AFL Finals Week 1

Hawthorn v Collingwood
For the first time since the invention of Chicken Twisties, committed Collingwood-loathers will be cheering for the Magpies  this Friday night. A ‘Pies win would certainly add a brilliant complication to proceedings – and it would save the bookies’ bacon.
The bookies are nervous. Before the start of the season the Hawks  were backed heavily to win the flag. The big money came again in the final rounds of the home and away. Facing a tough-ish draw, and with a few injuries, they have just kept on improving. So they start the finals as a short-priced flag favourite at (virtually) even money. This is very good for punters, for as good as they are, that is under the odds. Sure, they might win it, but there’s a lot of footy to be played this September.
The ‘Pies have also been fancied, but have had some bad losses (notably to Carlton and Hawthorn) which have exposed their weaknesses. Class beats Collingwood. So much of their modus operandi is about pressure and turnovers, so if that drops off the results can prove disastrous. Equally, a side playing top-notch footy, controlling the ball and using it well, will render that game plan useless. This is exactly what happened when these two sides met last time. Hawthorn was outstanding, using the ball brilliantly and blowing Collingwood away.
So this will come down to the ability of the ‘Pies to sustain a high level of intensity, and their capacity to capitalise once they win the footy. It is a matter of fitness and will. Travis Cloke showed some form against Essendon last week, and the Hawks don’t have a good match-up for him. (Nor do the Pies match-up well on Franklin and Roughead).
You have to give the Pies a sneaky chance. This is a final and the Hawthorn-is-great orthodoxy deserves to be challenged. The Hawks are rightful favourites but Collingwood at the line is better value.
Hawthorn, just. By 11 points.

Adelaide v Sydney
The Crows are the forgotten side in this, yet they are right in it. Adelaide  in Adelaide is a formidable opponent. Sydney  will be competitive to the death; the prospect of a home preliminary final driving their every effort, but they may not be quite good enough at the venue. Both sides have uncompromising midfields, although the Crows have an X-factor in Patrick Dangerfield. The Swans will miss Heath Grundy, whose absence makes Tex Walker even more dangerous.
The Swans will need to prevent the sweeping ball movement of the Crows. Traditionally the Swans have done this with a series of floods and presses, creating congestion and denying the opponent space. That’s harder to do at AAMI Stadium. So the result may hinge on the number of opportunities the Crows get to break free, and how well they use the footy.
I reckon the game may conform to the same pattern as Sydney’s game against Geelong last week: tight early, before the local knowledge and slightly superior talent allows Adelaide to kick away.
The Crows by 19 points.

Geelong v Fremantle
This is another ripper match with these two sides having played many a classic over the past five years. All of those tight matches, however, have been in the west. The MCG is a key factor in this, both from a travelling perspective for Freo , and from a home-of-the-Cats perspective given Geelong’s  finals record during their ascendancy.
The Dockers have the form to challenge that reign, and this is a tighter contest than you might think. They have won eight out of their last nine, and they haven’t been garden-variety wins. Although M. Pavlich has been a key, they have also benefited from the return of A. Sandilands and N. Fyfe. They will, however, really miss Luke McPharlin.
There is also the Ross Lyon factor. He has given them a defensive system which is pretty effective.
Meanwhile, the Cats have tremendous experience and remain one of the most skilful sides in it. How their young blokes handle the finals atmosphere will be a factor.
If both teams play to their ability this will be a very good contest. If the Cats get on top early they should win comfortably.
Geelong, at the MCG, by 16 points.

West Coast v North Melbourne
West Coast  looked dominant earlier in the season while North  looked down and out. By late July the reverse was true. The tide has turned again, with North looking unimpressive over the past fortnight. Goldstein has gone missing and Petrie looks tested. The confidence which gave them a string of wins is gone.
They can recover. North have a very talented midfield with both strength inside, and pace and skill outside. If they are allowed to have their own way they will cause some damage.
By comparison the Eagles plod a little in the midfield but have a forest of talls all around the park.
Again, the homeground advantage may be the influential factor. I can see Petrie being contained and the Eagles winning enough of the contested footy to give good service to their many forward options.
West Coast by 18 points.