Wow. Just…wow! Round twenty three of the AFL season was even better than advertised, providing matches full of wonderful skill, fierce determination, and more drama than a day time soap opera. With so many teams, in particular those with finals berths already locked in, having so much to play for, the usual attitude of ‘getting through unscathed’ went out the window.

Here at Vendetta Sports Media, weโ€™ll be covering the entire AFL season for you. In case you missed it, all our team previews and this writers ladder predictions are located here.

Match of the Week: Geelong Cats vs. Melbourne Demons

The AFL scriptwriters set up an enthralling round twenty three, but no game had greater more at stake than the top of the table clash between the Cats and Demons.

Both teams were playing for the minor premiership and with it the right to host their games all through the finals series. For Geelong, it would prove the perfect platform for their quest to go one better than their 2020 Grand Final loss. For Melbourne, it was a chance to top the home and away ladder for the 1st time since 1964 โ€“ also the last time the Demons won the Premiership.

At Kardinia Park, a ground where Geelong is almost invincible and the Demons have historically struggled โ€“ including a staggering 186 point loss a decade ago – the Cats came into the game as narrow favourites.

Both teams were somewhat cagey in the opening stages, feeling each other out and perhaps a little hesitant to open themselves up in such an important match. When mixed with the two best defences in the AFL, that trepidation made for a lacklustre opening.

Demons live wire Kysaiah Pickett finally opened the scoring, sprinting away from the Cats defense to kick a genuine rovers goal. Luke Dahlhaus and skipper Joel Selwood answered with arrow straight set shots for Geelong before the rejuvenated Ben Brown took a strong contested mark and kicked truly.

Clayton Oliver continued his stellar campaign with another hot start, this time accruing 12 1st quarter possessions โ€“ eight of those contested – to drive the Demons forward.

The Demons opened the 2nd term looking the stronger of the two sides as they started to control the stoppages. A chain handballs from one of those stoppages saw the returning Jack Viney kick a lovely check side goal.

The Cats, however, quickly turned the match on its head with a devastating eight goal burst. Jeremy Cameron converted a set shot from the top of the goal square before Tom Hawkins soccered one through to give Geelong the lead. He followed up with two more before the Cats really turned it on. Four goals in seven minutes blew the game wide open, and when Cameron kicked an opportunistic 2nd, the Cats were cruising, holding a 39 point lead at halftime.

The 2nd half would be instructive. Would the Cats be able to press their advantage and crush the Demons? Could Melbourne regain a foothold in the match? Perhaps even make a comeback attempt?

Melbourne certainly looked the better of the two sides early in the 3rd quarter, though Hawkins’ 4th goal could have taken the wind out of the Demons sails. Instead, it was Oliver who once again willed his team forward, emerging from a stoppage to kick a goal on the run to snap the Cats streak.

Geelong responded with a swift counter attacking goal finished by Gary Rohan with credit going to those up the ground, especially Gryan Miers. Oliver again forged a Demons response with a clearance and feed to Pickett, who kicked his 2nd on the run.

Brown converted a set shot as the Demons won the 3rd term, reducing the margin to 32 points at the final change, the scales still tipped firmly in Geelong’s favour.

The final term was….well, there might not be a word in the English language that adequately describes it.

Pickett snared his 3rd from a lead out and mark before Charlie Spargo was quickest to react to a loose ball in the goal square, toe poking through another for Melbourne. The margin was now just 20 points and the Cats, whilst still in relative control, started to tepidly chip the ball about in an effort to control the tempo of the match. All they ended up doing was allowing the Demons strong intercept game to come into its own, which, in turn, put more pressure on the Cats back line.

After a sustained spell of pressure, Oliver snapped another goal whilst under duress. Spargo then roved well to snap another smart goal, and the margin was back to single digits. At this point, the Cats gave up any preteens of moving the ball forward with pace, instead looking to maintain possession at all costs.

Geelong’s careful possession game did successfully move the ball forward on occasion, though. Cameron had a set shot in the forward pocket, his left foot bender slamming into the post. On another forward entry, Miers looked to have Cameron open before the Demons defense converged at the last moment.

