As we enter week two of the AFL Finals series, there’s two teams down, six remaining

The Demons and Power earned themselves a week off with their qualifying finals wins last week. Their vanquished opposition – the Lions and Cats – saw themselves facing the Giants and Bulldogs, respectively, after they had finished the seasons of the Bombers and Swans.

Who will make the 2021 AFL Grand Final?

Geelong Cats vs Greater Western Sydney Giants

Veteran sharp shooter Tom Hawkins saw Geelong through to their fifth preliminary final in the past six years, proving the difference in an otherwise evenly played game.

The Giants, already missing so many of their best XXII, lost talisman Toby Greene to suspension through the week. They were further weakened when Jesse Hogan – a successful reclamation project brought in to replace Jeremy Cameron after he was poached by the Cats – was forced to withdraw minutes before the bounce due to a calf injury.

With the GWS forward line a shadow of its usual self, the game was there for Geelong, but with that came all of the pressure as the Cats – perennial contenders – look to claim their 1st Premiership since 2011.

Cameron almost made the perfect start against his old team but a ball over the top from Isaac Smith didn’t sit for the big forward, eventually coming off his hands and through for a behind. Sam Menegola then missed a routine set shot as neither team was able to find an early rhythm.

Cameron did get his goal eventually, benefiting from a free kick just outside the goal square. He snapped truly for the games opener. Menegola then set up Brad Close with a gorgeous pass for a point blank major. Esava Ratugolea missed another set shot as the Cats had the general run of play, but were unable to make their chances count.

Fortunately for them, the Giants were still stuck in the gates, only managing three points for the term, as Geelong led by 14 at the change.

The 2nd quarter opened with the news that quicksilver Cat Brandan Parfitt was subbed out with a hamstring strain as GWS finally started to find their feet.

Josh Kelly kicked the Giants’ 1st goal of the game with a long left foot snap five minutes into the term, before Conor Stone, the young man entrusted with Cameron’s old #18 guernsey, roved cleanly and kicked another goal around the corner.

The Cats needed an answer and Hawkins provided it, marking well and converting to halt the Giants momentum.

The game descended into something less than a spectacle as both teams – especially the Cats, who had the majority of the ball – repeatedly missed open targets. One sequence from Cat speedster Gary Rohan epitomised the poor skills and decision making on display when, after daintily sidestepping a couple of Giants he ran into an open goal. Instead of slipping the ball through to an unguarded teammate closer to the sticks he chose to burn his mate, blazing away at the goals only to miss badly.

Finally, Ratugolea did what he does best, crashing a pack to snare a great mark before duly converting his set shot, restoring the Cats lead to 15 points.

A sloppy late hit from Hawkins resulted in a 50 metre penalty, but the Giants couldn’t capitalise, Cameron kicking a goal for Geelong on the rebound.

Worryingly for Cats coach Chris Scott, his team’s sloppy defending from last week’s loss to the Power reared it’s head as a spillage allowed Daniel Lloyd to answer for the Giants. Harry Himmelberg could have added one more before the half time siren, but his set shot clipped the post, as the Cats took a 38 to 23 lead into the main break.

The game desperately needed a spark and Giant Bobby Hill duly obliged with a nifty piece of improvisation to keep the ball alive before steering through a running shot from a tight angle to get the opening goal of the 3rd quarter.

The Cats responded through Rohan, converting a long set shot after a free kick for front on contact. Hawkins kicked his 2nd of the evening after a strong mark drifting across the pack. His shot was from near the boundary, but a forward of Hawkins calibre converts those kicks more than most.

The Giants started to gain some ascendancy around the ground but Geelong’s defense, led by Mark Blicavs and Jack Henry, were able to intercept or at least halve any ball that came to their area.

From one of those interceptions the Cats almost went coast to coast for a Max Holmes goal. Cameron should perhaps have held a mark at the top of the goal square, but Holmes read the ball well to rove and was a dead certainty to slam the ball through but for an utterly desperate piece if defending from Jake Stein who stretched every sinew in hos body to smother the ball off of Holmes boot.

Geelong did manage to convert, eventually. A goal to Rohan was quickly followed by a wonderful set play from Hawkins to Smith that pushed the lead out to 32 points.

