The finals are finally here and I can’t wait for Thursday’s first bounce.
I’m not a fan of the AFL’s pre-finals bye and think it needs to be reviewed – but at least it is out of the way for now.
Looking at the four finals, I think home ground advantage will be a huge factor.
The Adelaide Oval will be packed on Thursday and the Crows should be too good for the Giants.
I really like Adelaide’s forward line and think it is perfectly placed to succeed in September, with quality big men in Taylor Walker, Josh Jenkins and Mitch McGovern surrounded by clever forwards in Eddie Betts and Charlie Cameron.
It really is an exciting mix. Rory Sloane has been left out of the Crows side after appendix surgery but Adelaide’s fast football – and the passionate home crowd – will help them beat a Giants side that has yet to convince me.
The crowd will be an even bigger factor on Friday evening when Richmond take on Geelong at the MCG.
Close to 100,000 fans are expected and it will be a grand final-like atmosphere for the Tigers and effectively a ‘home’ game.
Imagine the roar when Richmond walk out – it will be massive. And if they happen to kick the first goal, the MCG will go off.
It’s a massive factor, not only for the players, who will surely walk taller and be inspired, but also for the umpires. The roar of the crowd will be huge and umpires are only human – when more fans roar for a free-kick they are more inclined to give one.
The Tigers will have several players who will be pretty nervous, including Trent Cotchin who has struggled over the journey in finals.
They also have failed to win any of their past 13 matches against the Cats.
Still, Richmond has taken the game on this year and now can boast several new players who aren’t burdened by the club’s lack of success.
My other tips for week one of the finals are Sydney and Port Adelaide, who are both playing at home against interstate sides.
Playing a final on the road is difficult and it makes the start absolutely crucial.
I used to say to my North Melbourne players that we had to keep the crowd quiet for as long as possible and that the best way to do that was to catch the opposition cold.
If an away side can go in level at quarter-time, or better yet, in front, it makes a massive difference. But if you go into the first break trailing by three or four goals, it makes your task extremely difficult.
When I coached, if you were in front at quarter-time, you won around 80 per cent of the time, so for those sides on the road, a fast start is imperative.
The Bombers will have plenty of fans who will travel to Sydney and if there is one side equipped to beat the Swans, it is John Worsfold’s men.
But Sydney have been outstanding over the past four months and I think they will win in a close contest.
That leaves Port Adelaide and West Coast, two inconsistent sides who have flirted with form right throughout the year, but I’m going with Port –simply because it has the home-ground advantage.
I coached in 22 finals and one thing I always drilled into my players was the importance of keeping it simple on the big occasions.
Invariably, finals are won by the team which does the basics well over and over again. Given the pressure involved, it is always a lot easier said than done.
Denis Pagan coached 344 games of AFL football with North Melbourne and Carlton, winning two premierships with the Kangaroos in 1996 and 1999. Click here for more of his columns.