The second week of finals greets us with two brilliant matches, both with a chance of an upset. Blindside Sport’s AFL Predictions takes a look at Friday night’s Semi Final featuring Geelong vs North Melbourne. Will Geelong get back on track with a win or will North Melbourne keep up their late season form?
Review of Last Week
Geelong was just beaten by a better side, seemingly proving that along with Fremantle, they are just that little bit behind Hawthorn and Sydney. Very few players outside of the main midfield group stepped up to have a major impact on the game, leaving Joel Selwood and Jimmy Bartel to do all of the work. Credit where it is due though, Geelong stayed with the Hawks in the first half and partway through the third quarter, but when push came to shove, this side simply couldn’t go with the Hawks. Their consistency throughout the year though is coming through for them in September though, with a double chance and a shot at a Preliminary Final against Sydney. With a side so experienced like Geelong, who knows what can happen if they keep a match close
Another interesting display from North Melbourne, but as they’ve seemed to do over the past month or two, they managed to pull together just enough to get a win. Essendon definitely dropped off in the second half, but a lot of that should be credited to the intensity that North Melbourne displayed after half time. Youngster Ben Brown was absolutely brilliant in the third quarter, sparking his teams’ comeback with three crucial goals, and adding another in the final term. North Melbourne’s ability to turn on their best game like this is always a worrying sign for any opposition as no lead is ever safe. Can they do enough to beat what will surely be a fired up Geelong? Their best game can do it, but can they bring it for a full four quarters?
Joel Selwood vs Andrew Swallow
The battle between both teams’ two biggest ball winners will surely be one to watch. Selwood is arguably more important to his team, even though Geelong has displayed so much depth over the years. 2014 has been a different story, and with Steve Johnson injured and likely to sit out this match, Selwood becomes the most crucial piece in the Geelong team. Swallow meanwhile has plenty of support around him that has shown consistent form throughout the year. Players like Ziebell, Cunnington, Greenwood and Dal Santo have all had terrific years and showed great form in their match against Essendon. Whoever out of these two finds themselves with the most ball will give their midfield a massive boost. In a game where clearances will be key, this is a massive matchup
Brent Harvey vs Cam Guthrie
With Boomer returning from his suspension, expect him to be tagged heavily by Cam Guthrie. Harvey is so valuable to North Melbourne in so many ways, whether it is outside run across the midfield, or the small forward who can win matches late in the fourth quarter. He has had arguably one of the best years of his career, and at 36 years of age, he doesn’t seem to be slowing down. What the tag does for North Melbourne here as well is that it frees up more of their runners. In a final where defence is so crucial, hard running and free flowing possession can really break open a game – something which North Melbourne is very capable of doing
Harry Taylor vs Drew Petrie
Petrie may not have had his best night on Saturday, but he kicked the big goals when he needed to. Expect Taylor to line up on him at the start, but with the possibility of Taylor pushing forward for more Geelong goals, Petrie may indeed be the match winner for North Melbourne if they are to get up. I really hope Petrie can offer a four quarter match this week, instead of a four minute match like the one against Essendon. This isn’t good enough for a rookie, let alone a veteran of 13 years. He can be so dangerous to any opposition, so hopefully for North Melbourne’s sake, he’s up and about on Friday night.
Ben Brown vs Tom Lonergan
With Ben Brown showing everyone what he is capable of on Saturday night, expect him to get plenty of attention this week. Tom Lonergan will get the job on him, which should be a massive honour for such a young player. To have one of the league’s best defenders marking you signals that you are a real threat and can potentially break open a game like he did last week. While Essendon didn’t have the greatest backline, Brown still had to slot them, and in a crucial match he didn’t waiver, showing just how brilliant this kid will be. Can he do it two weeks in a row though? As a younger player, he may be a touch inconsistent, so keep an eye on him throughout the match.
Key Areas to Watch
Can Geelong cover their injuries, or at least their wounded players? There is no doubt many of their players are playing injured, and if players like Stevie J and Motlop manage to get up for the match, they will be nowhere near 100%. Johnson’s injury is probably the most crucial one to the Geelong side. After gathering nine possessions in the first quarter, he really struggled to make an impact for the rest of the game. While he may be able to play injured, he doesn’t provide the flash and sheer weight of possession that he usually provides. Losing Motlop will be another massive blow for the Cats, as he provides excellent outside run and a smaller target and crumbing forward inside 50. If they lose one or both of these players it will be a big blow
Geelong’s scoring options
Geelong looked very one dimensional going forward before Harry Taylor switched from defence. In the first half, the Geelong midfield were feeding the ball straight to Hawkins which was easily covered by double teaming, or sometimes triple teaming with Gibson coming over the top. They need to offer more options up front to kick enough goals to get a win. Hawkins will line up on Scott Thompson this week which has been a good matchup this year, kicking 7.4 across their two matches. Should Taylor start forward to help Hawkins out? It may depend a lot on what Ben Brown is doing and whether or not Geelong needs two key defenders for the entire four quarters, but expect a bit of chopping and changing throughout the match. Taylor forward will be a defensive nightmare for North Melbourne, with Michael Firrito in such horrible form – this could be a really bad matchup for the Roos
North Melbourne second halves
This is a bit of a strong point and a weak point with North Melbourne. Their second halves are very very strong, as shown by their efforts against Essendon. However, a strong second half for North Melbourne usually comes after a slow start and a half time deficit. They cannot afford a slow start against Geelong – they will push the margin out beyond anything recoverable, and 2014 will be done after two short quarters. Count on North to finish strong, it’s just a matter of how close the game is at half and three quarter time. Around the 10-15 point margin is manageable, especially with North Melbourne’s ability to score very quickly. There are an inexperienced finals side though, so I’m not expecting them to play with the composure and class of Geelong for the entire match.
It’s hard to see Geelong losing two matches in a row here, especially to a side as inexperienced in finals as North Melbourne is. On so many occasions in 2014, Geelong has won simply based on playing composed footy in the dying stages of a match to steal the four points by a slim margin. If it comes down to a tight finish here, my money is Geelong showing this composure that has been built by almost a decade of success. Even though their personnel has changed, the systems have changed very little, and the confidence and trust in teammates has lived on.
Geelong will be able to clog up the North Melbourne attack and not let them get easy leads and marks inside 50. The ball will be forced to ground and run out by hand through the corridor for a hit up target in Hawkins or Taylor. Geelong is at their best when this is happening so fluently, so it is up to North Melbourne to firstly lock the ball in their 50, or on the times it does manage to rebound out, to run hard and put on massive pressure to deny easy possession. North Melbourne won’t be able to do this for four quarters though, giving Geelong enough score through three or four seven or eight minute periods of reduced pressure.
Prediction | Geelong by 21