Menegola snapped a beauty under heavy pressure to extend the lead further before veteran ruckman Shane Mumford goaled after the siren to keep the Giants in with a shout, though the goal shy Giants would need a miracle in the final term to keep their season alive.

Close capitalised from a fortunate bounce to kick the opener of the final term just 38 seconds in, further damaging Giants dreams.

Giants coach Leon Cameron pulled every string he could. Defender Nick Haynes went forward and rewarded his coach with a mark and goal. Hill cleverly snapped the ball around his body to set up Stone for another goal before veteran Callan Ward found the ball in traffic, danced his way through it and calmly slotted the ball through.

Suddenly, the Cats lead was just 20. The Giants had momentum, monstering the more experienced Cats midfield at the stoppages.

Again needing to find an answer, Hawkins stepped up. Close intercepted well in the middle of the park before releasing Cameron Guthrie. He found a leading Hawkins who kicked a much needed steadier.

Still, the Giants came. Another bullish forward entry saw Blicavs penalised for hands in the back. Himmelberg made no mistake with the resulting shot at goal.

Again it was Hawkins with the response. His mark and goal was a crucial moment in the context of the game. From the resulting centre bounce, Giant Zach Sproule went down with a shoulder injury as Geelong cleared the ball. Cameron sprayed his shot at goal, but no more than 90 seconds later, Hawkins kicked his 3rd for the quarter and 5th for the game in typical fashion.

The big man planted his feet, out muscled Sam Taylor to mark comfortably and confidently steered through the back breaking goal.

Himmelberg converted another set shot to keep the Cats honest, but a final goal to Menegola from a Giants turnover saw them make yet another preliminary final, seeing off an undermanned though brave Giants outfit.

Hawkins was the difference in the game. Five goals from 18 possessions and, more importantly, the only reliable forward target on the ground for either side. In a match that was surprisingly even, having that outlet gave the Cats an advantage that the Giants couldn’t overcome.

Zach Touhy was his usual influential self running from half back with 31 possessions, whilst Menegola pushed froward from midfield to kick a pair of goals in addition to 29 disposals.

Lachie Whitfield was a titan for the Giants, collecting 34 possessions and proving decisive in the clearances. Nick Haynes was outstanding in defense and as mentioned kicked a key goal when swung forward in the final term.

Season 2021 proved to be a frustrating one for the Giants, who never really found their groove, but also didn’t get anything even close to a consistent lineup on the park. Between injuries and poorly timed suspensions, this campaign could have looked a lot different for the men in charcoal and orange.

For the Cats, they march on to yet another final four. They’ve missed the finals only once since Scott took over the reigns in 2011. Despite an ageing list, they’re yet again playing a the business end of the season. A date with the table topping Demons awaits.

Geelong Cats 15 Goals 13 Behinds (103)

GWS Giants 10 Goals 8 Behinds (68)

Goals

Geelong: Hawkins 5, Cameron2, Rohan 2, Close 2, Menegola 2, Smith, Ratugolea

GWS: Stone 2, Himmelberg 2, Kelly, Lloyd, Hill, Mumford, Haynes, Ward

Best

Geelong: Hawkins, Tuohy, Menegola, C. Guthrie, Smith, Dangerfield, Cameron

GWS: Whitfield, Haynes, Kelly, Hopper, Ward, Mumford

Brisbane Lions vs Western Bulldogs

What an incredible game of football this turned out to be.

The Lions were seen as a preseason favourite coming into the year, but endured patchy form, only stealing their top four place in a dramatic round 23 match against the Eagles. The team they displaced? The Bulldogs – the team that (along with the Demons) spent the most time in the top two all season. Only a perplexing late season slump saw them drop to 5th.

This had all the makings of a classic shoot out. Both teams are renowned movers of the ball who can put up points in a hurry. The opening term aside, we didn’t quite get that free flowing end-to-end footy that we were hoping for. What we got was so much better. A game of ebbs, flows, streaks, controversies and the highest of drama.

A lively opening saw both teams apply impressive pressure. Dogs captain Marcus Bontompelli drove the ball forward where big Tim English brought the ball to ground then recovered to centre the football. Bontompelli ran forward to contest the mark, only managing to bring the ball to ground. Tom Liberatore was first to react, claiming the ball then snapping an excellent opener.

The Lions answered through Charlie Cameron – fresh of a five goal performance last week – after a long, driving ball from Hugh McCluggage.

