AFL Finals Match Previews: PF2, Geelong v Sydney

In each of the three weeks of the finals, the ‘second’ final(s) have been played before the first. And this week is no different, as Geelong plays Sydney at the MCG with the aim of making it to their first Grand Final since 2011 or 2014, depending on who wins.

That last sentence really works better with the Bulldogs.

Anyway, Geelong will be looking to get back to the top after their brief dropoff last year, when they missed the finals for the first time since 2006? Sydney, meanwhile, can repeat their 2012 triumph. Here’s the preview.

The Basics

  • Who: Geelong Cats v Sydney Swans
  • Where: Melbourne Cricket Ground
  • When: 7.50pm tonight
  • This year: SYD 15.8 (98) d GEEL 9.6 (60), R16, Geelong
  • Winner gets: A spot in the Grand Final
  • Loser gets: Eliminated
  • Watch it on: Seven
  • Listen to it on: 3AW, Triple M, SEN, ABC

Teams

Geelong

  • FB: Enright, Longergan, Henderson
  • HB: Kolodjashnij, Taylor, Mackie
  • C: Guthrie, J Selwood, S Selwood
  • HF: Motlop, Stanley, Blicavs
  • FF: McCarthy, Hawkins, Bartel
  • FOL: Smith, Dangerfield, Duncan
  • INT: Bews, Caddy, Cowan, Menegola
  • In: Henderson, Bews
  • Out: Menzel (Groin), Ruggles (Omitted)

Sydney

  • FB: Rampe, Aliir, Smith
  • HB: Marsh, Grundy, Laidler
  • C: Lloyd, Kennedy, Heeney
  • HF: Hewett, Franklin, Parker
  • FF: Papley, Tippett, McGlynn
  • FOL: Naismith, Hannebery, Jack
  • INT: Jones, Mitchell, Richards, Rohan
  • In: Tippett, Jones
  • Out: McVeigh (Calf), Nankervis (Omitted)

Mildly Relevant Statistics

  • You’ve heard this one before, no doubt, but out of the 215 home and away games between these two clubs, none of them have been at the MCG. Out of the four finals between them, three of them have been at the MCG.
  • The largest crowd between these two clubs was 46,168, at the Sydney Cricket Ground in Round 22, 1997. That’s going to be broken destroyed tonight.
  • Chris Scott, in his days playing for Brisbane, won 7 out of 15 games against Sydney. John Longmire won 6 from 18 against Geelong.
  • Everyone’s going on about the fact that Geelong has only played one game in 27 days. That might be relevant. It might not be. Keep in mind that if winning the qualifying final and getting a week off didn’t give teams an advantage, the AFL might not have done it.

More Relevant Statistics

  • Last 10 Against Each Other: Geelong 5, Sydney 5
  • Last 10 At Venue: Geelong 7-3, Sydney 6-4
  • Recent Form: Geelong WWWWW, Sydney WWWWW
  • Record v Top 8: Geelong 9-2, Sydney 7-5

Finals Against Each Other

  • 1914 Semi Final: S Melbourne 5.14.44 (V Belcher 2 goals, three players 1 goal) d Geelong 5.7.37 (five players 1 goal)
  • 1934 Preliminary Final: S Melbourne 15.18.108 (B Pratt 6 goals, two players 4 goals) d Geelong 7.6.48 (three players 2 goals)
  • 2005 Semi Final: Sydney 7.14.56 (B Kirk 25 disposals, N Davis 4 goals) d Geelong 7.11.53 (J Kelly 24 disposals, S Johnson 2 goals)

My AFL Fantasy Matchday Team

I’m not sure how my teams are going, but I’m giving you my advice free of charge, because that’s just the friendly guy I am.

  • DEF: Taylor (GEEL), Aliir (SYD)
  • MID: Dangerfield (c) (GEEL), Heeney (SYD)
  • RUC: Blicavs (GEEL)
  • FWD: Franklin (SYD), Tippett (SYD)

At This Stage

Now, because we need to add all sorts of extra stuff at this penultimate stage of the season, I’ll be seeing how Geelong and Sydney have gone at the pointy end of the season in years gone by.

Geelong is no stranger to the pointy end of the season, making the finals 55 times from 117 seasons. They have played in 271 preliminary finals, the first one in 1931 (beating Carlton) and the most recent in 2013, losing to Hawthorn by five points in the game that ended the Kennett Curse. They have a record of 11 wins, 15 losses, and a draw (that was the Peter Barry shorts incident).

Sydney, meanwhile, you would think would have lost a lot of preliminary finals, given the 51 years between their Grand Final appearances, a record now beaten by the Bulldogs (55 and counting).2 However, they didn’t play in a single losing preliminary final from 1946 to 1995! Sydney’s preliminary final experience is limited to just 13, from the first in 1910 (an 11-point loss to Collingwood) to the last in 2014, thrashing North Melbourne. They have won 7 of their preliminary finals, and lost the remaining 6.

Match Preview

Well, I’m the first to admit that I got my prediction for Sydney v Adelaide wrong. The Crows were outplayed by a dominant Sydney, simple as that, although it may have come at a price, again, with Jarrad McVeigh injuring a calf. It would be a pretty good effort for Sydney to face Geelong.

The Cats, on the other hand, are extraordinarily well rested, having made themost of both the bye week before the finals and the bye week by winning their qualifying final. In between was an absolute thriller of a game, which came down to the now infamous Isaac Smith set shot that doomed Hawthorn to a semi final and the end of their dynasty.

