The Cats remained in the hunt, the Dogs kept their fairytale run alive, while there was another chapter to write in the Carlton coaching saga.
The Inner Sanctum takes you through the defining highs, lows, and controversies surrounding Week 2 of the AFL Finals series, complete from A-Z.
A is for Australian tour. After victory on Saturday night, the Bulldogs have set themselves up for a tour of Australia in their finals campaign. After trips to Tasmania and Queensland, they’ll be heading to Western Australia and South Australia over the next week as they rack up the frequent flyer points.
B is for Brilliant Baz. Bailey Smith played what could have been his best game of AFL, finishing Saturday’s semi-final with 27 disposals, 548 metres gained and three goals, two of which came in a tight last quarter when scoring was at a premium. His last quarter goal on the left foot was truly spectacular.
C is for Cerra’s choice. It’s not just Carlton racing for the highly sought after signature of young gun Adam Cerra. Two additional clubs have been rumoured to have had preliminary discussions with the Fremantle player, who has requested a trade back to Victoria. The 21-year-old has a big decision to make over the coming month.
D is for Disappearing Daniher. Joe Daniher was meant to be the missing link for the Lions in their quest for the flag, but the mercurial forward failed to fire in the 2021 finals series, kicking just one goal across two matches. With seconds on the clock and any score needed to extend the Lions’ season, his snap on goal drifted out on the full, summing up another painful finals campaign for the former Don.
E is for Everybody loves long sleeves. Brad Close has been a magnificent ambassador for the long sleeves over the years, and he’s quietly put together a brilliant campaign as a small forward for the Cats. On Friday night, he kicked two goals to go along with 13 pressure acts. He’s keeping veteran Luke Dahlhaus out of the team.
F is for Farewell, legends. As it becomes off-season for more and more clubs, we are seeing the tough decisions made and Essendon is no exception. David Zaharakis – who is the man responsible for one of the greatest moments in modern football history – joins Cale Hooker as club legends to be departing at season’s end.
G is for Grand Final parade? It’s been a long time between drinks for a Grand Final parade, with the huge event being cancelled last year. Perth, however, is in a position to host one during Grand Final week, which would add a level of normality to the biggest week on the football calendar. WA has already proved its ability to pack out these events, with an exceptional Long Walk for the Dreamtime on the Swan clash earlier this season.
H is for Hungry, hungry Hawkins. After a 300th game to forget, Tom Hawkins responded with a big bag of five goals against GWS in a do-or-die final. The Geelong talisman was at his aggressive best, making the most of several different match-ups throughout the game and giving Leon Cameron a headache that may last the entire off-season.
I is for Is there a chance? Tom Stewart has remarkably put himself into calculation for a return if the Cats make it to the Grand Final. The three-time All-Australian is recovering from a Lisfranc injury, which generally rules players out for up to six months. Dr. Peter Larkin isn’t so sure he’s making a return anytime soon, however.
J is for Josh Kelly is a leader. Over the years, Kelly has been questioned about his commitment to the Giants, and his on-field leadership value. With the chips in the middle on Friday night, he was the one to step up for his club and carry them towards the finish line. His goal was vital, and he was a constant in stoppages with six clearances and 14 contested possessions.
K is for Knock, not concussion. Cody Weightman was ruled out of action with the official reason from the Dogs not a concussion, but a head knock. The AFL may have to make a decision on his potential to play in the Preliminary Final if he did in fact pass his concussion test. The brilliant forward will be sorely missed if he can’t play next week.
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L is for Lions consoling. After missing the entirety of the 2021 season with an ACL tear, former number one pick Cam Rayner was seen consoling teammate Rhys Mathieson in the stands at the end of the Lions’ heartbreaking loss. Mathieson could have been in line for a return to the lineup with injuries to key players if the Lions had won through.