A Geelong turnover in the middle of the ground saw Bayley Fritsch finish a counter attack to cut the margin to just two points with 13 minutes still remaining to play. The Demons, after conceding nine unanswered goals, had answered with seven straight of their own.

Geelong again managed to patiently work the ball forward. Dahlhaus missed a telling set shot. Then Cameron and Lachlan Henderson crashed into each other as they converged on the ball without a Demon in sight in what could prove to be a pivotal moment in the match.

The final minute of this match might deserve its own stand alone article!

From a centre wing stoppage, Demon Angus Brayshaw hacked the ball forward off the ground. The football travelled at least 40 meters before rolling out of bounds, only for the umpire to inexplicably rule against Brayshaw, paying the Cats a free kick for deliberate out of bounds. The television commentary team was incredulous, rightly pointing out that Brayshaw had no reason to aim for the boundary line given his team was chasing the game.

From the resulting free kick, the otherwise outstanding Cam Guthrie kicked the ball out of bounds on the full. Salt was rubbed into Cats wounds when Brad Close thumped the already out of bounds ball into the stands; the resulting Melbourne free kick now topped by a 50 metre penalty for time wasting.

From the restart, Demons defender Jake Lever lined up from just outside the 50 metre arc with less that 20 seconds to play and his side still trailing by two points. Most players would have rightly taken on the shot at goal in these circumstances, but Lever was aware enough to see his captain, 6’10โ€ Max Gawn, somehow standing unmarked no more than 20 meters from goal. His pass hit its target. Now it was up to Gawn โ€“ a notoriously poor exponent of the set shot, to secure the McClelland Trophy for his club.

Let’s let the video tell a story:

Gawn may have kicked the match winner, and he did have a fine overall game with 25 possessions and 39 hit outs, but you cannot go past Clayton Oliver for best on the ground. The recently turned 24 year old played an amazing game from beginning to end. This tweet sums it up nicely, yet also doesn’t begin to reflect the influence he had on the contest.

Christian Petracca had a stellar 2nd half, and Pickett was a menace throughout.

For the Cats, Hawkins had a purple patch in the 2nd term but was a tower of strength up forward all game. The veterans all led from the front for Geelong. As well as Hawkins, Selwood, Patrick Dangerfield, and Isaac Smith were immense.

The miraculous win secured Melbourne’s spot at the top of the AFL ladder. Of the nine previous occasions they’ve achieved that feat, they’ve gone on to win the flag. Remarkably, this was the 1st time in Melbourne’s 161 year history that they’ve kicked a match winning goal after the siren. For their opening final, Melbourne will host Brisbane in a true Irresistible Force/Immovable Object matchup.

For Geelong, a 3rd placed finish means they retain the double chance but will head to Adelaide to play the surging Power in the opening weekend of finals action.

Geelong Cats: 12 Goals, 5 Behinds (77)

Melbourne Demons: 12 Goals, 9 Behinds (81)

Goals

Geelong: Hawkins 4, Cameron 2, Rohan 2, Close, Dahlhaus, Dangerfield, Selwood

Melbourne: Pickett 3, Brown 2, Spargo 2, Oliver 2, Fritsch, Viney, Gawn

Best

Geelong: Dangerfield, Selwood, Hawkins, Smith, Guthrie, Henderson

Melbourne: Oliver, Gawn, Pickett, Petracca, Salem, Lever

Onto the other games of round twenty three of the AFL season.

