AFL Preliminary Finals

Two cracking semi-finals, fiercely contested last weekend, and no doubt rather taxing, have left the two rested sides out in front in premiership betting. Hawthorn remain the hottest of hot flag favourites; you can hardly hear a word against them, even in the old pubs of Collingwood. But there is always the possibility of an upset because, as we know, footy is a funny game.

Sydney v Collingwood

Sydney host one of the best teams of the era, at a tough time for the Magpies. As you would expect, the boys have taken the tragic death of John McCarthy very hard, and the funeral on Thursday will be a sad time for all concerned. Then they make their way to Sydney for this Friday night's preliminary final.

Thinking strictly in footy terms, it should be an even contest, although the 'Pies will have had a six-day break to the Swans two weeks off. The 'Pies have won their last 11 against the Bloods, which is a pretty amazing stat when you consider half of those have been in Sydney. But the 'Pies like travelling – probably because it’s so novel to them. Their coach talks about interstate matches as a time for players to enjoy each others’ company, and wins away have some additional value. Nothing more valuable than a spot in a grand final.

Darren Jolly will set himself for a huge match, in the absence of a second ruckman, and this will be a real test for him. Shane Mumford and Mike Pyke are a formidable duo and their posse of hard-nut on-ballers will be tenacious at the contest. The Pies can match them in physicality, and the advantage to the 'Pies lies in in the class of Pendlebury and Beams, and the sheer volume of possession Dane Swan accumulates.

Ted Richards is the All-Australian full back, and he has had a terrific year. One-on-one with a well-fed Cloke will be a challenge, but Richards has the skill and the poise to help his backline get on top, and counter. At the other end the Brothers Reid will go at it, although the Pies' Ben may not necessarily pick up the Swans' Sam. Ben was outstanding against the Eagles, and the pressure is on Sam to hang on to some big grabs at the right time on Friday night.

If you rate the match-ups it’s even all over the ground. Andrew Krakouer, with his creativity and skill, may be a factor. Equally, if Lewis Jetta can get clear he may do some damage.

I reckon the Swans will really apply the pressure from the outset, and keep turning the screws. The 'Pies will also press. So it might come down to the side which can maintain that intensity, and given their week off, that’s why, despite the recent record of 0-11, I favour the Swans.

Sydney to get away in the last quarter, and win by 16 points.

Hawthorn v Adelaide

If the Crows win this it will be up there with the great upsets of all time. The Hawks have been building, they ran away from the 'Pies, they’ve had a nice rest, they’re at home, they have big weapons up forward, they are highly-skilled, and they have phenomenal run as well as real grunt.

The Crows, by contrast, have been hot and cold. But they did finish second for a reason, and not just because they had a good draw. Can they win? Well, Jacobs can win in the ruck, which would give Dangerfield and Thompson and the likes first crack at it, and if they can get the footy in quickly to Tex Walker and Kurt Tippett then the Hawks defence could be stretched. Meanwhile, at the other end, Ben Rutten, who was outstanding v Fremantle, would have to keep Buddy and big Roughy in check. It’s a tall order.

The Crows would have to start very well and plant a hint of doubt in the Hawks mind. But even then, the leadership at Hawthorn via Hodge, Mitchell, Sewell is so good, it’s hard to imagine the ship not being brought back to an even keel quicksmart.

As a neutral, I hope this is a good game, but I fear the worst. Hawthorn by 45 points.