In the second semi final on Sunday, the Geelong Falcons take on the Eastern Ranges for the right to take on the Dandenong Stingrays in the preliminary final.
In the opening round of the finals, the Geelong Falcons gave up a commanding six-goal lead to go down to the North Ballarat Rebels, while Eastern Ranges cruised past a fast finishing Calder Cannons by six goals.
Bound For Glory News will now look at the big question marks surrounding this game and how both sides can win.
1. Counter attack central
Both teams love to anchor their plays off half-back and run down the field with frantic ball movement, using run and carry to hurt the opposition. They are also quite adept at intercepting inside 50s and counter attacking fiercely. Whichever team can capitalise the most on the rebound, will win the contest.
Geelong’s midfielders including top three pick Darcy Parish, have the knack to drift back to the half-back line and play a kick behind the ball to intercept opposition inside 50s. Eastern will have to be incredibly smart with their ball use forward of centre because the Falcons will provide more pressure around the forward zone than the Cannons did last week.
Likewise, Geelong might consider making it man-on-man in the forward half, because Eastern did drop an extra player back from a wing at times to prepare for a Calder clearance last week. Eastern were well beaten around the stoppages, particularly early against the Cannons, but just sat back, received the quick clearance and rebounded with ease. The Falcons must be able to counter that and force everyone back there to be accountable.
2. Charlie needs to bring his kicking boots
We have plenty of exciting players who have the potential to kick bags of goals in this match, with Charlie Curnow being the one to watch. Unfortunately, despite being that tall midfielder/undersized key forward, his goalkicking has troubled him at times.
Last week, it looked as if he was going to go for double figures, but finished with 4.5. He needs to make that six or seven goals at least because in crunch moments, the Falcons need him to stand up. There’s no chances after this week, so Curnow will need to make the most of his chances and with silver service delivery from players such as Parish, Will Sexton and the rest of the Falcons midfield, it is his time to stand up.
Eastern need to be aware of Curnow without focusing too much on him, because the Falcons do have other goal scoring options, as illustrated by Brett Blair last week. Stopping Curnow would be be the number one item on the Ranges’ whiteboard however.
3. Fresh legs could play a factor
Eastern Ranges might have had one less day to prepare for the clash, however they certainly had the easier contest. The Geelong-North Ballarat clash had tough one-on-one, body crunching hits and tiring efforts all the way to the final siren. Eastern opened up a 64-point three quarter time lead in its clash and put the proverbial cue in the rack to rest up for this game.
Ironically, Calder booted six goals in a row to bring the margin to less than 30 goals, before Eastern was forced to tighten up and halt the flow in the last 10 minutes. This week, both sides could be on level pegging with the extra day versus the easier match, but as it usually shows in the AFL, teams that have the ‘bruise-free’ finals are usually advantaged.
Much like Oakleigh in the other game, if Eastern can stick with Geelong until three quarter time, it has every opportunity to win, by running over the top of them with fresh legs.
What do Geelong Falcons need to do to win?
1. Give it to Parish
While teams do not advocate using one player as a central figure in a game plan, players simply need to look after Darcy Parish and get it to him at every opportunity. Parish is the best kick in the side and arguably the league. While he’ll often kick it short, he will hit that target that very few can.
Another player that can use run and carry with short disposals is Will Sexton. Running off the half-back flank, Sexton can be used for the one-two and if Parish is well held, is someone the Falcons could move up to a wing to run free with ball-in-hand.
Between Parish and Sexton, Geelong are able to improve their chances of hitting a target up forward with these two kicking it. Let Rhys Mathieson get the ball out to them, but the Falcons will be better served with Parish or Sexton kicking it forward.
2. Open up the forward line
Geelong forwards managed to find a multitude of space early in the game against the North Ballarat Rebels and both Charlie Curnow and Brett Blair capitalised on it. Both players are athletic and also capable overhead. Clear out the forward line and let them work their magic.
