Now is the time to bury the curse
Two weeks ago we wrote that Hawthorn, having sealed the minor premiership, had no excuses not to go on and win the flag. The fact that the Hawks will now face Geelong – a side they have not beaten since the 2008 grand final – in a preliminary final should change nothing.
Historically, yes, Geelong are the better side, but not this year. The Cats are wobbling their way through September. They're still capable of producing brilliant patches of football - their third quarter against Port Adelaide, turning a 23-point deficient into a seven-point lead, was immense. But they haven't put up a four-quarter effort in almost a month. They're vulnerable. Sides have found their weak points, none more so than Fremantle, who exposed how Geelong's midfield can be worked open and forward line shut down even on their home turf.
The Hawks are a smart, disciplined and well-drilled side. They're better balanced this year than last and they enter Friday night's do-or-die game fresh from a week's break. They will take on an opponent crocked by an injured Corey Enright, an underdone Tom Hawkins and possibly a suspended Paul Chapman. The stars are aligning for Hawthorn to snap the streak.
Ex-Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett said in 2009 that his side had "beaten Geelong when it matters." In their 11 encounters since Hawthorn last defeated the Cats, it has never mattered more than it will this weekend.
We're putting Hawthorn on notice: No more ifs, no more buts. Now is not the time to be preparing excuses for missing the grand final in a year the Hawks deserve to be walking away with it all. History meant nothing to the Swans last season, when they ended an 11-game losing run against Collingwood in a home preliminary final. Nothing should stop Hawthorn from doing the same. The alternative – another loss to Geelong in another wasted year – is not worth contemplating.
Hinkley is the coach of the year
Things could have been so different for Port Adelaide this year. The Power, who finished 14th on the ladder in 2012 with a 5-16-1 record and no coach, could have lost Travis Boak to Geelong on top of Danyle Pearce to Fremantle and Troy Chaplin to Richmond. GWS could have selected Jimmy Toumpas in the draft, causing a knock-on effect that would have seen boom rookie Ollie Wines snapped up before he could fall to Port Adelaide with pick No.7. And the club could have done a hell of a lot worse than handing the reins to Ken Hinkley, an untried assistant who beat out Rodney Eade to Port Adelaide's senior coaching gig after apprenticing under Mark Thompson and Guy McKenna.
No one individual can take all the credit for Port Adelaide's turn in fortunes on and off the field but Hinkley's influence on his young playing group has been remarkable. This year they burst out of the blocks with a 5-0 run, hung around when few expected they could protect a top-eight finish and ran the Cats almost all the way in Friday night's semi-final, threatening to spring one more surprise in what has been a year of revelations at Alberton Oval.
In the end Port didn't have the composure to halt Geelong's momentum in the crucial third term, but that will come with time and experience. The loss, though disappointing, was still lined with such silver that it's difficult not to be impressed. After threatening to bottom out last season the Power are now moving in the right direction in a hurry, and they'll have the reigning coach of the year at their helm in 2014.
Sydney cruelled by the surface
Time after time after time, the AFL world speaks up and says Sydney's ANZ Stadium is not good enough. Despite the Swans winning through to a preliminary final against Fremantle after eliminating Carlton on Saturday night, they could go into the game missing Kurt Tippett, Tom Mitchell and perhaps most importantly, 2012 Norm Smith Medallist, Ryan O'Keefe. All three suffered injuries on the slippery surface, while Carlton's Ed Curnow also went down in the same circumstances. ANZ Stadium still holds a contract with the AFL to play finals there, but we can only hope the completion of the SCG upgrade sparks a shift across town.
Sydney were always going to be up against it facing a Dockers side full of confidence ahead of their first preliminary final since 2006, and an awful slog against the Blues wasn't exactly the best preparation. Yes, they held Carlton scoreless in the premiership quarter and blew the lead out to 54 points, but they then suffered the same fate – albeit battered and broken – in the fourth with the Blues kicking 4.6 to zip. Unfortunately, it's unlikely now that we'll see a Hawthorn/Sydney return battle as in 2005 and 2006 with the Swans and West Coast, but the premiership window is still wide open for John Longmire's side.
- Is anyone else sensing something big might happen this finals series? Brian Taylor certainly is and he's not hiding it.
- Given the complaints over the 'easy draws' handed out to sixth, seventh and ninth, maybe we shouldn't be so surprised when the top four again all win through to the preliminary finals. Not a bad thing because they are the best four sides in the comp, but saying 'easy draws don't matter, they made the finals' clearly doesn't cover it.
- How on earth did Richmond lose to Carlton again?
- Did everyone catch this little swipe at Collingwood in Mick Malthouse's post-press conference? "I'm not here at Carlton for an easy, short fix," He said. "I've never left a club – I don't think anyway – in a position where they can't go forward."
- Saints fans. On a scale of 1-10, how embarrassed are you:
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