A complicated look at uncomplicated topics to ameliorate your day.
In recent memory we have been blessed with some epic Grand Finals. We have become quite accustomed to seeing Geelong, Collingwood, Hawthorn and St Kilda fight to the death on the last Saturday in September (or first Saturday in October) for football’s ultimate prize. This year the scene is set and not as many had predicted earlier in the season. Hawthorn, the best team all season, will play the Fremantle Dockers in a tantalising clash that will capture the attention of the sporting nation.
All anyone wants to know is who is going to win. So, in true Five Minute Guide fashion, here is a preview of the 5 more pertinent elements of this game to try and find the winner.
Breaking down the Press
If you woke up from a seven year deep sleep (wouldn’t that be nice) and started watching AFL again you would be surprised at the evolution of the game. Since the dominance of the Geelong team of the last seven years, coaches have opted to implement a pressure related zone press to combat the skilled play-makers who were wreaking havoc. Players such as Stevie J, Gary Ablett Jnr and Chapman could not be stopped by one player so Ross Lyon (in his St Kilda days) decided to play up to 18 players in one half of the ground to limit time and space. Each player had an area to monitor and this curbed the genius of many of the game’s elite.
This game style has become the norm in the AFL and the mastermind, Ross Lyon, has taken his talents to the west coast and reinvigorated the Fremantle Football Club with this game style. The $64,000 question is…How to beat it?
Not many teams, if any, have had a successful answer to the press when it has been implemented in a disciplined and miserly fashion. As the key ingredient to the press is discipline, a champion team can execute the press to combat a team of champions. We have not yet seen it at the level we witnessed last Saturday night when Fremantle totally dismantled the reigning premiers, Sydney.
The only plausible counter attack to the press seems to be elite foot skills from the back half. Cue – Hawthorn. In the last four seasons the Hawks have developed and sustained some of the league’s best kickers. Names such as Birchall, Guerra, Mitchell, Hodge and Burgoyne (Suckling – injured) have shown what it takes to navigate the treacherous confines of a forward press. If the Hawks are going to have success getting the ball outside of their 50m arc and into positive territory it will be on the back of elite foot skills in the face of extreme Fremantle pressure. We have seen the Hawks execute against lesser teams and the better teams but on Grand Final Day it is a different story.
Perhaps the biggest name in the game. Lance “Buddy” Franklin has lit up the MCG countless times as the Hawthorn full-forward. His charisma and talent is unparalleled in the AFL. If he plays a standout game, the Hawks will win the Grand Final. The problem with Buddy is that he has not been in supreme form and he may have sustained an injury in the preliminary final. His elbow may bother him and his recent impact on games has been inconsequential compared to his best. With rumours circulating about his future at Hawthorn, this could be a moment that Buddy announces his standing as a great of the game. A match-winning display in typical Buddy fashion would embellish an already phenomenal career. There is no doubt that the Dockers have surmised a plan to limit the star forward but if Buddy explodes it could be a fairy-tale win for the seemingly departing star.
Possibly the most talked about match up of this year’s Grand Final is Crowley v Mitchell. The instigating and antagonistic run with ‘pest’ from Fremantle, Ryan Crowley, has shut down the best from almost every team. Regardless of his tactics, he has remarkable success limiting the opposition stars. After Mitchell almost single-handedly (with a bit of help from S. Burgoyne) carried the Hawks into a Grand Final last week it is hard to see Ross Lyon sending Crowley to anyone else. Perhaps Issac Smith is an option but Mitchell has the potential to dominate a game from the engine room. Mitchell was quelled last year in the Grand Final to a mediocre game by his lofty standards and gave away a crucial 50m penalty to Sydney’s Jarrad McVeigh which Mitchell won’t forget. He will be as focused and determined as ever to have an impact on this game.
Ross Lyon and Matthew Pavlich
The two most important elements to Fremantle’s chances are the coach and the captain. Ross Lyon has established himself as the games preeminent coach. His revolutionary tactics and ability to get buy-in from all his players is unmatched. He is not always pretty but his fans love him as he consistently produces results. Lyon has been to the big dance three times with the Saints and his knowledge will be vital for his inexperienced players. If he can have the upper hand over Clarkson it may be the recipe for a Dockers win.
Matthew Pavlich is a great of the game and has a sterling CV to match. The one omission is a Grand Final appearance. Last week Pav ignited the team with 2 early goals a midst a flurry of behinds. His influence is more than kicks and handballs. He is an underrated leader and a vital cog in the premiership pursuit. Don’t be surprised to see the Fremantle superstar announce, once and for all, to the Melbourne people that he is undoubtedly a modern great. Much like Buddy, if Pav can be the catalyst early in the game the Dockers will be in the box seat.
What the Betting says
Betting has become more mainstream than ever so a quick look at the game from a betting perspective may be useful. In the recent history between the two teams the Hawks totally dominate. Last year at Aurora Stadium the Hawks went into the game as 29.5 point favourites. The bookies were saying they expected the Hawks to comfortably account for the Dockers by about 5 goals. They did that and more with an emphatic 56 point win on the back of a great team performance and Roughead booting 4 goals. Again in 2013 the Hawks were favoured against the Dockers in their only clash at Aurora Stadium. The bookies had the game at 34.5 points, in the Hawks favour and they saluted by 42 points with Buddy and Roughead kicking 4 goals each and Birchall dominating from the back half.
What does this mean? All it means is that the Hawks have been considered 5 and 6 goal better teams in their last two clashes and both times have exceeded these expectations to win by 9 and 7 goals. This gives us a good guide as to what was expected from these teams in recent clashes.
What has changed? From Round 4 this year the Dockers have had losses to only Geelong and Richmond (plus a final round reserves game against the Saints when they opted to rest 10 players). There is no doubt Fremantle have significantly improved from the last two encounters and are a better side. The Hawks have sat atop the AFL ladder and steamrolled all but Richmond on their way to the Grand Final. They have barely waivered from their top form.
Current Line Hawthorn -7.5
The bookies will send Hawthorn out a small favourite and this seems like quite a big overreaction. Given the last two meetings saw the Hawks favoured by 5 and 6 goals and they won by over that margin both times the current expectation seems a little bit skewed. The betting public will always favour the underdog in these games and every $50 punter is likely to be betting on the Dockers tomorrow. In a vacuum, the line should be closer to 3 or 4 goals (down from the last two game of 5 and 6 goals) given the improvement that Fremantle have shown in the last month especially.
The Hawks have the Grand Final experience, they have the recent form and recent edge over the Dockers. Johnson and McPharlin come in under a slight injury cloud and the stinging loss last year will propel the Hawks in this game. From a betting perspective I would have to look at betting Hawthorn -7.5 and maybe even over 15.5 or 24.5 if you want a little bit of value simply because the bookies and the public have overreacted to the Dockers’ recent form.
The country seems to be getting behind Fremantle and why not. The darling of the finals series, mainly because they are the alternative, will be very competitive and give this Grand Final an almighty shake.
Hawthorn by 28 points.
Norm Smith Medal – Jordan Lewis