Grand Finals are glimpses of brilliance amongst a mess of mistakes. It’s the nature of the game. The opposition pressure increases dramatically and the intensity of the crowd and the noise is impossible to ignore. The accuracy of disposals by foot and hand become paramount, as players either fall into their conservative shell, back in their natural flair or fall back on the trust of their teams system.
It’s the settling part which is crucial to this game, the 2018 Grand Final between The West Coast Eagles and the Collingwood Magpies.
Each team enter the contest with their own advantages.
Adam Simpson’s Eagles have undoubtedly been the stronger team across the course of the year, from their mid-season run of eleven consecutive wins to their impressive finals season they have barely put a foot wrong, including beating the team they about to verse. They were insipid against Essendon in June at home and have lost two of three of their best players, in Naitanui, Gaff and Shepherd, but other than that, their system has held up. They are elite by foot, rolling off marks quickly and kicking long and low into their potent forward line, which is a massive strength of theirs. Darling is having a career best year, JK is in Coleman medal form and their smaller forwards, all four of them, Le Cras, Crips, Rioli and Ryan can all score without little opportunity. The generate ball from turnovers, which are regularly when you have Barrass, Captain Hurn and the greatest intercept marker in the game McGovern on your side.
Nathan Buckley’s men on the other hand play a faster style than the team from the west. They will play by hands more, cutting through opposition zones with precision. Their strength is that inside dominance and that outside class that oozes throughout their midfield. Sidebottom was a few more good games from a Brownlow, Pendlebury has adapted his game for the team and Treloar and Adams can damage. They play a system defence, zoning and cutting off opposition forward movement and their scoring avenues are varied. Cox, the Texan, was unstoppable in the Preliminary Final and De Goey is strong, skilful and fast. While Collingwood had more ups and downs than their counterparts their massive win against the reigning premier last week forced notice. They will be confident in their process and fortunate enough out on familiar territory, the MCG with at least 50 thousand Collingwood supports screaming them on.
In terms of coaching, Grand Finals are different games. Teams will fall back on systems but lack of skill forced upon by pressure cannot support your system. You need to be clean, and players can fumble. It’s the team that settles first that can put points on the scoreboard. Both teams score from the turnover. It is their greatest strength and scoring power. Maintaining possession and control, attacking when it’s the right time must be emphasised.
The game will be decided in the first ten minutes. A run on from the pies will fuel the black and white army. The fleet of foot maggies will be driven harder with the screaming supporters at their backs and then the MCG can be an intimidating place for an opposition team.
If the Eagles score the first couple of goals, things will be different. With a goal brings a calm amongst the group and the Eagles, who boast the better talent across the board, can lock into their routine. Yeo and Redden need to be bulls to arrest the authority in the midfield, because they only need sporadic delivery into the forward line for the Eagles to score. Collingwood on the other hand need a higher frequency of forward entries, their younger bodies will be battered from the Eagles backline brutes, so the more ball down there the better. The midfield will have to negotiate around McGovern, and to do that they will need clean movement without pressure. Midfield pressure from the Eagles will suffocate the Pies as much as the West Coasts aerial dominance.
The man from the US is the x-factor. If the Pies are harassed and long balls come in, Cox will have to make his presence felt and take some big pack marks. He has failed twice against the Eagles, budged under the ball or outmarked from Barrass, Hurn and McGovern, he needs to be stronger this week. He has yet to play two dominant games in a row, but there is no better time to prove that stat wrong than this week. Will the confidence of the big stage get the best of him? It is doubtful, although confidence on his behalf will be crucial to his success, and an early mark or two up the ground out on the lead will help achieve this.
Mentioned before was ‘the Eagles boast the better talent across the board’. To realise this you need to consider the bottom three players, the ones most likely to make the errors, give up the turnover and eventually concede a score. Schofield, Cole and Venables versus Aish, Sier and Stephenson. You decide.
I think Eagles by 30, Kennedy for the Norm Smith.