Geelong should not be afraid to bomb it long to an open forward line, particularly with limited numbers, because both players are strong one-on-one and should be backed in to win the footy. As mentioned earlier, if Curnow can take his opportunities when he gets them, Geelong’s firepower up forward should get the job done.
3. Operation Mathieson
If the forward line is not functioning and a change needs to occur, the Falcons should turn to Rhys Mathieson. Much like Dane Swan one-on-one, Mathieson will not lose a body-on-body contest. He’s strong overhead, can read the play well and knows where the goals are.
Most importantly, Mathieson has a proven track record of turning games singlehandedly. Against Gippsland Power in his bottom-age year, he kicked three last-quarter goals to win the game for the Falcons. Earlier this year, he salvaged two points in their draw, ironically against Eastern Ranges, when he went forward late and played in the goalsquare.
Often a bit erratic at times, trying too hard to win it off his own boot, Mathieson has the ability to kick multiple goals in a short space of time, which might come with a few out on the fulls. If the scoring power isn’t working, throw Mathieson forward and Charlie Curnow can slot into the midfield as that bigger inside body.
What do Eastern Ranges need to do to win?
1. Do not be afraid to be selfish.
Last week, Eastern had many goal scoring options and the forwards often looked for a player in a better position. It is smart play, but sometimes it came unstuck. Kicking across 20m into the centre corridor allows for the potential of a spoil from a defender if the pass is not accurate.
Blake Hardwick was one player early in the game who unselfishly passed at every opportunity when he could have lined up and kicked a bag himself. Against the Cannons, there was a lot of loose checking and the Ranges were able to hit up loose targets sitting around the forward 50.
Against the Falcons, the Ranges will not have that luxury, so if Hardwick or co. are in with a gettable set shot, just take it and back yourself in. He in particular is a good set shot on most occasions, so his teammates can rely on him to get the job done.
2. Win the contested ball.
Geelong is a side with plenty of talented big bodies. Rhys Mathieson and Charlie Curnow are two that stand out, but there are a number of others who can win the clearances and inside ball. Eastern needs to correct that by winning the fair share of the clearances, because it cannot rely on counter attacking the whole time.
Last week, the Ranges were beaten in the middle despite winning comfortably, guys like Bryce Batty and Jordan Gallucci need to keep winning the footy and hitting targets up forward. If Geelong win the majority of the clearances, it will make life tough for the Ranges defenders.
Ryan Clarke is another underrated player and could well push into first round selections with a continued strong finals series. Add Ryan Harvey and Liam Jeffs to that midfield list of names and the Ranges are strong enough to match it with anyone.
3. James Parsons needs to stand up
If there is one player who needs a big game for Eastern, it is James Parsons. This kid is like a fancy car – he has all the extra features, but doesn’t always put it all together in one match. He does everything with class and only needs a few touches to hurt you.
Parsons is the player that could stand up and kick a bag beside Hardwick and is so hard to match up on, but he just lacks that consistency. He reads the ball well in the air, great on the ground and just kicks the impossible goals. But too often there might be a quarter or two where he goes missing.
Anyone who watches him can reminisce about a moment in time or a contest he had that you thought ‘wow that’s amazing’, but without a four quarter effort, he is below the Parishes, Mathiesons and Curnows. This final is cuthroat and someone like a James Parsons can stand up and demand to be a first round pick.
Geelong will go into this game as favourites and rightfully so. If the Falcons had of held on for another quarter, they would not be having a game this week, but they fell away late and must now fight their way through to a preliminary final.
Eastern looked impressive last week, but it was hard to measure the performances side-by-side given the quality of the Rebels outfit against that of the Cannons side. Overall, both sides have the potential to score big despite not having a huge key forward. They use their medium talls to get the job done, which will make it an entertaining game.
While Eastern are in with a big chance, Geelong are more consistent and have the potential to defeat anyone on their day, with talent across the park, which will see them win by a few goals.
Geelong Falcons by 21 points.