How did your boys fare in the first AFL finals?
When Charlie Cameron rocketed in Adelaide’s opening goal in the first minute of the weekend’s elimination final against North Melbourne, he became the lightning rod for several ‘spotfires’ that blighted an otherwise entertaining game.
As he was about to celebrate the goal with a packed Adelaide Oval, Cameron was bowled over by a Kangaroos defender. As he lie upside down in the goalsquare thinking ‘What the hell just happened?’, the Crows’ Eddie Betts flew in like a man possessed to fly the flag for his fallen team-mate.
From then, it was on – ‘it’ as in fights, hits and melees, but Adelaide had North’s measure in their 21.15 (141) to 12.7 (79) victory.
Cameron has been a consistent performer for the Crows this season and he well and truly earns his spot each week. He certainly showed his value in finals football on Saturday night.
When he wasn’t sticking up for his team-mates, Betts had the ball on a string against North, kicking six goals in a stand-out performance in front of an adoring crowd. Perhaps the highlight was his perfect positioning in front of a pack to collect the spill at full-pace and snap the goal from 40m out.
At the opposite end, the (unfairly) maligned Lindsay Thomas did a terrific job for the Kangaroos, booting three of his side’s 12 goals and setting up several more. Thomas is coming under fire for ‘staging’ for frees, but he is no more of a stager than several others small forwards across the league. He was busy around the packs on Saturday and put his small fame on the line time and again. His team-mates love him for it as evidenced by celebrating each of his goals.
But it was a bitter end to his and his team’s season that showed much early promise. The Kangaroos were 9-0 at one point and were flying. Talk of playing off in a grand final was premature, though, and they slumped and limped into the final spot of the top 8.
Bitter, too, for the end of a remarkable career by Brent Harvey, who played his 432nd, and final, game for the Kangaroos on Saturday night. The AFL games record-holder was none too pleased when his club decided not to offer the 38-year-old a contract for next season. Yes, he’s 38, and his career began 20 years ago but Harvey has much to offer; four Victorian clubs think so, with reports of the silent suitors willing to talk ‘shop’ with him for 2017.
At the other end of the spectrum is Daniel Wells, the West Australian currently in top form for the Kangaroos. Wells was a shining light for his side against the Crows and his club are keen to offer him another contract, as recognition of his value and to keep him from returning to one of the WA clubs.
Narrandera as nursery to some great names
Meanwhile, all 3,871 residents of tiny Narrandera in NSW would have tuned in to watch current favourite son Zac Williams, and what they saw would have even exceeded their wildest expectations.
Williams, 21, one of four Indigenous lads in the GWS Giants and at the club since 2013, rated highly in the Giants’ first finals appearance against cross-city rivals Sydney in Sydney on Saturday.
Narrandera is in the Riverina region of NSW, the nursery of so many great Australian sportspeople. Here, the two main football codes – Australian football and rugby league – are strong and youngsters often grow up playing both. Williams was one of those and his decision to play football is paying off.
He was a smooth operator across half-back in his side’s shock 36-point defeat of the minor premiers, 12.19 (91) to 7.13 (55). Williams put his body on the line and his dash from the backline served his team well. But a brain fade in the third term saw him concede a 50m penalty. Thankfully for him, and his side, the Giants took control of the arm-wrestle to defeat the stunned Swans.
For the first time in his career, Buddy Franklin was kept goal-less in a final, not that he didn’t try but that he had the close-checking Phil Davis on his back the entire match. Pushing up the field early in the game, Franklin dominated play but once settled closer to goal, Davis kept him in check. It was the model from which the Giants styled their play – close-checking, hard-tackling, no inch given.
The game itself was billed as the biggest in “NSW AFL history”. Might be stretching things there a bit but it did feature the only two NSW AFL sides in a final, the first. A big crowd of just over 60,000 at ANZ Stadium turned out and there was an even spread of orange (Giants) and red and white (Swans) in the stands. Things will hype up more in the next fortnight when the Giants host the preliminary final against either Hawthorn or the Western Bulldogs.
Cyril just going about his normal duties
A commentator reckoned when Cyril Rioli took a sensational mark against a Geelong opponent on Friday night that, “It’s like he does this as a normal thing to do!” And he’d be right. The gifted Hawk took the grab on his larger opponent’s shoulders. He landed on his feet, turned around, and kicked a goal.
You would be right to think Rioli would trade all of that for a win, but as it stands his side will have to front up next weekend against a confident Western Bulldogs side after losing to the Cats in the most spectacular fashion.
Down by 3pts with 10 seconds to go, the Hawks’ Isaac Smith took a mark about 40 metres out from goal. ‘Another win at the death’ we all thought. In the hands of a sure-kick left-footer, the Hawks would bank on this going through to advance to their sixth preliminary final. But to the shock of everyone, Smith hooked his kick and missed; Cats win by 2pts.
It concluded yet another epic match between these two powerhouses of AFL football. The game ebbed and flowed, sniper attacks came from both sides, the super-spectacular feats like Rioli’s mark, Hill’s gather from the boundary and snap on goal, Cats captain Joel Selwood’ heroics, Cam Guthrie’s powerful second-half to will side forward, and a finish that swung from one expectation to the next. Lord help us all if ever they meet in the grand final.
Meanwhile, West Coast is licking its wounds while the Western Bulldogs are salivating at its ‘kill’ in Perth after an upset that saw the Eagles get stopped dead in their tracks, 14.15 (99) to 7.10 (52).
The ‘Bullies’ from Melbourne’s western suburbs played the game of their lives to deny West Coast any chance of advancing further into September, and shocked an expectant and large home crowd.
Despite a valiant effort in defence from the home side’s Sharrod Wellingham, the Eagles were left powerless to stop the Bulldogs’ onslaught. The clues came early, with three scoring shots to none resulting in three minor scores. After that, though, it was like the visitors turned on their radar because the goals came regularly.
A highlight for the Eagles was when Josh Hill leapt high to take a spectacular pack mark, and goal, but it all came too late. Already the action by the club has been swift with six players cut from the roster, including Jamie Bennell, who played 57 games for Melbourne and 30 for West Coast.