Liberatore snapped another for the Dogs before the Lions showed exactly what they’re capable of with a three goal in 150 seconds burst.

Firstly dead eye Lincoln McCarthy calmly slotted home from a free kick before Joe Daniher roved well for a big man to snap home his 1st. Another centre clearance – Oscar McInerney was proving a handful in the ruck contests – saw Cameron snare another as he kicked a classic rovers goal.

Needing a centre clearance, Bontompelli delivered, driving the ball forward where the magnificently quiffed Bailey Smith snapped just beyond the despairing dive of Mitch Robinson.

The goals continued to rain down as the pacey Cameron unsurprisingly ran away from veteran Bulldog Easton Wood to slam home his 3rd of the term.

Both teams blew gilt-edged chances to continue the avalanche. Cody Weightman missed an easy shot for the Bulldogs before Cameron fluffed a pass that would have seen the Lions raffle an easy goal. But that should take nothing away from a breathtaking opening term of football, Brisbane leading 33 to 22.

The Lions had the run of play early in the 2nd quarter, but the Dogs defense stood up well. When they did eventually move the ball forward, a juggling Aaron Naughton mark and goal saw the Dogs cut into the lead.

Shortly after Lion Jack Payne was substituted after a sickening blow to the back of the head from McCarthy’s knee. Bleeding profusely and obviously concussed, he would take no further part in this contest.

For all of the speed that the Bulldogs play with, they prefer a slightly slower pace that the Lions. As the breakneck tempo of the opening term inevitably slowed, the Bulldogs came into their own.

That said, when Brisbane break, they can be devastating. A quick rebound saw Daniher with the chance to score but his wild shot missed everything. Another quick chain of handballs saw a good chance snuffed out by a strong defensive mark from former Lion Josh Schache.

At the other end, Mitch Hannan had the ball fall somewhat fortuitously into his arms. He didn’t waste the chance, steering through a goal to level the game up. Weightman gave the dogs the lead in short order, spilling what would have been a fantastic mark but recovering to snap home another.

Brisbane reasserted themselves late in the term. That pressure created a turnover in the Bulldogs back line, Mitch Robinson the eventual beneficiary, stepping around Bailey Dale to goal from 40 meters out.

Both teams went into half time needing a well earned break. The Bulldogs leading by a solitary point.

The half time sojourn saw another two players withdrawn with head knocks: Weightman for the Bulldogs; Jarrod Berry for the Lions.

In the opening minutes of the 3rd quarter both teams struggled to regain their mojo before McCluggage came through with a diving mark and classy finish from next to the behind post.

The Lions were able to dominate field position for the next 15 minutes or so, but again the Dogs defense held up well enough. A Zac Bailey major was all the Lions had to show for their ascendancy, as Cameron missed what is for him a sitter .

The Lions were also living somewhat dangerously at the other end, despite the Bulldogs scant forays forward. Schache dropped a sitter in the goal square and Hannan fluffed his lines after picking up the loose ball. Bontompelli thought he’d scored a goal only for it to be overturned on video review as touched off the boot.

Keidean Coleman was everywhere for the Lions, tackling anything he could get his hands on. He started a counter attack that saw Ryan Lester kick his 1st goal in over four years.

From the resulting centre bounce the Dogs won a much needed clearance, the ball finding 2016 Norm Smith medallist Jason Johannisen, who steered through a long effort on the run.

Alex Keath had the chance to cut the lead to a goal after a 50 metre penalty. The career defender clearly suffered a nosebleed from being to far up the field, badly missing his set shot.

Johannisen had a chance on the siren to reduce the margin further after a pair of debatable free kicks saw him within range. His set shot missed, leaving the Dogs trailing by 10 points at the final change.

Quietly brilliant all night, Jack Macrae took a strong contested mark and converted the set shot in the opening minute of the final term. A few minutes later Schache out positioned Harris Andrews to take collect the ball right on the goal line, tip-toeing his way along the paint to snap truly from point blank range. Smith then found space to steer through a thumping goal on his right boot.

Despite controlling the play for the most part, the Lions suddenly found themselves eight points in arrears.

The Bulldogs spurned further opportunities to stretch their lead. Smith in particular was culpable with a pair of poor passes that, should they have found their target, would have surely led to Dogs goals. Credit also to Andrews, who stopped a certain goal by outpointing a pair of Bulldogs with no teammate in the vicinity.

