The Cats hadn't been good enough to beat the Swans in round 16, so why blame the bye?
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Blaming the bye an easy out
Going into this year's finals series everyone was talking about how close the games were likely to be, with little separating first and seventh. Only two games and percentage separated minor premiers Sydney and the Western Bulldogs in seventh. However, it seems like far too many pundits lost sight of this fact when it came to judging the preliminary final results last week, quickly blaming the pre-finals bye for the fact that both qualifying final winners lost. Neither Geelong's Chris Scott or GWS's Leon Cameron used the extra week off as an excuse and they would be foolish to do so given it wasn't that long ago when the competition used to have a final five and the minor premiers would often face the same number of breaks prior to the grand final.
It is worth noting that the scoreline from Friday night's preliminary final was almost identical to the last time that the Swans played the Cats, in round 16. On Friday night it was Sydney 15.7 (97) to Geelong 8.12 (60), compared to round 16 at Simonds Stadium when it was Sydney 15.8 (98) to Geelong 9.6 (60). The Cats also had more inside 50s than their opponent back in round 16, 52-43, compared to Friday nights tally of 72-40. It has to be remembered that Sydney finished minor premiers and already proved once that they had the game plan required to beat Geelong. While a lot was made about Sydney's fast start on Friday night, it was no different to what they produced the previous week against Adelaide.
The Bulldogs' win over GWS was the best game of the finals series and could have gone either way, and had Steve Johnson been available (see further down) the result could have been completely different and bye blaming would not even be worth the discussion. We are not defending the pre-finals bye and think it does need to be looked at in terms of how it affects the build-up to the finals, but just because 17 of the past 18 qualifying winners have gone on to win their preliminary final, it does not mean that this year was just an exceptionally close competition that allowed some unexpected results.
Cats left it to too few
As expected, Geelong on-ballers Patrick Dangerfield and Joel Selwood got heaps of the ball on Friday night, but the team dropped away significantly in midfield influence after them. That was in stark contrast to the Sydney midfield, which ran far deeper in terms of effectiveness and produced a more even effort to a man. Earlier in the year doubts were raised about the quality of the Cats support cast to 'Dangerwood', with Cam Guthrie and Josh Caddy the two who had stepped up. Guthrie was serviceable, but Caddy had a bad one. Other mids Sam Menegola and Josh Cowan just didn't get enough of it.
Take the good with the bad with Stevie J
Leon Cameron and his Giants can only wonder what might have been if Johnson had not crossed the line in the qualifying final. His collision with Swans midfielder Josh Kennedy was an important statement of intent that screamed the Giants were not going to be pushed around by the big brother and was a key reason they earned qualification to the preliminary final. But, in a see-sawing, very even preliminary final of intense pressure, a couple of bits of Johnson magic, combined with his experience in big games, could well have pushed GWS over the line and into the grand final. Johnson was a great pick-up for the Giants in 2016, and his two goals a game plus assists, as well as his footballing knowledge were invaluable this season. He has probably done enough to play on again next season and will have to more finely tune his aggression if he wants to taste success with his new club.
Stats didn't help Cats
Damn statistics. Geelong were beaten convincingly by Sydney yet had double the hit-outs (48 to 24), more contested possessions (173 to 167) and nearly twice as many inside 50s (72 to 40). What those figures don't tell you is just how the good the Swans were around the stoppages and how their pressure affected the Cats' disposal. Geelong also won the clanger count (55 to 49) and were down on clearances (34 to 40) and way down on disposal efficiency (64 to 74%).
Pressure got to the Dogs
The Western Bulldogs found a way to win late on Saturday by displaying the fight and calmness in a crisis that had seen them come from behind against the Hawks last week, but the enormity of the possibility of making a grand final for the first time in over half a century no doubt got to them for a half of footy. They butchered the ball up forward in the first half despite controlling the game for extended periods, with several normally reliable players fumbling, fluffing gettable shots at goal or miskicking the ball as the went inside 50. They were lucky the Giants were a bit sluggish in the first quarter. That the Bulldogs managed to compose themselves to twice come back from game-high deficits in the third and last quarters as GWS piled the pressure on in the second half should mean they handle the occasion next week just that bit better.
- Will the Swans bring in Ted Richards for the grand final if Aliir Aliir fails to get up? We reckon they would be crazy to. Richards is way past his best and would leave a massive, lumbering hole in their defence.
- You had to feel for injured Dogs skipper Bob Murphy, who let presumably joyous tears flow after his teammates' win, though tinged with disappointment and frustration at knowing he would be missing out on playing in the flag decider.
- Now that the Bulldogs have broken their grand final drought the team with the longest current grand final drought falls to Richmond. We reckon it will be some time before that one gets broken too.
What did you make of the preliminary finals? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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