Patrick Dangerfield (left) and Callum Mills (right) will go head-to-head in the midfield. (Photos: Geelong Cats; Sydney Swans)

First bounce of the 2022 AFL Grand Final is quickly approaching. The two best teams of the season are set to go head-to-head at Melbourne’s home of football.

No team has been able to get the best of Geelong or Sydney since May or July respectively. The Cats are on a 15-game winning streak, while the Swans have won nine straight.

Both sides boast talent at opposite ends of the experience spectrum. From Patrick Dangerfield and Luke Parker to Sam De Koning and Chad Warner, young and old will do battle on the ultimate stage.

The Inner Sanctum has taken a look at four of the match-ups that will define the 2022 AFL Grand Final.

Patrick Dangerfield vs. Callum Mills

The Swans and Cats met just once in the home and away season, all the way back in Round 2. While the night was about Lance Franklin’s 1000th goal first and foremost, Callum Mills’ job on Patrick Dangerfield was one of the keys to guiding the Swans to victory.

Taking on the tagging role, Mills kept the Brownlow Medallist to just 13 disposals – his second lowest for the season, and the first time he’d been held under 15 touches in a full game since the 2020 Grand Final.

Dangerfield did still manage six inside 50s and six clearances, but couldn’t fully shake the tag.

Mills, meanwhile, had one of his best games of 2022. The 25-year-old has 29 disposals, seven marks, six inside 50s, six score involvements, four tackles, and kicked a goal. He earned two Brownlow votes for his efforts.

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Mills’ ability to have an enormous offensive impact while also shutting down the opposition’s most damaging midfielder has been a crucial part of the Swans’ season.

Whether he can do it again on Saturday remains to be seen. Dangerfield isn’t the only midfield weapon the Swans have to worry about though.

Cam Guthrie, Joel Selwood and Tom Atkins all pose a threat on the inside. They can’t nullify them all – if Guthrie gets off to a hot start, we may see Mills instead shift his focus.

Sam De Koning vs. Lance Franklin

Last time these two sides met, Lance Franklin made history. He became just the sixth man in V/AFL history to kick 1000 goals.

Safe to say the occasion wasn’t lost on the Sydney locals.

Franklin’s four goals got him over the line for the record, and more importantly, made the difference in a game between the season’s ultimate contenders.

Last time around, it was Mark Blicavs who held the post of number one key defender. This was before the emergence of young star Sam De Koning.

The 21-year-old proved himself as one of the best defensive talents of the past few drafts, taking on some of the biggest names in footy week to week.

With Sam Reid no certainty to be at full fitness and Logan McDonald dropped in favour of Hayden McLean, De Koning looks all but certain to take on the greatest goalkicker of the modern era.

Isaac Heeney will be another massively challenging match-up. He kicked five when the sides met last, with the Cats seemingly having no answer for the 26-year-old.

Standing at 185cm, Heeney is capable of playing well above his height, being one of the best marking options inside Sydney’s attacking 50.

A player like Jack Henry, who boasts a little bit of extra height, can leave the key defensive posts to De Koning and Jake Kolodjashnij, and may be the best option.

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Ryan Clarke vs. who?

Since making his return into the senior side in Round 15, Ryan Clarke has played an incredibly important defensive role in John Longmire’s forward line.

He has been tasked week to week with taking on the opposition most offensively damaging defender, making it frustratingly hard for any team playing the Swans to launch scores off half back.

While doing so, he’s also had an offensive impact of his own, drifting up to the wing when required and giving Ollie Florent the freedom to move behind the ball when Longmire needs more dare out of defence.

There appear to be two likely candidates for Clarke’s attention on Saturday: Tom Stewart, and Zach Tuohy.

Tuohy is the more likely type, given the Swan’s match-ups in the past few months. He provides the run-and-carry out of defence, and gives the likes of Mitch Duncan and Isaac Smith space in spades.

Will Zach Tuohy be Ryan Clarke’s match-up on Saturday? (Photo: Geelong Cats)

But there’s no doubt that Tom Stewart is Geelong’s most influential defender. Now a four-time All-Australian, coach Chris Scott shapes the defence around him.

Clarke does give up height and aerial ability on him, which would be the primary concern of the match-up. Disrupting Stewart has the potential to unsettle a backline that’s been near impassable at times in 2022.

McCartin brothers vs. Hawkins and Cameron

Much has been made of Geelong’s ‘three-headed monster’ in the forward line – Tom Hawkins, Jeremy Cameron, and Gary Rohan.

Between them, they’ve combined for 141 goals in 2022. Rohan has missed a good chunk of the season, playing just 11 games across home and away and the finals, and is the most mercurial of the three.

Hawkins and Cameron will no doubt be the major concern in Longmire’s mind. As key forwards, the two boast massively different strengths.

The McCartin brothers, Paddy and Tom, have been the pillars of defence alongside the ever influential Dane Rampe and Jake Lloyd.

Hawkins’ strength and ability to set up teammates in better space is what’s kept him in the top echelon of the league’s forwards in the twilight of his career.

Expect Paddy to get the job. He’s the taller and stronger of the two, and if anyone stands a chance of taking on Hawkins and winning, it’s him.

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The player that goes with Cameron, meanwhile, will need to match the athleticism and the explosiveness that he brings at his best.

2022 saw Cameron spend time across a handful of games in the midfield – not just pushing up the ground as a marking option, but getting in and under too.

Tom will likely have the job on him inside forward 50, but if he can get off the chain and move up the ground, there’s very few in the Swans that have the same mix of pace and size.

Nick Blakey hasn’t played too many one-on-one roles this season, but his athletic attributes may be required when Cameron is on the move.

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