When you’re a kid, the most exciting time of the year is the build up to Christmas Day. Remember when you were a little tacker jumping out of bed and racing out to find a sack of presents under the Christmas tree. Things didn’t get any more exciting for a seven year old. As the years roll by, Christmas morning becomes less exhilarating, but fortunately for me, its place has been taken by AFL Grand Final day. The 2011 finale promises to be extra special with the competition’s two dominant teams facing off in the decider.
Before we jump straight into the preview, I’d like to quickly thank each of you for reading this column during the year. It has been a pleasure doing the write-ups each week and I hope the suggested bets have helped you to amass a tidy little profit! If you suffer from AFL withdrawals over the season break, please feel free to hop on the forum and discuss all the things footy with us.
Season Betting Tally (After Finals Week 3)
Wagered = $2750 – $10 per suggested bet
Collected = $3198.20
Profit/Loss = + $448.20
% Profit/Loss = + 16.3%
COLLINGWOOD v GEELONG – MCG (2.30pm AEST)
Football purists have been praying for a Collingwood and Geelong grand final since very early in the season. Thankfully the football gods were listening and our prayers were answered last weekend as both the Cats and Magpies won through to this showpiece final.
Both teams have played their football this season with tactics that are two variations on a single theme. The theme is the forward press and the variations are how to play against it. I have talked at length about the forward press in my previews this season, but I will run through it one last time. The forward press is most clubs answer to the question, once we get the ball in our attacking half, how do we keep it there? If your opposition take possession of the football inside your attacking 50m arc, members of your team will immediately ‘press’ the ball carrier, surrounding him and pressuring him into a short handball to one of his teammates who is also under pressure, or causing a long hurried kick into a wall of your defenders who have pushed up to the halfway line. However, if your forward press is penetrated, it becomes very easy for the opposition to score goals as your defence is often out of position and exposed by a kick over the top.
Geelong like to play a risky game style and attack through the middle of the ground, backing their superior foot skills to break straight through the press. Collingwood are much less adventurous, preferring a steady attack down the flanks. It is the classic risk versus reward strategy. Geelong take more risks getting out of defence, which means the Cats are at a greater risk of being punished if they turn the ball over in that part of the field, however their chances of scoring are much higher if they can get through.
Obviously, the whole forward press strategy relies on actually getting the ball into attack, thus the midfield battle is crucial. I read during the week that Collingwood lost the ‘time in forward half’ stat just twice in the first 23 rounds. For that period, the football had been in Collingwood’s forward half an average of 15 minutes more than their opposition’s. In Round 24 – against Geelong – the ball was mostly in Geelong’s forward half. In fact, it spent 20 more minutes there. Despite winning their two finals, Collingwood have still not had control of their matches, losing the ‘time in forward half’ stat by a couple of minutes each game. The good news for the Pies is that they returned to their ferocious best late on against the Hawks and might be peaking at just the right time.
In the game against Hawthorn, Collingwood elected to play a loose man in defence and Hawthorn chose to do the same. This meant both teams had 6-man forward lines playing against 7-man backlines. For the first half the Hawks made better use of their spare defender and enjoyed a 2-3 goal lead throughout most of the third quarter. At the start of the last quarter, Collingwood wanted to go man on man, although, the Hawks were still happy to play 7 in defence, meaning Collingwood had to play a 7 man forward line. The Magpie attack was much more congested than the Hawks spacious forward area. The man on man tactic worked for Collingwood and they were better able to lock the ball in their attacking half with Hawthorn’s extra defender accounted for. Expect both coaches to continue the conservative approach at the opening bounce this week, with a loose man in defence likely at either end.
As is the norm in Grand Final week, key players have injury concerns. Mercurial Geelong forward Steve Johnson looked to seriously injure his knee last weekend, however scans have cleared him of major structural damage and he has been named in the team to play, pending a fitness test on Friday. Collingwood ruckman Darren Jolly is another not certaint to play despite being named, while Magpie defender Ben Reid has trained strongly and looks certain to play despite carrying a niggling groin injury that has hampered him for the last month. A good past record against Geelong was not enough to save Collingwood midfielder Dayne Beams’ place in the team this week. Beams has had a poor finals series and will be replaced by first year player Alex Fasolo.
Last week in my previews I said defenders win finals. The theory helped me pick both winners on Prelimary Final weekend, but it is nearly impossible to pick the better of these two backlines. Geelong have gun defender Matthew Scarlett free to do as he pleases while Harry Taylor and Tom Lonergan take care of the opposition tall forwards. Corey Enright and Josh Hunt are dependable mid-sized defenders and the dash off half back is provided by David Wojcinski and Travis Varcoe. Collingwood have Chris Tarrant and Reid holding the down key defensive posts, with Nick Maxwell, Alan Toovey and Harry O’Brien providing cover. Heath Shaw and Leon Davis have excelled in rebounding roles.
Both sides have elite midfields. The Pies are led by 2011 Brownlow medalist Dane Swan and his mates Scott Pendlebury, Dale Thomas and Luke Ball. Geelong have plenty of stars in their engine room with Joel Selwood, James Kelly, Jimmy Bartel and Joel Corey all ranking amongst the best midfielders in the league. The Pies have greater depth in their second tier midfielders, however this is probably cancelled out by Geelong’s strength with Brad Ottens in the ruck.
With showers forecast, the key forwards will have a tough day. Travis Cloke and Chris Dawes were instrumental in Collingwood’s win last week and similarly for the Cats, Tom Hawkins and James Podsiadly have been terrific in September. With Steve Johnson likely to be playing injured, Collingwood’s small forwards probably pose the greater threat.
The final variable is the weather. This might be a factor in how the game is played, but both sides have great form on a heavy track, so a bit of rain shouldn’t impact on the result.
I am siding with Collingwood to win because I think this game will be really tight and the Pies have come through in tight games already this finals series, so know how to find the line. Geelong have beaten Collingwood in the two previous matches this season, but both times Collingwood looked like they were cruising. Look out when they find top gear.
TIP: Collingwood to win by 13 points
ANDY’S BET: Collingwood to win by 1-39 points @ 2.75 (Sportsbet)
NORM SMITH MEDAL PREVIEW:
Swan has dominated Collingwood’s three wet weather matches this season. In those three games the tattooed ball-magnet has averaged nearly 35 possessions and two goals a game, polling 8 brownlow votes along the way. If Collingwood are to win, Swan will have played a key role.
ANDY’S BET: Dane Swan to win the Norm Smith Medal @ 7.50 (Centrebet, Sportingbet)
The three bets below are suggested due to the increased pressure of a Grand Final combined with the wet weather, meaning lots of the shots at goal will be rushed snaps. History tells us the season decider is usually low scoring and the total match points has been under 150 on three of the last six occasions, mostly during perfect dry weather.
ANDY’S BET: Geelong to kick more behinds than goals @ 2.50 (Centrebet)
ANDY’S BET: Collingwood to kick more behinds than goals @ 2.50 (Centrebet)
ANDY’S BET: Total Match Points 150 or less @ 2.10 (TAB Sportsbet)