Brisbane responded yet again, increasing their on ball pressure and tempo of ball movement to pin the Doggies back. McCarthy marked well but could only register a behind from a long shot at goal, before Daniher decided not to take a golden opportunity to shoot, instead squaring the ball to find Tom Fullarton who made no mistake, cutting the margin back to a point.

Andrews, for reasons that are still unclear, found himself in the Lions forward line. His strong mark saw him take a rare shot at goal, barely grazing the post to tie things up at 71 apiece.

A frantic last 10 minutes ensued.

Bontompelli took a big grab over McInerney but couldn’t convert. At the other end, Andrews again marked well, driving the Lions forward. Diminutive Bulldog Caleb Daniel sliced his clearance wise, inexplicably whistled for a deliberate out of bounds (It should be noted that both sides endured some rather strange umpiring in this match). Reigning Brownlow medallist Lachie Neale took responsibility, but couldn’t bend his shot through – scores again tied.

With just under two minutes to play the Dogs again drove forward through Johannisen. Naughton wasn’t able to hold a contested mark but Hannan roved, finding Smith by hand. The future Shampoo model steered home a gorgeous goal on his left boot from the boundary, giving the Dogs late lead.

The drama wasn’t over yet, though. The Lions drove forward again as two Dogs collided trying to take the defensive mark. Bailey was Johnny-on-the-spot, calmly collecting the ball and waltzing in to tie the ball game yet again.

The Bulldogs managed to rush the ball forward from the centre bounce, the ball eventually falling to Laitham Vandermeer in the pocket. As he was being tackled by former Dog Marcus Adams, he succeeded in hand balling towards goal, the ball rolling over the line for a vital point with just 45 seconds to play.

Brisbane almost went coast to coast, finding Cameron one out with Taylor Duryea in the forward line. So many times Cameron has embarrassed his marker in these scenarios but on this occasion, Duryea stuck with the Lions live wire as the ball rolled over the boundary line.

The Dogs won the throw in, clearing the ball and booking themselves a preliminary final spot in a most high class and dramatic game of football.

Macrae was quietly brilliant in this game. As usual for the All Australian, he was rarely flashy – his big mark and goal to start the last term aside – as he collected 39 disposals. Bailey Smith’s two key last quarter goals were much more noticeable, but he was more than just a finisher, collecting 27 possessions in an excellent night for the 20 year old.

Bontompelli again had a slow start but was involved in most of the big moments for the Dogs. Concerningly he came of the ground as Smith kicked his final goal with a knee injury. He’s irreplaceable – the Bulldogs will be praying to each and every deity that their captain is healthy.

The Lions big three in midfield – Lyons, McCluggage and Neale – were all magnificent, ably fed by McInerney who has developed into an excellent ruckman. Charlie Cameron looked like he was going to tear the game apart early but, like last week against Melbourne, he was well held after quarter time.

For the Lions, the season is over. They will certainly feel some frustration at the officiating in this one, but also at their inability to keep their foot on the Bulldogs throat. Numerous times they had the Dogs swaying but were unable to land that killer blow.

For the Dogs, a showdown with the Power awaits. Whilst you can never count out a team this talented, losing Bontompelli in addition to leading scorer Josh Bruce – out for the year with an ACL injury – would surely cripple their chances.

Brisbane Lions 11 Goals 12 Behinds (78)

Western Bulldogs 11 Goals 13 Behinds (79)

Goals

Brisbane: Cameron 3, Bailey 2, Daniher, Fullarton, Lester, McCarthy, McCluggage, Robinson

Bulldogs: B Smith 3, Liberatore 2, Hannan, Johannisen, Macrae, Naughton, Schache, Weightman

Best

Brisbane: McCluggage, Zorko, Cameron, Coleman, Lyons, Robinson

Bulldogs: Macrae, Daniel, Bontompelli, Keath, Liberatore, B Smith

So with that, we’re down to four teams remaining. Fittingly, those four have been, by consensus, the best four clubs of the season.

The Demons will renew hostilities with the Cats on Friday night (local time) whilst the free flowing Bulldogs will try to take out the Power on Saturday evening.

The winner will play on the fabled last Saturday in September.