Well there you have it. Richmond is playing finals. Nine wins in a row was capped off by the best of the lot as the Tigers withheld a series of Sydney long bombs inside 50 as they searched for the late winner, and somehow from equal last at the conclusion of round 14, Richmond will be playing in September.
The Tigers’ opponents will be Port Adelaide next Sunday afternoon at Adelaide Oval after the Power were not able to cause an upset at Patersons Stadium in the game that would decide fourth place against Fremantle. However Port showed again that the form that had the club top of the ladder for much of the season has returned on the eve of finals and they are more than capable of ending the Richmond dream next week.
In a win for neutral fans all around Hawthorn and Geelong will face-off in a qualifying final at the MCG next Friday night with both teams recording clinical wins against Collingwood and Brisbane respectively. If recent encounters are anything to go by it will be near impossible for any other game to top the Hawks and Cats for most engrossing game of week one.
In 2014’s other qualifying final Sydney will host Fremantle on Saturday afternoon in a clash between the two best defensive sides of 2014. Sydney will be bolstered by the return of Josh Kennedy, Lance Franklin, Ben McGlynn and Mike Pyke while Fremantle look to be peaking at the right time of year.
Finally we have Essendon and North Melbourne. The game between two traditional rivals which Essendon will be grateful for after the Dons were a last-gasp Carlton punch over the line away from being forced to travel in week one of the finals.
With the top eight locked into place Sunday became something of a five hour farewell to a few champions of the game with Lenny Hayes, Dean Cox, Ben Rutten and Daniel Giansiracusa all playing their last games of AFL with only Cox and Rutten finishing up with a win.
Anyway, now that the 23 weeks of build-up is over let’s get into Finals.
Here’s the final Team of the Week for round 23.
B: Josh Gibson, Alex Rance (C), Daniel Talia
HB: Sam Mitchell, Troy Chaplin, Brodie Smith
C: Robbie Gray, Rory Sloane, Lachie Neale
HF: Jordan Lewis, Jay Schulz, Shane Edwards
F: Josh J Kennedy, Tom Hawkins, Michael Walters
Foll: Ivan Maric, Brett Deledio, Andrew Swallow
Int: Ryan Griffen, Jack Gunston, Will Hoskin-Elliott
Sub: Reece Conca (sub)
Josh Gibson: A career-high 36 disposals and season-high 11 marks for Gibson who was once again a rock down back for Hawthorn.
Alex Rance (C): It was comfortably the best performance by a full back this year from Rance on Saturday evening. When the Swans were searching for the heart-breaking late winner it was Rance who withstood the onslaught more than any other Tiger. At least three times in the last quarter Rance beat Adam Goodes in one-on-one contests in the Swans forward line as well as taking a few big marks and no relenting in his pressure.
Daniel Talia: The delivery to Nick Riewoldt was far from the best the St Kilda captain has experienced in his career, but keeping him goalless is no easy feat, and Talia became just the second defender to achieve that in 2014.
Sam Mitchell: Mitchell has only played 13 games thus far in 2014 but all bar one – the round 7 clash against St Kilda where he was injured – have yielded 20+ disposals with Friday night being the sixth time he has cracked 30 this season. Of his 30 against Collingwood 13 were contested including ten clearances and they came at a superb 93% efficiency.
Troy Chaplin: Chaplin manned up on Sam Reid and was able to zone off plenty and be the crucial extra man for Richmond at contests. He finished with 25 disposals and seven marks.
Brodie Smith: It may have been a failure of a season for Adelaide but the opposite rings true for Smith who is a sure thing for the All-Australian squad of 40. He finished his season with a bang with an equal career and season-high 34 disposals as well as four inside 50s and six rebound 50s.
Robbie Gray: When Port started to come back in the last quarter it was Gray leading the Power in the middle of the ground. Fourth spot was narrowly out of reach for the Power who fell eight points shy of an upset but for Gray – who already as the AFL Coaches Association award, and presumably a spot in the All Australian team wrapped up – his Brownlow case was strengthened with 33 touches, nine clearances and two goals.
Rory Sloane: Sloane was another Crow who wrapped up 2014 in emphatic fashion with 30 touches, nine marks, eight clearances, six inside 50s and three goals.
Lachie Neale: A career-high in disposals (34) and kicks (20) for Neale – 14 of which came in the third quarter alone – as he was best on ground for the Dockers who secured a double chance in September.
Jordan Lewis: Lewis is another Hawk who dropped below 20 disposals just once in the 2014 home and away season Jordan Lewis managed the feat while playing eight more games than Sam Mitchell. On Friday night Lewis had another 34 touches, took 11 marks, kicked a goal and had three score assists
Jay Schulz: Schulz showed again why he’s considered the best set shot for goal amongst key forwards as he booted 6.1 which took his tally to 62 for season 2014 – equal second for the Coleman.
Shane Edwards: Such has been his form of late that John Longmire paid him a great compliment by assigning Nick Smith the role of shutting down ‘Titch’. Edwards was in no mood to be locked down tough as he picked up 25 disposals, had four inside 50s, laid four tackles and was one of the best on ground.
Josh J Kennedy: Kennedy embarrassed one of the best young key defenders in Rory Thompson by constantly losing him on the lead and marking uncontested. He kicked eight goals and two behinds from his 12 disposals.
Tom Hawkins: Hawkins took Justin Clarke to the cleaners with 10 marks – four of which were contested – and seven goals.
Michael Walters: His swift return to his best after spending 18 weeks sidelined by injury has been nothing short of remarkable and the dynamic forward will play as big a part as any player if Fremantle is to win its first premiership in 2014. On Saturday Walters had just 14 disposals yet had a major influence with those 14 going at 93% efficiency including three goals and three score assists.
Ivan Maric: Maric made light work of the depleted Swans ruck department consisting of Sam Naismith, Kurt Tippett and Sam Reid on Saturday with 45 hitouts and was crucial around the ground with 17 disposals and two score assists.
Brett Deledio: Deledio stood up in the second half as Sydney put the brakes on Trent Cotchin after the Richmond skipper had a stellar first half and finished with 29 disposals at 72% efficiency and three big goals in a low-scoring game.
Andrew Swallow: It was a vintage Swallow performance where he didn’t have tonnes of the ball but was still one of the most influential players on the park. Of his 21 disposals 16 were contested, 10 were clearances, eight were inside 50s and they went at 71% efficiency.
Ryan Griffen: Griffen almost single-handedly kept the Bulldogs in the game in the second half as much of the midfield work was left to him. In the second half alone Griffen had 24 disposals, eight clearances, four marks and nine inside 50s to take his totals to 38 disposals, 13 clearances, six marks and 11 inside 50s as well as five score assists.
Jack Gunston: Gunston bagged five goals against Collingwood to take his season tally to 51 from 20 games, in addition to 23 disposals at 87% efficiency and nine marks.
Will Hoskin-Elliott: Hoskin-Elliott possesses an uncanny knack to find the goals which will give AFL defenders and coaches alike countless headaches over the next decade or so. Brendan McCartney and the Bulldogs backline can attest to that after Hoskin-Elliot booted five on Sunday.
Reece Conca (sub): Conca came on late in the third quarter and had a huge influence with 12 touches in 32% time on ground.