Western Bulldogs 6 goals, 4 behinds (64) lost to Port Adelaide Power 9 goals, 12 behinds (66)

Goals

Western Bulldogs: English 2, Naughton, Bontompelli, Dunkley, Johannisen, Weightman, Vandermeer, Hunter, Treloar

Port Adelaide: Rozee 2, Ladhams 2, Boak 2, Gray 2, Wines

Best

Western Bulldogs: Macrae, Hunter, Daniel, Dale, B. Smith, Treloar

Port Adelaide: Boak, Wines, Gray, Lycett, Amon, Rozee

Coming into this game in 3rd and 4th respectively, both sides had much to play for. The Bulldogs playing to maintain their top four position โ€“ and with it a double chance; the Power for a top two spot and the right to host their first final. It was the Dogs that started the better, kicking four unanswered goals in the opening 10 minutes before the Power eventually started to get their hands in the football. Connor Rozee finally put one through for Port in the 24th minute, though the Dogs remained in control. Port had the better of a tight 2nd term, but inaccurate kicking for goal cost them. They had kicked five behinds for the term when Jason Johannisen kicked truly for the Bulldogs against the run of play, giving his side a 19 point halftime lead. The 3rd quarter was a roller coaster. Port Adelaide opened with three goals inside five minutes, tying the game before the Dogs answered with their own three-in-five minute run. Goals to Travis Boak and Peter Ladhams โ€“ his 2nd of the quarter โ€“ saw the Power again close the gap before Lachlan Hunter kicked the last of the term for the Bulldogs. Adam Treloar’s final term goal pushed the Dogs lead out to 15 before Port came home with a wet sail. A goal to Ollie Wines, another to Boak, and finally Robbie Gray โ€“ a man with a long history of clutch goals โ€“ saw the Power steal a magnificent game of football, securing their top two position.

Richmond Tigers 12 goals, 11 behinds (83) drew with Hawthorn Hawks 12 goals, 11 behinds (83)

Goals

Richmond: Riewoldt 3, Lynch 3, Bolton 2, Stack 2, Castagna, Chol

Hawthorn: Brockman 3, Wingard 2, Phillips 2, Lewis 2, Hanrahan, Nash, Scrimshaw

Best

Richmond: Ross, Short, Astbury, Lynch, Bolton

Hawthorn: Wingard, Mitchell, O’Meara, Nash, McEvoy

With neither side making the finals, this was billed as a celebration more than a contest, though it became a classic in its own right. The Tigers celebrated the retirements of underrated backman David Astbury and classy half back/statesman of the game Bachar Houli. For the Hawks? Only four time premiership coach Alistair Clarkson and 400 game champion Shaun Burgoyne. The match itself was a relatively tight affair until a pair of Hawks goals to Tyler Brockman and Chad Wingard late in the 2nd term eased the lead out before halftime. Tom Phillips and Mitch Lewis goals saw Hawthorn extend their lead. When Jack Scrimshaw goaled midway through the final quarter, they led by 31 points and looked for all money to continue their strong late season form with one last victory. That’s when the drama started. A pair of quick goals to Tiger Sydney Stack looked merely academic, but when Tom Lynch followed up with another, an epic comeback looked like a possibility. Jack Riewoldt then put through a pair to tie the game up โ€“ the last soccered off the ground, just sneaking over the line before Burgoyne could deflect it. A magnificent finish to the game reflecting some magnificent careers. The draw was the first ever between the two clubs.

Sydney Swans 21 goals, 10 behinds (136) defeated Gold Coast Suns 6 goals, 13 behinds (49)

Goals

Sydney: Franklin 6, Papley 3, Heeney 3, Wicks 2, McLean 2, Mills, Dawson, Gulden, Hickey, Rowbottom

Gold Coast: King 4, Corbett, Sexton

Best

Sydney: Franklin, Dawson, Heeney, Hickey, Parker, McInerney, Lloyd

Gold Coast: Miller, Anderson, Harbrow, Davies, Fiorini

The Suns limped to their annual season flame out with an 87 point loss to a rampant Swans. Lance Franklin was at his devastating best, kicking the opening goal of the game inside the first 30 seconds on his way to six for the match, leaving him on 992 career majors. Whilst the Suns were relatively competitive in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, their start and finish to this ‘contest’ left much to be desired. A six goal to nil opening term set the standard for the finals bound Swans, but it was the final term where Sydney really put the foot down. The Swans kicked three in the opening four minutes of the term on their way to an eight goal quarter that almost doubled the three quarter time margin. The Swans midfield put on a masterclass in pressure and swift ball movement in a balanced team effort. For the Suns, the standouts were Ben King with four goals and โ€“ as always โ€“ the magnificent Touk Miller.

