Finals in the last ten years aren’t often decided by big bags of goals, instead they are typified by total team performances, grinding their opponents into submission. Indeed, since 2008 six or more goals have been kicked in a final just eight times, and the list of names is an enviable one:
There is one major surprise in this list of former All Australians, and it is Scott Stevens, whose next highest goal haul in a single game is 3 – a lightning in a bottle moment. The rest read as a list of the best non-Riewoldt forwards of the last ten years, the cream of the crop.
However, one of these eight performances isn’t like the others, and it is the one that happened most recently.
Last weekend, GWS pummelled West Coast. You could try to dance around the issue, and put some flowery prose in there, but it was a furious demolition of one football team by another. From almost the first bounce, it felt like the two sides were playing a slightly different sport. By halftime, the Giants led by 35 points.
HPN asked friend of the blog Matt Cowgill, from ESPN and The Arc, to use his in-game probability method to work out GWS’s chance of victory at half time.
Cowgill’s response – 96.5%. West Coast were all but out of the game at half time. Just two times in AFL Finals history had a side come back from a deficit of more than 40 points at half time – and on the performance of both sides, this wasn’t going to be a similar comeback.
What is perhaps more relevant to this story is that, until half time, Stevie J had just three disposals and zero goals.
When the game was more or less decided, the impact of Johnson had been minimal at best. His critical role in the first half was to lead into space, and he almost acted as a decoy for the West Coast defence at time. However, his actual tangible impact on the game was negligible.
After half time, the Giants continued on their curb-stomping ways, with one addition – Stevie J started kicking goals. Six of them. Johnson’s first goal for the game actually came after the Giants had stretched the margin to 42 points, further pushing the game out of reach. He then added another four for the quarter, before snagging one in the last. Some goals were incredibly impressive, others (like the one that Coniglio handballed to Johnson after a inside 50 mark) were of the cheaper variety. But kicking six goals in any game of football, at any level, is an extremely impressive feat – let alone in an AFL Final. We couldn’t do it at any level, and you probably can’t either.
Of the other seven 6+ goal hauls in finals in the last decade, all featured scoring involvement earlier in the game, and several efforts proved to be the difference between the two sides. For example, Franklin’s 2008 effort featured five first half goals, including the goal that put the Hawks in the lead for good in the first quarter.
Even poor Scott Stevens’s goals came at a time that the game was under intense pressure – his second goal put the Crows in the lead, his third and fourth stretched that margin despite their eventual loss.
All goals have the same value on the scoreboard. Every goal is worth six points, every behind worth one. But not every goal has the same impact on the end result of a game, which may be more important than the mere score value of a goal.
Stevie J had six goals, but they were worth almost nothing.
Adelaide v Geelong
On paper, this one should be easy. The best team should beat the best player, no matter how good and versatile that player is. Adelaide, despite some slips and falls through the year, are a very good football team full of very good football players, from player 1 through 22. Geelong – not so much. We have shown in past weeks that Geelong (and the Tigers) perhaps have some of the best top end talent in the league, but seriously lack for depth at the bottom of their match day squads.
However, as we have mentioned in previous weeks, some of the Crows’ losses this year have been caused by smaller, faster attacks, such as against Melbourne in round 9. Tall forwards accounted for just five of the Demons’ 17 goals on the day, with the two contributing talls (Pedersen and McDonald) playing a rotating ruck-forward role throughout the game.
The two sides split their games this year, with Geelong winning by 22 in round 11 before Adelaide walked away with a 22 point win in round 18. In their win in round 11, the Cats were led by nine goals by their smaller brigade, including three each from Dangerfield and Menzel. In the Crows win, the smaller forwards kicked just three. The Crows defensive setup leans towards the taller side, despite their ability to launch slingshot attacks from halfback (often created by the now-missing Brodie Smith). If the Cats can afford to put Dangerfield up forward for extended stretches, or have the mercurial Menzel make an early impact on the game, they might be able to stretch the Crows defence to breaking point.
For the Crows, the equation is much more simple – just play like they have all year. In this situation the onus is often on the notional underdog to spring a surprise, either tactically or from a personnel point of view. The reason for this is extremely obvious; because if both teams play to ordinary expectations, the favourite will probably win.
The HPN model predicts a 12 point win to the Crows – not massive, but still a fair margin nonetheless.
Richmond v GWS
This one should be close. On paper the two teams are about as strong as each other, and the two games between them were low scoring affairs where the Tigers probably should have won both instead of just the one. Season average strength ratings suggest a 79-77 Richmond victory, which is interestingly close to the 78-75 result in the Shai Bolton Touched Goal match.
Defence has been Richmond’s strength, as well as GWS’ to a lesser degree. Richmond’s midfield wins a higher share of inside-50s, and GWS have been far more efficient inside forward 50.
It’s that interplay of the midfield and the forward-50 scoring efficiency which will be quite telling. Both teams have been criticised for the opposite extremes of their forwardline set up – Richmond for their small setup with only one true big forward, GWS for being too top-heavy but now forced to play smaller up forward.
In terms of team strength, the Tigers are still primed with no serious omissions.
The absence of Cameron, Mumford and Devon Smith should all be expected to hurt GWS again, but last week they more than coped without those three.
If we are to believe that partisan crowds are a factor in club performance, then this is the time for it to be a factor. The extremely loud, large and one-sided crowd on Saturday should be a fun test-case of home crowd influence. The Giants have mostly played off-Broadway in their limited tenure, their biggest crowd about 60k vs Sydney last year (which they won). Their next four biggest audiences have been games at Adelaide Oval ranging from 44k to 52k (which they’ve lost). Their 11 games at the MCG have pulled an average of 27k and a peak of 43k. If a team was ever to get overawed, this is the time.