14/04/2024
A-Z Finals Week 1

The moments that made week one of the AFL Finals. Photos: @melbournefc; @GWSGIANTS; @PAFC Twitter

Week 1 of the AFL Finals produced incredible matches in front of passionate supporters. Some clubs have earned a week off, others will be back next weekend, while for two teams the road ends here.

Week 1 of the AFL Finals produced incredible matches in front of passionate supporters. Some clubs have earned a week off, others will be back next weekend, while for two teams the road ends here.

The Inner Sanctum takes you through the defining highs, lows, and controversies surrounding Week 1 of the AFL Finals series, complete from A-Z.

A is for All roads lead through Melbourne? In one of the more bizarre comparisons you’ll see between AFL and NBA, Fox Footy’s Jonathan Brown made the connection between the Demons’ stellar start to the finals series to the dominance of the Chicago Bulls of the mid-90s. More power to the Dees, but we’re thinking Browny might have gone a tad early on the adulation!

B is for Big game player. A first-time All-Australian in 2021, Darcy Parish looked like he was made for the big stage on Sunday afternoon. Having won best on ground medals in three games this season, Parish again produced a stunning performance with 23 disposals and a goal at half-time, and finished with 35 touches to go with 10 clearances. He can hold his head high after a sensational effort all day.

C is for Clinical Clarry. On a wet night, Clayton Oliver delivered a ball-handling masterclass on Adelaide Oval. When the game was there to be won in the first half, Clarry was at his best – showing a level of class no other player could match. Oliver ended the game with the second most disposals on ground – 18 of which were contested – and kicked an important goal.

D is for Déjà vu for Geelong in Qualifying Finals. The Cats only have one win since the 2011 premiership and that was a result of a missed kick after the siren against the Hawks from Isaac Smith. Their scoring was dismal, the pressure was poor and the errors were basic. Big risk of a straight sets exit.

E is for Elite tackler. Willem Drew again showcased his value to the Port Adelaide side on Friday night as he led the way with 11 tackles. Drew is one of Port’s most important players as his relentless tackling pressure frees up the class of Karl Amon, Travis Boak and Brownlow fancy Ollie Wines.

F is for Five more to go. Footy fans will have to wait a little bit longer to see if Lance Franklin can reach the 1000 goal milestone. Buddy kicked three goals in Sydney’s loss to GWS to finish the season on 995 goals. It’s a long way away, but 2022 could start very well for Franklin if he’s able to reach 1000 goals early in the season. 

G is for Greene’s Good, Bad and Ugly. Toby Greene provided plenty of memorable moments for the Tasmanian crowd, kicking three goals to top score for GWS in its elimination final. But it will be a moment at three quarter time that will likely dominate headlines, with his contact on umpire Matt Stevic seeing him referred to the tribunal and likely to miss the semifinal against Geelong. 

H is for Hogan’s the Hero! Jesse Hogan was one of the handful of Giants who made their finals debut, and he put up a strong performance against the Sydney defence. Hogan took eight marks, including six contested and provided a headache for Sydney all afternoon. He may have hit the post twice in succession, but his goal on the three-quarter-time siren ultimately proved critical to the final result. 

I is for Include the Wingers. Once again the All Australian team was named, and once again wingers were neglected by the selection panel. Karl Amon, Hugh McCluggage and Paul Seedsman were in sensational form throughout 2021 and weren’t recognised with being in the actual squad, with inside midfielders instead favoured.

J is for Jeremy vs the Giants. With Geelong’s loss on Friday night, Jeremy Cameron has booked a date with his old side in what is a mouthwatering contest for the neutrals. Cameron was one of the Cats’ best in their loss to Port, and against his old side with its now famous ‘no-name defence’, he may hold the key to keeping his side’s season alive.

K is for Kick it to… Schache? The Dogs turned heads with a very late change in their clash with the Dons, shifting Josh Schache into the starting 22 in place of Norm Smith medallist Jason Johannisen. It worked a treat, with the tall forward producing two goals and setting another up in conditions suited to smaller players.

L is for Losing the shakes. Tom Hawkins’ last two Qualifying Finals prior to Friday night were dismal. Four behinds against Collingwood in 2019 and then five against Port Adelaide in 2020. While he was nullified by Trent McKenzie, he still managed to snag 2.1 to rid himself of the Qualifying Final shakes.