Both of Geelong and Sydney have been at the upper echelon of football for over a decade now. Geelong has missed one finals series since 2007, while Sydney has missed one since 2003. In debates on the best football team of all time, Geelong from 2007-2011 comes up, but if Sydney win a few more flags soon, they could start popping up.

We’ll take a look at Sydney’s forward line first. Lance Franklin, the big #23 who’s had the eyes of the football world on him since he became the target of free agency rumours in 2013, lives for finals. He has kicked 3, 5, 4, 0, and 4 in his five finals for Sydney. This does, admittedly, resemble his regular season form, but that just highlights how good Franklin is. If he is able to fire tonight, and fire big, Geelong could have no answer.

But, and this is a big but, Sydney don’t have many scorers outside of Franklin. The 78 goals he’s scored this year are more than the next three players combined (Isaac Heeney, Tom Papley, and Ben McGlynn). If Tom Lonergan is able to shut down Lance Franklin, which history suggests that he can do, Sydney may not be able to score enough. Harry Taylor, Corey Enright, Jake Kolodjashnij, and Andrew Mackie will help nullify Franklin’s teammates. Geelong will be on top at this end of the field.

Geelong’s attack is the third best in the AFL, with the only better ones being Adelaide and GWS. Led by Tom Hawkins, the Cats will be looking to overwhelm Sydney’s defence. They may not have many elite forwards, but they have plenty of good ones, and that could work in their favour.

Sydney’s defenders are the best in the AFL by points conceded, generally an accurate measure of your team’s defensive skill. Dane Rampe, Aliir Aliir, and Nick Smith are three top notch defenders, as well as multicultural (Aliir is Sudanese, while Rampe’s recent ancestry is Estonian). Throw in Heath Grundy and Jeremy Laidler, and you’ve got a near watertight defensive set up. Geelong’s attack is good, but Sydney’s defense is better, and the Swans will be on top here.

Onto the midfield. Looking at his recent form, it’s amazing Isaac Heeney didn’t win the Rising Star award, and will be the Swans’ hope in the Blond Wing Battle, competing against Cam Guthrie, who I like because he wears long sleeves, which are cool. Sam Naismith, the ruckman I remarked upon last week, lost the hitouts to Adelaide’s Sam Jacobs, and will be hoping not to do the same to Zac Smith and Rhys Stanley. The two Selwoods have a good battle ahead, against Josh Kennedy and Jake Lloyd. One would assume that Joel Selwood would take on Kennedy, which is a battle that looks like it would it will be too close to call.

Mitch Duncan will play off against Kieran Jack as rovers, a battle I feel Jack will win, but that leads to probably the best matchup on the ground: Daniel Hannebery, the leading ballwinner in the AFL this year, against Patrick Dangerfield, the largest Brownlow Medal favourite in living memory.3

Hannebery was a deserving winner of the Rising Star award in 2010, and has continued on with his good form since then, being a key player in Sydney’s 2012 premiership triumph. As good as Hannebery is, he’s no match for Patrick Dangerfield, who has literally everything: ball winning midfield skill, the ability to go forward and score, and good markability. My verdict is that, led by Dangerfield and the ruck duo, Geelong will be on top, narrowly, in the midfield.

What The Numbers Say

It’s getting hard to differentiate between two clubs with this measure. It gives Geelong a 52.7% chance of winning, but, as I’ve said multiple times, is within a 5% range, which [something something standard deviations something random fluctuations something something]means it’s too close to call.

What I Say

Geelong’s midfield, coupled with the week off, means that I think Geelong should win this game and go through to a Grand Final. Geelong by 14.

Also, thanks Twitter. (smiley)

EDIT: In the original publication of this article, Jed Bews was named where Zac Smith should have been. I’m sorry I don’t fact check well.

EDIT EDIT: I meant Jake Lloyd instead of Sam, and various other mistakes. I’m terrible at this.


1OK, this might make me very unpopular with the AFL stats people, but I’m going to go out and say it. Not all of the games we call preliminary finals, held from 1902 to 1930 were, in fact preliminary finals. As the finals sysem of the time went, if the minor premiers lost in what would have been the last game, they would be able to challenge their opposition, and they would play again in the next week. The final game of the season was going to be the Grand Final, but it was retroactively changed to being the Final, while the last one was the Grand Final. Am I making sense?
And, if the minor premier lost in the first week, they would be able to challenge whoever won the game the next week. For example, in 1910, South Melbourne beat the top placed Carlton, and so Carlton was able to play the winner of the Collingwood v South Melbourne game the week after.
I’m arguing that the Collingwood v South Melbourne game was a preliminary final, because the Magpies and Swans, or whatever they were called in 1910, knew that they would play in the Grand Final the next week. I disagree with the AFL here, who says everything was a preliminary final. So there, AFL.
2However, this is assuming you count Fitzroy as seperate to the Brisbane Lions. The way I do it is counting Fitzroy as going from 1897 to 1996, and Brisbane as going from 1987 to today, first as the Bears, then as the Lions. If you count Fitzroy as equal to the Brisbane Lions, then the time between Fitzroy’s last grand final in 1944 and Brisbane’s first in 2001 sets the record at 57 years, meaning that the Bulldogs won’t equal the record until 2018. This is avoided if you count Brisbane and Fitzroy seperate (as I and the AFL do) or if you count Fitzroy, the Brisbane Bears, and the Brisbane Lions all seperate from each other (as the AFL Tables guy does).
3My memory. I haven’t been alive that long.
4OK, we haven’t really done that in statistics yet. I just know that these have something to do with it. Or something.
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