The A-Z of Finals Week 3: Who’s into the Big Dance? Who didn’t turn up to play?

A-Z Finals Week 3
The moments that defined the preliminary finals. Photos: @westernbulldogs Twitter; @melbournefc Twitter

The Dogs are out for a repeat of the 2016 fairytale, the Dees are trying to end the longest current premiership drought in the AFL, while two sides disappointed on the big stage.

The Inner Sanctum takes you through the defining highs, lows, and controversies surrounding Week 3 of the AFL Finals series, complete from A-Z.

A is for Another club’s treasure. Under 12 months ago, Ben Brown and Adam Treloar were ousted from clubs they were desperate to remain at. Now, one of them will be a first-time premiership player as they face off in a Grand Final. They’ve both made the absolute most of their situations.

B is for Back-to-back Baz. Bailey Smith put together one of the great semi final performances last week, but the big question was: can he back it up in the prelim? Back it up he did, scoring four goals among nine score involvements. Smith looks to be the Gary Ayres Medallist in waiting.

C is for Conquering adversity. Every player who gets to play in a Grand Final has a story. For some to get there the road has been smooth and for others the roads are more turbulent. Roarke Smith’s journey to becoming a staple in the Bulldogs team is one worth sharing. Seven years on the list. Two knee reconstructions. Delisted and re-rookied several times, has finally established his place in Luke Beveridge’s team and should get a shot at glory in two week’s time.

D is for Do they go again? It’s been a remarkable run for Chris Scott and his Geelong side who have made making the penultimate week of the season a habit during his tenure. After making the Grand Final in 2020, the Cats loaded up at the trade table and mounted an assault to go one better this year with an ageing list. With 12 players over 30 years of age on the list and youngsters threatening to leave due to a lack of senior opportunities, does this Geelong list have one final premiership push in them next year? 

E is for Exit called off. Lachie Neale was the talk of the town after reports he was set to request a move back to Fremantle after three years with Brisbane. The Brownlow Medallist took his time weighing up the situation with the future of his family in mind, and has made the decision to stay put in Queensland. The blindsided Lions will be breathing a sigh of relief.

F is for Freed from desire. Two similar preliminary finals victories produced two vastly different celebrations from the grand final teams. The Demons were calm and composed knowing the job isn’t done, but the Dogs have been making sure they celebrate every victory in this fairytale run. The boys belted out Gala’s Freed from desire in the change rooms after the win on Saturday night.

G is for Grand new flag. With the biggest preliminary final winning margin since 2007, Melbourne stormed its way into its first grand final since 2000 with an 83 point drubbing of Geelong. With the longest flag drought in the league, now standing at 57 years, the minor premiers are in the best position in most supporters’ lifetimes to win their 13th V/AFL premiership.

H is for Hero to zero. A year ago Darcy Byrne-Jones received his first All-Australian blazer and was Port Adelaide’s Best and Fairest. In 2021, he hasn’t lived up to those heights and he was a shell of his former self on the weekend. The half-back had 13 disposals at 62 per cent, and has been questioned for shirking some contests in an ugly night for the Power.

I is for Injury watch. It wouldn’t be Grand Final week without a player racing the clock to be fit for the biggest game of the year. While there is an additional week this year to ensure all players are cherry ripe, the focus on Joel Smith and Steven May from Melbourne and Laitham Vandermeer, Cody Weightman and Alex Keath from the Western Bulldogs will be narratives of note to follow in the build up.

J is for Jake Kelly the Don. The first free agency move has been reported, with Jake Kelly making the move from the tri-colours to the sash. He has been the second-best defender in one-on-one situations since 2018, losing just 18 per cent of his contests according to Champion Data.

K is for Keeping Aliir quiet. After being parachuted into the team as a late change for the elimination final against the Bombers, Josh Schache has made himself close to indispensable with three incredibly solid performances in the finals series to date. The latest job in the preliminary final, nullifying the influence of intercept-marking and All-Australian star Aliir Aliir, along with 4 shots on goal on his own, has seen this once out-of-favour Dog on the cusp of one of the more remarkable footy revival stories.

L is for Leather poisoning. Bulldogs star Jack Macrae has made winning bulk possessions a habit over recent seasons. Last night he broke new ground and set a new benchmark, collecting the most number of possessions ever recorded in a Football season – breaking the 848 mark set by Tom Mitchell only three seasons ago. 

