That familiar feeling … The Cats had a disappointing loss to Collingwood to kick off the finals series. (AAP: Michael Dodge)
Just six teams remain in contention for the 2019 AFL premiership.
By virtue of their qualifying-final wins, Collingwood and Richmond must be considered favourites to face off in the decider.
The last time that occurred, Tigers’ legend Kevin Bartlett kicked seven and Grandstand expert Mick Malthouse, who would later coach a record 718 AFL/VFL games, was playing in a back pocket.
Of those still in the mix, the team under the most pressure heading into this week’s semi-finals is undoubtedly Geelong.
AFL tweet: The fixture of week two of the 2019 AFL Finals Series has been announced! #AFLFinals
The minor premiers challenged late in the qualifying final with Collingwood and may have lost by only 10 points, but the Cats’ record in finals — three wins from their past 13 — is well beneath the group Chris Scott has had at his disposal.
Rain, hail or shine, Rhys Stanley must play against the Eagles to at least give a rampaging Nic Naitanui some sort of contest in the ruck.
This will allow Mark Blicavs to return to the defence, where his athleticism and spoiling ability will be badly needed to help combat West Coast’s potent forward line.
Scott now faces one of the biggest challenges of his coaching career. He doesn’t want a repeat of 2014, where Geelong finished third before bowing out of the finals in straight sets.
There’s simply no margin for error. He’s a highly respected premiership coach, an intelligent and articulate voice on the game, but in recent weeks Scott has appeared to let his frustrations overcome him.
Bemoaning the lack of home finals at Kardinia Park was unproductive and some believe detrimental to the psyche of his side. And to suggest Charlie Cameron had little influence in Brisbane’s one-point win over the Cats in round 22, despite kicking five of the Lions’ 10 goals for the game, reeked of sour grapes.
It’s fair to say the external messaging has been a fraction awry of late. The internal messaging at Kardinia Park will have to be perfect this week to overcome the powerful reigning premiers in a cut-throat semi on Friday night.
Nasty Giants stun Bulldogs
Speaking of cut-throat, GWS played like assassins, bringing razors to Saturday’s elimination-final clash with the Bulldogs. The Giants got nasty and produced at a level many doubted they could. They brought ferocity to the contest, shut down the Bulldogs’ slick handball chains and played with unwavering commitment.
They targeted and successfully blunted Dogs’ star midfielder Marcus Bontempelli, in the case of Toby Greene with methods that literally caught the eye.
The valid criticism of GWS has always been that the squad is high on individual talent but low on team ethic and accountability. Leon Cameron’s side rebuked that theory by bullying ‘the Bullies’ leaving them battered, bloodied and ultimately belted.
Grandstand expert and St Kilda 300-gamer Nathan Burke was won over on Saturday: “The type of football the Giants played today can take them deep into September,” he said.
Now they just need to replicate it.
Dusty the destroyer for terrific Tigers
Dustin Martin is replicating his form of 2017 when he won every possible prize, except for perhaps the Archibald — although he is like a walking piece of art. On Saturday night, Martin was akin to Ben Stokes at Headingley, completely unstoppable.
Martin felt as though he had failed his teammates last season with his performances dipping to those of a mere mortal.
The Brownlow medallist tore Brisbane apart with a six-goal haul in the Tigers’ 47-point qualifying-final win.
If he keeps up his late-season form, Dusty may need to find room to squeeze in another tattoo, one in honour of another premiership.
And while Essendon endured another September failure on Thursday night — the Dons are still without a finals victory since 2004 — the club’s chief executive Xavier Campbell has shutdown speculation coach John Worsfold would be shown the door with a year still remaining on his contract.
To sack Worsfold would have been exceptionally harsh, given Essendon made the eight despite a horror run of injuries to key players including Dyson Heppell, Joe Daniher, Devon Smith, Orazio Fantasia and Jake Stringer.
Grandstand expert Adam Ramanauskas, a premiership-winning Bomber, said Worsfold had excelled given the challenges he had faced.
“I think John did a terrific job,” he said.
“He’s been absolutely perfect for Essendon since he came in — in a critical moment in the club’s history to where they are now — I applaud him.”
Worsfold is safe for now, but after recent stability in the coaching ranks, this season suggests we’ve returned to an era of impatience. A poor start to 2020 from Essendon, with key players back in the line-up, will surely bring renewed pressure.
Two of Worsfold’s assistants, Blake Caracella and Ben Rutten, are viewed as senior coaches in waiting. How long will they wait? Well, that all depends on the age-old coaching currency — wins and losses.
Alister Nicholson is one of ABC Grandstand’s senior AFL commentators and can be reached on Twitter @alisternicho