In just his fifth game of the season, Collingwood's Levi Greenwood stymied Eagle Tim Kelly with an old-fashioned, rules-pushing tagging assignment. As per Geary's impact for the Saints, the Pies weren't winning against the Eagles without Greenwood's commitment to his project.
PRAISE THE X-FACTOR PLAYERS
IN a footy world unfortunately containing a tad too many robots, it was great to see that some still in possession of a licence for flair were able to display it in the elimination and qualifying finals.
Port Adelaide's Steven Motlop, Lion Charlie Cameron and Magpie Jordan De Goey played crucial cameos, all creating match-shaping moments out of nowhere with their renowned freakish goal sense.
Motlop and Cameron booted three goals each, De Goey two. De Goey's goal late from a forward pocket stoppage in the match against the Eagles was the best of the first week of finals. Degree of difficulty was 10. As well as moving the Pies seven points clear, its sheer brilliance as well as the audacity of the attempt sucked nearly all remaining hope out of the Eagles.
QUESTIONS FOR THE LOSERS
THE 2020 debriefs for West Coast and Western Bulldogs will be very different.
If the Eagles are to be honest with themselves, they will be assessing as a failure their collective ability to present any form of positivity to the football industry.
The COVID-19 inflicted stresses of 2020 obviously need to be factored in, but words and body language coming out of West Coast were too often negative, and quite possibly ultimately contributed to an unexpected loss at its home ground in the first week of finals.
GET IT DONE NOW How Dogs, Eagles avoid back-to-back finals disasters
The Bulldogs' problems were not attitudinal, far from it. Through hard work, they worked themselves back into this shortened season which looked shot after just two matches – losses against Collingwood and St Kilda by a combined 91 points.
They will have reason to feel hard done by in kicking four of the final five goals of their elimination final against the Saints, and falling short by three points. And it would have been a big relief, and maybe even a small sense of pride, that they weren't humiliated as they were by a roughhouse GWS in the corresponding match of last season.
But, for all the positivity coming from winning 10 of the final 15 matches, the Dogs are a long way off being able to impact a finals a series. One of their problems – the forward line – will seemingly be instantly rectified when they use the national draft to snare their academy player in Jamarra Ugle-Hagan. Already, the 2021 season is something to look forward to for Dogs supporters.