M is for Missing for a good reason. Nathan Jones has been a stalwart for his club through some of its worst times ever. Despite remaining in the emergencies list, he won’t get his opportunity on grand final day. Instead, he’s made the decision to fly home for the birth of his twins. Amongst others, Melbourne will be playing for him in two week’s time.

N is for Never tear us apart. In one of the great atmospheres of the 2021 season, Adelaide Oval was at fever pitch when INXS blared around the ground before the bounce. But the Dogs well-and-truly tore the Power apart from the get-go, kicking seven goals to one in the first quarter to quiet the home crowd.

O is for On Trac. It feels like Christian Petracca has been capable of tearing a finals game apart, but hasn’t had many opportunities in his career. On Friday night, he was a class above Geelong. ‘Trac’ had 32 disposals to go with eight clearances, 10 score involvements, four goal assists and a major of his own. Could he add a Norm Smith to his resumé in a fortnight?

P is for Pat the next Pie? All signs point towards Bulldog Patrick Lipinski requesting a trade to the Pies at the end of the season. On the outer at the Kennel, the midfielder has had a tough time breaking into the 22 despite obvious quality, playing just 11 games in 2021.

Q is for Quell Libba. During the season, Willem Drew held Tom Liberatore to just two clearances for the game, which went a long way to winning the midfield battle. On Saturday night, Drew started on the bench while Liberatore got the first two clearances of the game to get the Dogs off to the perfect start. It was a baffling decision from Ken Hinkley and co. to not send Drew to the clearance machine straight away.

R is for Ruck Rampage. Five-time All-Australian and Demons captain Max Gawn put on one of the greatest individual finals performances, and individual quarters as a whole, on Friday night. Five goals (four of which came in the third term), 33 hit outs, seven score involvements, six tackles, and five marks. Ruckmen aren’t supposed to do that!

S is for Soul Searching. It is going to be a long and arduous summer for both Port and Geelong, who were demolished in their respective preliminary finals. It was an incredibly disappointing end to the season for both teams, but we’re not writing off the Cats nor the Power heading into 2022.

T is for Telling term. Port Adelaide had the AFL’s worst finals quarter in history when it comes to contested possessions with -23 in the first term. The Power’s 30-1 in their last 31 games when they have won the contested disposal count, but their inability to win the hard ball from the get-go was a sign they didn’t come to play, while the Dogs were on from the first bounce.

U is for Unsung Heroes. We all know the big name players that have contributed heavily for the grand final teams, but the unsung heroes for both squads have played a vital role in getting them to the big dance. Jake Bowey and Charlie Spargo combined for 27 touches and two goals on Friday to be key contributors, while Roarke Smith’s 15 touches and a goal to go along with six intercept possessions helped his side cause a big upset.

V is for Very good business. Key Swan Jordan Dawson informed the Swans he’d like a trade back to South Australia, with Port Adelaide in the box seat to secure the defender’s services. An underrated star on the rise, if Port can secure him, it’ll go a long way to suring up a defence that looked susceptible throughout the season.

W is for Where’s Gary? Another big Final, another forgettable performance from Gary Rohan. In the latest of a string of lacklustre September showings, Rohan failed to record a statistic in the first half on Friday night. He registered 1 disposal and 1 tackle in the third quarter before he was substituted out of the game with a hamstring injury.

X is for X-factor personified. Two of the best live-wire forwards in the league are set to go up against one another in the Grand Final. Kozzy Pickett was scintillating with three goals in the prelim, while Cody Weightman missed this week but has kicked five goals in a game-and-a-half of AFL finals and will be an automatic inclusion for Luke Beveridge. 

Y is for You’ve got to be kidding me! Preliminary final weekend usually puts forward at least one all-time classic, but true to 2021 form, no one would have predicted two massive blow outs. For the footy-starved public, it didn’t exactly scratch our big game itch.

Z is for Zest for the contest. The Bulldogs came into the preliminary final as one of the best contested teams in the league, but coming up against elite inside midfielders in Wines and Boak, the challenge was there to win the hard ball. It is exactly what the visitors did. The Dogs smashed the Power in contested possessions, gathering 30 more across the entire game.

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