M is for Magnificent Menegola. Sam Menegola had a game to forget in the opening week of the finals, going at just over 55 per cent disposal efficiency while laying just two tackles. The 29-year-old bounced back in spectacular fashion on Friday night, gathering 29 touches at 72 per cent, laying five tackles and contributing two goals.
N is for No thanks, says Ross the Boss. In another twist to the Carlton coaching saga, the announcement of a panel to appoint the new head coach of the Blues was followed by news that odds-on favourite Ross Lyon had removed himself from the running. The Blues are now rumoured to be sounding out Brad and Chris Scott for the top job.
O is for Operation lock down Charlie. After three first-quarter goals, Charlie Cameron looked to be the difference between the two sides. Enter Taylor Duryea, who clamped the lightning-quick small forward in the second half and produced a memorable defensive effort with the clock winding down to stop another Lions goal.
P is for Polar opposite Semis. Friday night – where top-four finishers Geelong disposed of GWS without a qualm – added to a long list of Semi Finals that haven’t lived up to the billing. Saturday night’s clash between the Lions and Dogs threw that out of the window when they produced one of the games of the year. The Dogs claimed a one-point win after a back-and-forth final term that had it all.
Q is for Quit with the Clarko rumours. As one of the greatest coaches in football history, it’s understandable that Alastair Clarkson has been thrown up as a potential suitor to any and all coaching jobs available or otherwise. Despite him re-stating that he would not be coaching in 2022, the noise has refused to die down for clubs including Carlton and Gold Coast. Will it continue over the summer?
R is for Roaring Gabbatoir. Brisbane has enjoyed a raucous home crowd advantage in back-to-back finals series, with the Gabba packed out on Saturday night. ‘Take me home, country roads’ was on repeat as Charlie Cameron changed up his goal soundtrack, and the umpires and Dogs players alike were hearing the boos in an electric Semi Final.
S is for Scans for Bont. In the final, frantic term of their do-or-die final, Dogs leader Marcus Bontempelli went down with what looked to be a bad knee injury. He remained on the bench and had it checked by medicos before playing off concerns after the game. Scans over the next day or so could prove decisive in a Preliminary Final match-up with Port Adelaide.
T is for Talk to the elbow. The Match Review Officer is once again under heavy scrutiny after Joel Selwood’s elbow on Friday night wasn’t looked at. It was a similar incident to the one that Toby Greene was suspended for on Paddy Dangerfield just a few weeks ago, which once again raises the question about the ‘Toby Tax’.
U is for Underappreciated Lion. It won’t gain the headlines because of a last-ditch Laitham Vandermeer behind, but Zac Bailey was as clutch as it gets in the final minute on Saturday night. With his side a goal down, he grabbed the ball on the 50, sidestepped a would-be tackler and coolly converted the chance to draw level. At 21 years of age, he is already a star of the competition.
V is for Viva La Vaccination. Whether he meant it in the moment or not, Bailey Smith’s game winning goal celebration was reshared by the brash Bulldog in the post-match with the caption “Get vaxxed cousin”. We couldn’t put it better ourselves Baz!
W is for Why isn’t that a contender? Ian ‘Bobby’ Hill kicked one of the goals of the 2021 season on Friday night, expertly bouncing the ball in front of him several times as he danced around defenders before collecting himself and converting from a tight angle. It would be an absolute contender. So, why aren’t marks and goals taken in finals counted towards their respective end of year awards?
X is for Xeniality. It may have been a match between two out of state teams on Friday night, but the Perth crowd made both teams feel welcome. If that’s a sign of things to come ahead of the Grand Final, we’re giving Perth the thumbs up.
Y is for You’ve got to be kidding me. We’re not one to trash umpires, but there were some highly questionable decisions across the weekend. One particular insufficient intent call that went against the Bulldogs was one of the more bizarre decisions you’ll see. We don’t want to see poor decisions influencing the outcome of finals.
Z is for Zealous Zorko. The Lions skipper did everything he could to get his side over the line, gathering 24 touches, laying five tackles and despite not hitting the scoreboard himself, had five score involvements.
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