Brisbane Lions 19 goals,11 behinds (125) defeated West Coast Eagles 13 goals, 9 behinds (87)

Goals

Brisbane: Daniher 4, Berry 3, Cameron 2, McCarthy 2, McStay 2, Lyons, McCluggage, Rich, Neale, Zorko

West Coast: Darling 3, Ryan 3, Cripps 2, Vardy 2, Allen, Jones, Waterman

Best

Brisbane: Zorko, Rich, Daniher, Adams, Neale, Coleman

West Coast: Naitanui, Yeo, Shuey, Sheed, Ryan

Another match with huge consequences for both teams. For Brisbane, a win of around five to six goals would see them leap above the Bulldogs on percentage and into the top four. The Eagles, on the other hand, simply had to win to have any chance of playing finals football. Playing for their season, the Eagles jumped out of the blocks through Oscar Allen and Jake Waterman before a seven goal onslaught from the Lions โ€“ two coming from Joe Daniher’s boot โ€“ saw the Lions set up the match in their favour. Through a Jack Darling goal on the quarter time siren and a Liam Ryan major โ€“ one of his three for the term – as the 2nd term started, the Eagles brought the margin to 11 points at the half, a margin that didn’t satisfy either club. An arm wrestle of a 3rd term saw the teams still at somewhat of a stalemate at three quarter time, the Lions holding a 17 point lead. Jamie Cripps kicked the first two goals of the final term for West Coast as the margin was reduced to just four points. Brisbane responded with another huge run of five goals to push the lead out to beyond 30 and have them sitting inside the four. Jack Darling goaled for West Coast, and suddenly the pressure was on. The Lions needed three points unanswered to move back into the top four, and they got them one at a time. Lincoln McCarthy’s point with under 30 seconds remaining gave the Lions just enough margin to move ahead of the Bulldogs. Charlie Cameron’s goal after the siren proved to be icing on the cake.

Carlton Blues 11 goals, 9 behinds (75) lost to Greater Western Sydney Giants 12 goals, 17 behinds (89)

Goals

Carlton: E. Curnow 4, Casboult 2, Betts 2, Durdin, McGovern, Fisher

GWS: Hogan 3, Ward 2, Lloyd, Hopper, Perryman, Greene, Sproule, O’Halloran, Himmelberg

Best

Carlton: Walsh, E. Curnow, Kennedy, Newman, Weitering

GWS: Ward, Taranto, Kelly, Taylor, Hogan

The Giants were only the most remote of chances of missing the finals but made sure of their September ticket with a comeback victory against the Blues. The match started slowly as the Giants struggled to find their rhythm, and the Blues concentrated on their defensive duties after last weeks awful loss to the Power. The match opened up in the 2nd quarter as Carlton led by as much as 19 points before the Giants closed the half with four of the last five goals to trail by just a point. GWS dominated the 3rd quarter and should have kicked away but for inaccuracy in front of the sticks. Their return of three goals five behinds was exacerbated when Ed Curnow kicked his 3rd for Carlton right before the final break. Curnow’s 4th goal at the beginning of the final term reduced the margin to eight points, but the Giants were able to do just enough to hold on. Fittingly, the great Eddie Betts kicked the final goal of the game in his 350th and final AFL match.

St Kilda Saints 17 goals, 5 behinds (107) defeated Fremantle Dockers 6 goals, 13 behinds (49)

