John Harms on AFL Round 23

I’m not sure what the powers of concentration of the average punter are – but I’d say better than most. It takes a good mind to read a form guide, fill out a ticket, race to the terminal, watch the event, and start the process again not long after they’ve passed the post – and all that from the first at Kembla to the last at Cannington. That’s concentration. Which is why some of us have kept our eye on the footy this year, despite Needlegate and all its distractions.

It’s the footy that matters.

And it has been another enthralling season, the denouement of which, like a good thriller, remains well and truly concealed. So many scenarios are possible, although the conventional wisdom is pointing at a Geelong-Hawthorn Grand Final. Freo is the wildcard, and Collingwood can play a part as well. The Swans have stumbled, but may rally. Beware!

The Cats were mighty strong against Sydney, although cautious analysts would point to early injuries to Rhyce Shaw and Daniel Hannebery as a contributing factor.

The Hawks were challenged by North – and resisted.

Good fortune may play a part. Fit bodies will count for a lot.

But, for now, it’s the last day of school for some – always a carnival round of good footy.

Sydney v Hawthorn

Nice fixture – on paper. But I’m not sure how significant it is, and with Sydney pretty sore and trying to find some zest for September, they may not go too hard. Win or lose, it looks like they will finish fourth. Win and they will probably play Geelong in the first week of the finals. Lose and they play Hawthorn. Tricky. The Swans looked flat against Geelong last Saturday evening. But their big blokes went OK. They match up pretty well against Hawthorn. But the Hawks brilliant ball-gatherers and runners are likely to break the game open. Very hard to pick – it all depends on the level of motivation of the Swans. Hawthorn by 25 points.

St Kilda v Fremantle

The Sainters looked pretty old in the early rounds of the season. They are in serious need of a Surfers Paradise beach and a beer with a bit of lemon shoved in it. Meanwhile, the Dockers are on their toes in the mounting yard, needing one more run before the listed events start. The Dockers by 44 points.

Geelong v Brisbane

After feeling a little concerned for the Cats a few weeks ago, I am a believer again. Their last two outings have shown how physically strong they can be, and how well-organised they are. Add the Motlop pace and flare, the Johnson craziness and things are pretty good. Corey Enright continues to by the ultimate mopperer-upper alongside Harry Taylor who should have been given an eight-year contract and allowed to sit on the porch whittlin’ for the last three of them. Despite the Cats’ supreme form, they cannot take the improving Lions lightly. Matthew Leuenberger is a key to the match, but he will need a lot of help. The Cats, at home, too experienced and too capable, by 40 points.

Port Adelaide v Carlton

This is the last game at Footy Park, which has served the town of Adelaide very well, but not as well as the Adelaide Oval will. This is a nostalgic day, and a sad day, in some ways. But a day of celebration for the Power as well. They have been so enthusiastic this year, and such an attractive side to watch. Carlton have been terrible at times and must be pinching themselves that they are still in it. They have a lot on the line here. This will be a genuine contest, in the early-evening time slot, a match where every blade of grass on Footy Park will be traversed. I think Port will have the edge in an open game where the homeground advantage will be a factor one last time. Port Adelaide by 9 points.

Essendon v Richmond

I reckon self-righteous Essendon are seething, and like all entities who have a pretty strong view of themselves, will feel that they have been dudded. That Richmond have drawn them at this moment is comical, especially as it has taken an edict from AFL House to ensure that Richmond for once just cannot finish ninth. I reckon the Bombers will fight in this match – at least early. They may be overwhelmed at some stage. But if you can work the psychology of this out you should apply for a spot in MENSA. The Tigers (remembering they area talented side who have some say in this) by 11 points.

West Coast v Adelaide

If you took your lead from the pre-season experts you’d have thought this was going to be a top-of-the-table clash with bearing on the composition of at least the top six, if not the top four. But this has actually turned into a match for the Disappointment Plate. I’m not sure whether it should go to the winner or the loser, and I’m not sure these two teams know how to do either with any authority. The Crows have excuses. The Eagles look disheartened. I think the Crows can finish them off. Adelaide by 10 points.

Gold Coast v GWS

Remarkably GWS are a fluker’s chance of staving off the wooden spoon. They need to win, and they need to hope that the Dees then lose by a few goals against the Dogs. The latter is possible. The former is unlikely. The Suns will be up for their final fixture with a view to next year. G. Ablett will feel like he needs the votes: he does love a Brownlow. Gold Coast by 28 points.

Collingwood v North Melbourne

This is a beauty. The mid-fields match up well. North are a much better side with young Ziebell in there but he will need his teammates to be on, against a Pies side which exploits laziness. They know about laziness because they can be opened up themselves, although that has tended to happen late in games, and against the better sides. There is much to play for here. It is North’s Grand Final. That level of desperation may be the difference. I’ve tipped them all year, so why would I stop now. North by 4 points.

Western Bulldogs v Melbourne

I reckon they should just have a bit of jeans-and-thongs kick-to-kick and all go home early here. Not if you’re a Doggies fan. They have enjoyed the last two months, and want to finish it off. They will. Easily. The Bulldogs by 40 points.