Harmsy's Handle - AFL Finals Week 1

Image courtesy of elitesports.com.au
John Harms reckons Port Adelaide is a real wild card! Image courtesy of elitesports.com.au
Friday afternoon.

Tiger fans are at the Keith Bakery and Maccas at Ararat, they’re having a countery at Kaniva and throwing stones in the Murray at Tailem Bend. They’re a chance.

Freo fans are in the air, making their way across the desert to Sydney. They’re a chance.

Catters are on the 3.55 from South Geelong. They’re a chance,

Bombers fans reckon they should be faves. They’ll cross the Maribyrnong tomorrow night. They’re a chance.

I am on the tram, making my way to the launch of The Footy Art Show, an annual exhibition of art by footy-nuts artists. It’s always a cracking launch which is followed by the revellers darting off to the MCG or to find a pub (there are plenty) to take in the first final. People are high on life; high on the mix of herbs and spices, which include 'Possibility, Expectation and Amber Fluid'.

Anything can happen. All eight teams have a chance – if you are willing to humour Richmond fans.

At the MCG, the Cats start well. They win the footy early and they race around. Tom Hawkins gets rid of Brian Lake a couple of times, but spills the chest marks. They are textbook cases of misses-what-he-should-have-taken. (Where’s Doug Heywood?) The pressure is on.

Hawthorn look the better side, but the Cats hang in there, even if they do lack sparkle. The shinier Hawks get away. The Cats continue to hang on, and hang on. Mitchell has some sort of game. Burgoyne is the embodiment of class. Hill runs the Cats ragged, and Smith has his skates on as well. Lake contains Hawkins, winning the points with strength and skill. Finally the Cats are broken, and the Hawks win running away. Not a classic, but you couldn’t leave your seat.

Image courtesy of heraldsun.com.au/George SalpigtidisImage courtesy of heraldsun.com.au/George Salpigtidis

Saturday, and Hawthorn are all the talk, which conforms to the pattern of these weekends. But who will make an impression in Sydney?

Noah puts out an all-points bulletin as the Tasman low has dumped buckets along the coast and may drop more. At ANZ Stadium there are puddles in the pocket, but this does not stop Tom Harley from declaring that the ground has “come up a treat”. I fear for the Harley children.

Sydney and Freo play a different form of the game, a style which would suit wrestlers (of all genres: sumo, Greco-Roman, jelly), pythons and some props and hookers. The clashes are brutal. Each side looks to move the footy forward, and to break free. Occasionally that happens and the Swans disperse. But the Dockers won’t go away.

It’s anyone’s game until Buddy bursts onto the scene with a couple of sensational goals. Nearly-impossible to stop. The first from as good as the centre – or a kick-and-a-half out anyway. The second is one of those Buddy-specials from the pocket. It’s like he makes a note of where Camera 26 is on the flank and sends one straight down its line of shot.

The Swans claim the vital week off. It’s well-earned.

The Dockers limp home. At this stage of the weekend their lot is not too bad. They will face Richmond, or Port Adelaide. That will change.

The Bombers-North game is likely to go to the side which keeps its head, or which the gods choose. To the casual observer (who’s had a few reds), who is not hung up on the result, the contest becomes intriguing. The Bombers play the superior footy, against an opponent which has limited understanding of the notion of ‘advance’, or even the sense of forward direction. Their capacity to stuff around with the Sherrin is a nod to the Geelong side of 2006.

But we know what the Cats did once they worked it out, and moved the footy quickly, and that’s what North start to do after half-time. Blokes running past, in the old currency, straighten the whole outfit up. They’ve all seen the light on the hill, and head for it. Ben Brown, who has a hint of Young Ones anarchist about him, plays his part. The Bombers are clueless in response and it’s set up for a huge last quarter.

Again the frenzy is on, but Jack Ziebell and Daniel Wells perform like the true footballers they are, and Drew Petrie just happens to be in the right place at the right time. (He can thank a genius shepherd – unheralded – for putting him there for one of them). The Bombers are gunned down. Bomber Thompson gives a memorable press conference which makes me think he should take the players and set up Alternative Essendon (a club in exile) in East Keilor.

Image courtesy of foxsports.com.auImage courtesy of: heraldsun.com.au

So to Sunday.
 
It’s Spring weather in Melbourne and I’ doing some Father’s Day pruning. The kids are on the trampoline as, over in Adelaide, the travelling Tigers prepare with Big Breakfasts and strolls along the sunny Torrens.

I have seen Port Adelaide live at the Adelaide Oval and it would put the fear of God into anyone who’s ever hung on to a clip-board. I have seen Richmond live and I know they don’t. In my mind Richmond are up against it.

Whack! Whack! Whack!
 
Port are red-hot. Now I am a Ken Hinkley-lover and I have been won over by the way Port take the game on this season. But I am also a Tiger-sympathiser and, even if their hapless lot is self-inflicted, I feel for them. The Tiges, if anything, win the clearances early, but Port win the footy back, and that’s when they go troppo.

They play the game with Hinkley’s philosophy on show. They have learnt the essence of the game: that space, quick decisions (more important than pace), and skill cannot be defended. Add to that the willingness of Port’s whole squad to take on, and beat, their man – I cite Justin Westhoff’s show of the Sherrin to the outside, before straightening up, in the first quarter – and they are explosively brilliant.

Game over. It is pure, pure footy, and over in Fremantle the Dockers have been given a whiff of the Adelaide Oval smelling salts.
 
What did we learn? All the top sides are enormously skilful, but the better sides restrict their opponents from breaking free, while managing to get outside and find space themselves. Hawthorn has the balance right. Sydney is a defensive side which has a touch of attacking brilliance (Buddy). Port Adelaide is the wild card: we see their attack, we are still a analysing the quality of their defence. The Cats?

And then there were six.


John Harms, Editor of footyalmanac.com.au

@ratherbeatlunch


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