Goals

St Kilda: Sharman 4, Membrey 3, Kent 2, Higgins 2, Butler, Bytel 2, Marshall 2

Fremantle: Crowden, Switkowski, Taberner, Henry, Treacy, Banfield

Best

St Kilda: Steele, Marshall, Sharman, Sinclair, Hill, Crouch, Higgins

Fremantle: Serong, Brayshaw, Young, Mundy, Crowden

Fremantle needed to win โ€“ and hope for a Bombers loss โ€“ to secure themselves an unlikely finals berth. Unfortunately for the Dockers, they failed to fire a shot, never holding the lead on their way to a comprehensive 58 point loss. The Saints, playing for pride in a season that failed to deliver on so much preseason promise, were never troubled. They themselves didn’t get out of 2nd gear in the opening half as they eased their way out to a 15 point lead in a low scoring contest. After the main break, it was the Saints rather than the Dockers who came out the stronger. A four goal to one term broke the young Dockers spirit. However, Cooper Sharman and Tim Membrey’s late 3rd term goals were just an appetiser. The Saints ran roughshod over Fremantle in the final term, kicking five goals in 10 minutes to blow the game apart. The teams traded goals late in the game, but it was academic as the Saints ran out comfortable winners. Saints skipper Jack Steele finished his quietly excellent campaign with another 35 disposals. Rowan Marshall controlled the ruck duels well, and St Kilda dominated across half back with Brad Hill, Jack Sinclair, and Nick Coffield all influential on the rebound.

Essendon Bombers 16 goals, 6 behinds (102) defeated Collingwood Magpies 9 goals, 10 behinds (64)

Goals

Essendon: Wright 4, Waterman 4, Stringer 2, Smith 2, Redman 2, Perkins, Snelling

Collingwood: Elliott 4, Cameron, Daicos, De Goey, Thomas, Hoskin-Elliott

Best

Essendon: Smith, Stringer, Wright, Redman, Cutler, Merrett

Collingwood: Adams, Elliott, De Goey, Howe, Crisp, Daicos

The Dockers loss prior to this match beginning ensured the Bombers place in the finals, thus taking away any jeopardy attached to the game. That didn’t stop Essendon jumping out of the gates, though, as they put three goals on the board before Collingwood realistically looked like scoring. To their credit, the Magpies responded, kicking four of the next five goals in a high scoring term to level things up before Mason Redman converted a set shot to give the Bombers a narrow quarter time lead. The Magpies couldn’t keep up their efforts, however, as Essendon kicked the opening four goals of the 2nd term โ€“ and six of seven for the quarter โ€“ to open up a comfortable 24 point margin at the main break, the rejuvenated Peter Wright bagging four goals for the half. With the Bombers place in finals action secured and the Magpies having nothing to play for, the game lacked intensity in the 2nd half as Essendon went into preservation mode, and the Pies were seemingly on the beach. Nonetheless, a solid win for the Bombers before their cutthroat final against the Bulldogs.

Adelaide Crows 13 goals, 20 behinds (98) defeated North Melbourne Kangaroos 8 goals, 6 behinds (54)

Goals

Adelaide: McAdam 3, Keays 2, Seedsman, McHenry, Jones, Schoenberg, Thilthorpe, Mackay, Gollant, Lynch

North Melbourne: Larkey 3, Anderson, Walker, Thomas, Phillips, Scott

Best

Adelaide: Laird, Sloane, McAdam, Keays, Smith

North Melbourne: Hall, Thomas, Larkey, Simpkin

Whilst round twenty three gave us some cracking games of football, full of skill, desire, and not little drama, it’s fair to say that the final game of the home and away season was somewhat anti-climactic. In fairness, when 15th hosts 18th on the AFL ladder, what else should you expect? In a match that was unsurprisingly played at half speed on occasion, neither side set the world alight. The match was competitive in the early stages, though a late burst gave Adelaide a 17 point quarter time lead. The Kangaroos pushed in the 2nd term but could get a goal for love nor money as poor skill execution saw them waste a myriad of chances. An early Ben Keays goal was all the Crows could manage in response. Both teams awoke somewhat in the 2nd half, the Crows pushing the lead out through Chayce Jones and a 3rd goal to Shane McAdam. The Roos responded late through Nick Larkey and Tarryn Thomas, and when Larkey opened up the final term with his 3rd goal, an unlikely comeback was front of mind. Adelaide, though, crushed those hopes with four of the next five goals to take a 44 point win over the wooden spooners.

