Sport AFL AFL prelim final match-ups echo premierships past

AFL prelim final match-ups echo premierships past

afl prelim finals
It's down to Richmond v Collingwood and West Coast v Melbourne. Photos: Getty
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Everything old is new again in football, based on the results of the weekend’s AFL semi-finals.

Collingwood and Melbourne, staples of the old VFL order, are through to preliminary final weekend.

Richmond, a powerhouse of Victorian football in the late 1960s and early 1970s, has been parked there waiting for a week already.

And even the fourth player, West Coast, is the oldest success story of the national football ideal, now into its fourth decade, with the Eagles having won two of their three premierships around 25 years ago.

The result is two preliminary finals arguably as highly anticipated as we’ve seen in the modern era.

At the MCG on Friday night, Richmond and Collingwood will play in front of a guaranteed full house, the old arch rivals from the Punt Road-Hoddle Street strip clashing in a final for the first time in 38 years.

And in Perth on Saturday afternoon, West Coast is flexing its muscle at home, but against an opponent on a roll and with the confidence of having already beaten the Eagles at Optus Stadium just a month ago.

Few match-ups in football immediately inspire as much romance and nostalgia as the Tigers and Magpies, whether it’s tales of their grand final jousts of the late 1920s, when the Pies won three of their storied four successive premierships from 1927-30 in grand finals against the unfortunate Richmond, to the Tigers’ domination of their latter-day September bouts, having won the past six finals between the two clubs.

Or indeed, the folklore, like the legendary “Captain Blood” Jack Dyer’s proud claim that as a Tiger such was his hatred of Collingwood he refused to even watch black-and-white television.

There are echoes this week of their last September clash, the 1980 grand final, the Tigers undisputed top dog, the Pies having courageously clawed their way there through much adversity. Obviously, Collingwood fans will be hoping for a different result this time around, that day producing a then-record 81-point win to Richmond.

But there is no denying the Magpies’ spirit. Only inaccuracy prevented them winning Saturday night’s semi-final against Greater Western Sydney by considerably more than an eventual 10 points.

As they have so often this season, the Pies bounced back from a seemingly precarious position against the Giants, refusing to be bowed by all the missed opportunities, nor a run of six out of seven goals from GWS, which hit the front five minutes into the third term.

Collingwood will be encouraged by how many important roles against the Giants were played by the unusual suspects.

Jordan de Goey, an emerging superstar, was the inspiration up forward. At the other end, Brayden Maynard pulled the shutters down on key Giant Toby Greene, holding the smart forward goalless and to only nine disposals. And Tom Langdon was superb as a defensive interceptor, particularly in the final term, when it looked like the Giants were almost picking him out.

Collingwood will be going into its preliminary final a $3 outsider. But spirit has taken the Magpies a long way in 2018, a whole club drawing heavily upon its famed history. And nothing will stir the competitive juices like a playoff for a grand final spot against an old and bitter foe.

Not that West Coast and Melbourne don’t also have September stories of their own to tell. The Eagles’ first final was a narrow elimination final defeat at the hands of the Demons in 1988.

They clashed twice in two years in semi-finals at the old Waverley Park. And they have already met in a preliminary final, too, in 1994, at the old WACA Ground, when the Eagles smashed Melbourne en route to their second flag.

You’d think this one is going to be a lot tougher for West Coast given the sort of momentum the Demons have built over their past four wins. Not to mention the maturity and resilience of this Melbourne outfit, which seems to grow by the week.

Perhaps even earlier this season, the Demons might have folded in a situation similar to last Friday night’s against Hawthorn, when after having started the final term with a five goals-plus lead, Melbourne had its lead pegged back to just 12 points with 12 minutes left, the Hawks with three quick goals and all the play.

This time, though, the response was emphatic. It was a hard-ball get from Angus Brayshaw at the centre bounce that stemmed the tide, and a raking left footer from outside 50 metres by Jake Melksham for a goal that restored the equilibrium. Melbourne went on to boot four of the last five goals of the game.

The Demons have all the necessary armoury. A hard-at-it midfield and sturdy defence, and an offensive game and attacking flair arguably the pick of all four remaining teams.

Their 16.8 (104) against the Hawks was the 15th time in 24 games this season they’d topped the ton. And their 17-point Round 22 win over West Coast at the same venue offered plenty of evidence they’re good enough to do it again.

In a September which thus far has served up some great storylines but not necessarily memorable finals football, these are two preliminary finals that offer the prospect of both. And that’s before you even start on the appeal for lovers of football history.

Read more from Rohan Connolly, formerly a senior football writer for Fairfax, at Footyology, or watch Footyology TV.

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