Here's Who'll Win The AFL This Year*
*I'm often wrong.
You know what it’s like when you wake up and feel like you’ve slept for a week.
Well that’s pretty much what’s happened now the snoozzze fest that is the AFL’s week off is over and it’s FINALS TIME, BABY! Thank goodness, because last week I found myself watching Pretty Woman twice in four days. SOS.
The sun is out, the smell of freshly cut grass is in the air and anticipation is building ahead of a month-long finals series which will cap an incredibly tight home-and-away season.
And as the drought-breaking Western Bulldogs of 2016, and Richmond last year, taught us: anything is possible.
Before finals fever completely erupts I like to take a moment to daydream about what might transpire. Who will fail, who will fire, who will make a name for themselves? My visions are usually completely and utterly wrong, but hey, that’s half the fun.
It all kicks off Thursday with a school-night blockbuster between Melbourne power clubs Richmond and Hawthorn in the First Qualifying Final at the MCG.
When the finals draw was released there were quite a few knickers in knots over the scheduling of a Thursday night final in Melbourne. People are quick to forget that timeslot was OK in Perth and Adelaide in previous years. Maybe they don’t have school nights there?
Anyway, the Tigers and the Hawks would play on a gravel road 5km out of Timbuctoo if they had to. Anywhere, anytime.
Interesting stat. Richmond (founded in 1885) and Hawthorn (1902) have never played in a final. Never! Most of their successful eras have been at contrasting times, but both clubs enjoyed premiership glory in the 1970s, winning a combined five flags.
The Tigers have been a class above in 2018, unbeatable at the ‘G but have shown flashes of vulnerability in the final stages of the regular season. A glimmer of hope for their seven rivals.
The reigning champs (did you just hear Rocky music or was that just me?) are primed to take it up a notch in September, with winners and some of the biggest names in the game across every line, but the team they would least like to play is the Hawks.
Four-time premiership coach Alastair Clarkson knows what it takes to get it done on the big stage and after missing finals in 2017 has his rejuvenated outfit playing their best football at the business end of the season. If anyone has a game plan to pick apart the yellow and black it’s the mastermind that is Clarko.
The spotlight will shine on the finals feel-good story on Friday night when Melbourne makes its return to finals after 13 looooooooong years. The Dees have experienced the good, the bad and the ugly since their last post-season appearance in 2006 but have a red-hot chance against Geelong in the First Elimination Final at the MCG.
All-Australian ruckman and Brownlow fancy Max Gawn (I want him to take home Charlie just to hear his acceptance speech) sets the tone for Melbourne and a strong midfield and proven forward line continue to capitalise on his good work. The Dees are missing injured forward Jesse Hogan but as the Dogs showed two years ago, injuries can’t even stand in the way of a September dream. As the great Mariah once sang, who knows what miracles you can achieve when you believe.
The Cats, meanwhile, are brimming with finals experience and the scene is set for prodigal son Gary Ablett Jr to weave some magic in his first final in eight years.
Saturday is all about Sydney with the Swans and Giants doing battle in the Second Elimination Final at the SCG.
The Swans haven’t had the best record (5-6) at home this year but while they boast the likes of All-Australian captain Lance Franklin, Josh Kennedy, Luke Parker, Dan Hannebery et al, no side wants to play them in a final.
The Giants beat the Swans in stunning fashion in their previous finals showdown two years ago and have risen again despite being written off mid-year. GWS could welcome back as many as six inclusions back for the cut-throat final and are due for some good luck. Their mounting injury list this year can only be attributed to cats that are black and mirrors that are broken.
Then Saturday night we head to the wild, wild west where West Coast host Collingwood in the Second Qualifying Final.
The Eagles, too, have been cruelled by injury with superstar Nic Naitanui sidelined with a second ACL, and are also without suspended midfield gun Andrew Gaff. But under Adam Simpson they continue to get it done and are hard to beat at home, which creates the perfect storm against a Magpies side with plenty of ticker.
Experts who were calling for coach Nathan Buckley’s head were cheering for coach of the year honours after the Magpies' triumphant form turn-around in 2018. Collingwood has a good, proven formula, plus playing together as a team, and for each other, is a pretty good finals recipe.
So, there you go, in terms of predictions, I’ve given you as much clarity as a cluster of tea leaves, but one thing’s for sure it’ll be a September to remember.