With the home and away season in the books for another year and the finalists set, let us take a look at who will match up in week one of the AFL Finals series:

The winners of the Qualifying finals will earn themselves a weeks break, the losers of those matches taking on the winners of the Elimination Finals. As the name suggests, the losers of the Elimination finals are done for 2021. Specifically, the winner of the Western Bulldogs vs. Essendon matchup will meet the loser of Melbourne vs. Brisbane, whilst whoever is victorious in the Sydney derby between the Swans and Giants will take on the loser of Port Adelaide and Geelong.

Final Coleman Medal leader board for 2021

Harry McKay (Carlton) โ€“ 58 goals (- goals this week)

Tom Hawkins (Geelong) โ€“ 54 (4)

Jack Riewoldt (Richmond) โ€“ 51 (3)

Lance Franklin (Swans) โ€“ 48 (6)

Taylor Walker (Adelaide) โ€“ 48 (-)

Josh Bruce (Bulldogs) โ€“ 48 (-)

Bayley Fritsch (Demons) โ€“ 47 (1)

Charlie Cameron (Lions) โ€“ 47 (3)

Ben King (Suns) โ€“ 47 (4)

Charlie Dixon (Power) โ€“ 46 (0)

For the full list of goal kickers in season 2021, click here.

#ClubMPts%ForAgtThis WeekProjectedNext
1Melbourne2270130.8 %18881443Won @ Geel
81 โ€“ 77
1st: 70 pts, 131 %Qual Final
vs B.L.
2Port Adel2268126.3 %18841492Won @ W.B.
66 โ€“ 64
2nd: 68 pts, 126 %Qual Final
vs Geel
3Geelong2264126.7 %18451456Lost vs Melb
77 โ€“ 81
3rd: 64 pts, 127 %Qual Final
@ P.A.
4Brisbane2260133.3 %21311599Won vs WCE
125 โ€“ 87
4th: 60 pts, 133 %Qual Final
@ Melb
5W Bulldogs2260132.8 %19941501Lost vs P.A.
64 โ€“ 66
5th: 60 pts, 133 %Elim Final
vs Ess
6Sydney2260119.9 %19861656Won vs G.C.
136 โ€“ 49
6th: 60 pts, 120 %Elim Final
vs GWS
7GWS Giants224699.7 %17681773Won @ Carl
89 โ€“ 75
7th: 46 pts, 100 %Elim Final
vs Syd
8Essendon2244109.1 %19531790Won vs Coll
102 โ€“ 64
8th: 44 pts, 109 %Elim Final
vs W.B.
9WC Eagles224093.2 %17521880Lost @ B.L.
87 โ€“ 125
9th: 40 pts, 93 %raze & regrow
10St Kilda224091.5 %16441796Won vs Freo
107 โ€“ 49
10th: 40 pts, 92 %season highlights
Tues 10:00 – 10:07
11Fremantle224086.5 %15781825Lost @ St.K
49 โ€“ 107
11th: 40 pts, 86 %home, hearth
or hospital
12Richmond223897.9 %17431780Drew vs Haw
83 โ€“ 83
12th: 38 pts, 98 %pondering an
isolated September
13Carlton223288.5 %17461972Lost vs GWS
75 โ€“ 89
13th: 32 pts, 89 %Teague Train
leaving the station
14Hawthorn223285.2 %16291912Drew @ Rich
83 โ€“ 83
14th: 32 pts, 85 %a bottom-6 fixture
(well played)
15Adelaide222882.0 %16161971Won vs N.M.
98 โ€“ 54
15th: 28 pts, 82 %barracking for
whomever Port plays
16Gold Coast222876.8 %14301863Lost @ Syd
49 โ€“ 136
16th: 28 pts, 77 %surf’s up
@ Kirra
17Collingwood222485.6 %15571818Lost @ Ess
64 โ€“ 102
17th: 24 pts, 86 %scrounging draft points
behind the couch
18North Melb221870.3 %14582075Lost @ Adel
54 โ€“ 98
18th: 18 pts, 70 %when stirring risotto,
use a metal spoon only