M is for Maximum effort from Max. There’s never been a question about Max Gawn’s willingness to leave it all on the park for his side, but the All-Australian ruckman took it to the next level on Saturday night. Not only did Gawn register 34 hit-outs, but his tackling pressure was immense, laying a game-high six for the contest. It was a colossal effort from the game’s best big man.

N is for No goal Joe. Daniher picked the worst possible week to not register a major for the Brisbane Lions. On a night where the Lions could only manage nine goals, Daniher did not kick a major for the first time in a game in 2021, only managing to score a single point for the match. Much, much more is needed from the Lions spearhead if they are to progress past the semi-final stage next week.

O is for Oh so close. Sydney’s massive final-quarter comeback fell just short when they were defeated by the slimmest of margins against GWS. The Swans had worked their way back from 29 points down, but were ultimately unable to find one more goal late to take the lead, finishing the game with six consecutive behinds.

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P is for Pick me, Ken? You have to feel for Port Adelaide forward Mitch Georgiades. A hamstring injury ruled him out of a finals berth and a near-perfect performance from his side in Friday night’s Qualifying Final has made his chances of getting back into the side quite tough. His replacement, Orazio Fantasia, kicked four but had a late niggle. A few selection headaches to come for Ken Hinkley in a fortnight.

Q is for Quality young performers. No occasion is bigger than a final, and for GWS youngsters Jake Stein and Zach Sproule, both playing in their tenth games, it was an occasion they rose to. Stein provided strong support in defence for Sam Taylor, with the pair taking 12 marks between them, while Sproule kicked two goals, both of which came from outside 50.

R is for Recruiting genius. It’s been a phrase used at Alberton and in more recent years, against Port Adelaide – ‘missing piece of the premiership puzzle’. It was first used when Paddy Ryder crossed from Essendon, but two men could genuinely be those missing pieces. Orazio Fantasia slotted four goals at one end, while Aliir Aliir was rewarded with an All-Australian blazer and dominated Geelong down back. 

S is for Silly Stevo. It’s been a promising year for the North Melbourne footy club, with the form of Jaidyn Stephenson being a particular highlight. However, an off-season incident where he drunkenly broke his hip and subsequently tried to hide the damage from the North Melbourne medicos undid all the good will he had accrued this season. Silly doesn’t begin to describe it. 

T is for Tassie triumphs! Tasmania was the deserving host of its first two finals and the locals turned out in force to see the action. The atmosphere was electric with fans relishing the opportunity to see finals footy on their home deck. With Tasmania’s potential team a hot topic throughout 2021, Tasmanians have voted with their feet yet again, selling out both matches held at York Park this weekend, to follow-up strong attendances earlier in the year. And fans at home were treated to seeing York Park at its peak, with drone shots capturing the ground in all its glory.

U is for Umbrella weather. It was a throwback to some of the great wet weather finals of yesteryear on Sunday at a wet and windy UTas Stadium. Out went the skilful traits of our great game, and in came the tough, contested football that produces the best contests. The Dogs were able to run away with it in the end against the Bombers, but the midfield battle included bone-crunching hits and tackles, and was enthralling all day.

V is for Varying levels of consistency. Umpiring is always a contentious topic, but the inconsistency in the opening week of the finals is something the footy bosses will want to address. We can’t have a different set of rules match to match with so much at stake.

W is for Where’s Walla? After putting his hand up for selection with impressive performances in practice matches, Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti was again not selected by Essendon. His mercurial talent in the forward 50 would likely have produced goals, with the Dons lacking a small forward with forward pedigree to convert a plethora of opportunities. If he was truly ready to play, it was a baffling decision to leave him out.

X is for X-factor Weightman makes a statement. With the low-scoring game locked in congestion, it was Cody Weightman who stepped up for the Western Bulldogs, with clinical precision in front of goals. He kicked four straight for the game – all stemming from free kicks – which helped send the Dogs through to a semi-final date with the Lions.

Y is for Yikes, Dylan. Not renowned for his ball use, Dylan Shiel will have an off-season to work on it after a poor showing by foot. The Essendon midfielder found the ball 24 times, but used it at 46 per cent for the game. It gets worse when you consider 17 of his possessions were uncontested. In wet conditions the going was tough, but his eight turnovers really hurt the Bombers.

Z is for Zero from Zorko. It was a dirty night for the Lions skipper, who had next to no impact with ball in hand. Zorko finished the game with just 20 touches at 60 per cent efficiency and did not have a single score involvement.

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