AFL Finals: week 3 review

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Mason Cox celebrates a goal during the Preliminary Final against Richmond. (Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media)

Collingwood has booked their first Grand Final spot since 2011 after a 39-point win over last year’s premiers Richmond who entered the game as favourite attempting back-to-back flags.

In front of a full house MCG crowd of nearly 95,000, the Richmond Tigers seemed stunned for the the first half, as they encountered an unflustered Collingwood kicking and hand balling with precision, running and carrying the ball at blistering pace and applying enormous, relentless pressure.

Despite having won its previous 22 games at the MCG, its past four finals and its past four games against the Magpies, the characteristically confident Richmond had no answers on Friday night. The Pies hit immediately after the opening bounce, kicking five goals in the first quarter while constraining the Tigers to a score of just 1.3 (9),  only to then extend its lead to as much as 53 points late in the second quarter.

Richmond showed some fight with a valiant comeback during the second half. Booting four goals to two in the third quarter and two more consecutive goals from Jack Riewoldt and Jack Higgins early in the last quarter, Richmond brought the deficit back to 21 points creating the sniff of a possibility for a table-turning victory.

Collingwood stemmed the tide however and stopped Richmond’s momentum. The Pies settled to kick three more unanswered goals for an  emotional 15.7 (97) to 8.10 (58) win and a place in next Saturday’s ‘last week in September’ AFL Grand Final.

This was a game of two stories – the Collingwood win and the performance of crowd favourite, Texan-born, American Pie, Mason Cox. Having struggled in the opening two finals, Cox was outstanding against Richmond, producing three goals and 11 spectacular marks, eight of them contested, often in large packs. His three goals were early in the second quarter and put his team well ahead and the Magpie fans in raptures.

His casual, effortless style and cool smile belied the fact that he has only been playing the game for a couple of years, a fact not lost on his parents who had flown in from Texas to see their son, and on the crowd who, in perhaps an AFL first, chanted “USA, USA, USA”.  

The whole Collingwood team was magnificent, earning not just respect for themselves but also their coach Nathan Buckley. Particularly memorable performances came from long-termer Steele Sidebottom and bright light Jordan De Goey. Sidebottom played a crucial high-intensity midfield game of 41 possessions, including five clearances and three goal assists.

De Goey kicked four goals, his explosiveness and clean ball handling at such an important occasion showing a maturity beyond his years, especially considering he was being minded by Richmond’s best two defenders, Alex Rance and Dylan Grimes.

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There were some hints of the Richmond we’ve seen throughout the year, but overall perhaps the Tigers were not game-hardened enough having played just one game in four weeks due to the byes at season-end and after their first Qualifying Final win. 

The gamble to play a potentially unfit Dustin Martin carrying a badly corked thigh did not pay off. Last season’s Brownlow medallist, well checked by Levi Greenwood, had little impact and finished with just 6 kicks.

RICHMOND            1.3      2.8       6.10     8.10    (58)

COLLINGWOOD     5.2     10.4     12.7     15.7     (97)

GOALS

Richmond: Riewoldt 5, Higgins 2, Houli

Collingwood: De Goey 4, Cox 3, Crisp 2, Mihocek 2, Varcoe, Treloar, Grundy, Stephenson

BEST 

Richmond: Riewoldt, Cotchin, Houli, Higgins

Collingwood: Sidebottom, Cox, Grundy, Adams, Crisp, De Goey, Greenwood

Official crowd: 94,959

West Coast will meet Collingwood in the 2018 AFL Grand Final, after a 66-point dismantling of the Melbourne Demons at Perth’s Optus Stadium on Saturday. It was a hammering that will likely bruise and haunt Simon Goodwin and his men for some time.

Incredibly, it was a game that was essentially over by half-time, with the Eagles ripping through the lacklustre Melbourne team and convincingly putting the Demons’ hopes for a Grand Fnal berth to bed. At half-time the Eagles left the ground having scored ten unanswered goals, and Melbourne became the first team since the 1927 Grand Final to not register a goal in the first half. In fact, their dismal 0.6 (6) score was the lowest in a final since 1960.

In what was a new WA sporting audience record, the match was played in front of a 59,608-strong crowd, most of them Eagles’ fans. Melbourne went into the game knowing the challenge of playing the Eagles at home. It was only five weeks earlier that the Demons stormed into Perth and defeated West Coast at their fortress. Ironically, it was that very victory that secured the Demons their first place in the finals in 12 years.

However, the Melbourne team that came to play this time was not the same one from five weeks ago, which was surprising considering the spirited and inspirational finals charge we’ve seen from Melbourne in the last two weeks. Demons’ fans had been daring to believe their team could go all the way and break a 54-year premiership drought. Sadly, their dreams quickly became a nightmare that couldn’t end fast enough.

From the opening siren Melbourne were overwhelmed in every department. They fumbled the ball, kept slipping over, and routinely missed targets by both hand and foot. The most damning statistic was the tackle count, which is a key asset in Melbourne’s game plan. With just 34 tackles for the whole game, it was the lowest by any side in a final since 2008.

West Coast’s two big star forwards combined to kick 7 goals for the match, Jack Darling kicked three and Josh Kennedy kicked four in arguably a best-on-ground performance. The Eagles are now 12-0 when both Kennedy and Darling play, a statistic that won’t be lost on Nathan Buckley and his coaching staff as they prepare for next week.

West Coast proved just as dangerous at ground level, with small forwards Jamie Cripps and Mark LeCras both kicking three goals each, not to forget immense pressure from indigenous duo, Liam Ryan and Willie Rioli.

While Melbourne return from Perth licking their wounds and contemplating what might have been, the Eagles are into their seventh Grand Final, with a week to prepare for the decider.

WEST COAST      4.8     10.9     15.10     18.13     (121) 

MELBOURNE      0.3      0.6         5.9        7.13        (55)    

GOALS

West Coast: Kennedy 4, LeCras 3, Darling 3, Cripps 3, Rioli, Venables, Hutchings, Ryan, Redden   

Melbourne: Melksham 2, Hannan, Weideman, Smith, Harmes, Oliver     

BEST 

West Coast: Kennedy, Redden, Cripps, Hurn, McGovern, Sheed, LeCras

Melbourne: Brayshaw, Oliver, Harmes

Official crowd: 59,608

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