Finals footy means different things to different people, but it is regarded as the elite level for an AFL player and the standard to which each club aims to achieve as a minimum each season.
For clubs like Geelong, Sydney, Collingwood and Hawthorn, this year’s appearance in the finals series is a continuation of their recent record of sustained success in reaching September. However, for the other four combatants in Richmond, Fremantle, Port Adelaide and Carlton, it is arguably more of an achievement in making it into the finals given the lack of opportunities in doing so over the last decade.
Let’s face it – Richmond finishing fifth with 15 wins is a remarkable effort for a team that has failed to qualify for any finals series since 2001. That year, the Tigers under coach Danny Frawley qualified in fourth place – also with 15 wins, but a percentage of just 107.8. Their comparable percentage of 122.8 this year is far higher, and should the Tigers get over any finals jitters, they have shown previously this season that they are more than capable of matching it against the big guns of the competition.
Of course, 2001 saw Richmond walloped to the tune of 68 points by Essendon in the qualifying final before gaining some form of redemption over long-time rivals Carlton, with an upset 11-point win in front of more than 83,000 fans at the MCG. The same sort of crowd is expected this Sunday, as the Tigers once again go head-to-head with the Blues in a knockout elimination final.
The Tigers’ 2001 finals campaign came to an abrupt end with another 68-point defeat, this time at the hands of eventual premiers Brisbane in the second preliminary final. However, if the 2013 Tigers are able to match this achievement and reach the last four, then the Tiger Army will have much to celebrate looking forward to 2014 and beyond.
One of the quirks in Richmond’s finals record is that this upcoming final against Carlton will be the fourth meeting between the two sides in finals since the Tigers’ 1982 finals campaign, out of just nine finals matches overall that the Tigers have appeared in over this period. For those interested, their other opponents in finals have been Essendon on two occasions, and North Melbourne, Geelong and the Brisbane Lions once each.
Fremantle, under Ross Lyon, is competing in its second successive finals series after its semi-final appearance last year. The Dockers’ third-place finish with 16 wins and a draw is the equal highest that Fremantle has ever finished on the AFL ladder, and a record for the most games it has won.
The Dockers have indeed only ever played in four previous finals series, finishing in seventh place in 2003, fourth place in 2006, sixth place in 2010 and a sixth-placed finish last season. In fact, they have only ever played in eight finals matches with just three wins overall, including one over this week’s opponent in Geelong occurring in last year’s elimination final.
Port Adelaide’s achievement in reaching the finals is also something to behold, given coach Ken Hinkley is in his debut season and that the Power in recent years have struggled to remain competitive on the field. The Power registered a 14th-placed finish with five wins and a draw last year, following a 16th-place finish with just three wins in 2011.
Port’s last appearance in September was the 2007 Grand Final, where Geelong obliterated the Power to the tune of 119 points, a record margin in Grand Finals. That the Power have been unable to make the finals until now shows just how much of a scar that defeat must have placed on the psyche of the football club. For the Power’s sake, let’s hope that Collingwood aren’t able to replicate the 2007 Grand Final defeat with another 100-point plus margin this weekend.
The oddity in this years finals series is, of course, that of Carlton.
Winner of 11 matches with a percentage of 106.7, the Blues only qualified for the finals series after the Bombers were turfed out of September by the AFL Commission, when the long-running supplements saga finally came to a conclusion on the 27th of August. Carlton also needed to pull back a 39-point deficit over the Power in Adelaide on Saturday evening to claim victory by a single point and thus deny the perennially unlucky North Melbourne a late run at a finals spot.
The Blues played in September in 2009, 2010 and 2011 under previous coach Brett Ratten, but prior to their 2009 appearance, the Blues underwent a eight year finals drought stretching back to their aforementioned semi-final loss to Richmond in 2001.
Including their 11-point defeat that day, the Blues have played in five finals since then, with just the one win over Essendon in the 2011 first elimination final. Heartbreakingly for Carlton, all other of its four finals appearances in that time consisted of losses by 11 points or under.
So, this upcoming encounter with the Tigers is just the second MCG final for the Blues in more than a decade, and given the Blues were able to roll the Tigers by 10 points just three weeks ago, they will head into this sudden-death final chock full of confidence.
No matter which team wins the 2013 Grand Final, it is important to recognise the achievement of all eight sides that have reached this stage of the season. Remember that making finals for many clubs is no easy feat and it should be celebrated accordingly for just the glowing achievement it is.
May the best team win!