The stage is set for one of the greatest Grand Final showdowns in recent memory as Geelong and Sydney go head-to-head.
And both clubs have important issues to resolve if they are to hold onto the title on Saturday.
Here are three burning questions for each club ahead of the grand final and Fox Footy commentators in our ultimate weekly preview: The blowtorch!
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AFL 2022 GRAND FINAL (all times AEST)
GEELONG CATS vs SYDNEY SWANS
Saturday, September 24, 2:30 p.m. at the MCG
How to Watch Fox Footy: Channel 504 from 9:00 including Grand Final Breakfast, Fox Footy’s Longest Kick from 11:00 and then full pre-game, halftime and post-game analysis from Brad Johnson, Cameron Mooney, David King, Garry Lyon, Jonathan Brown, Jordan Lewis, Kath Loughnan, Leigh Montagna, Jason Dunstall, Ben Dixon, Nathan Buckley, Nick Riewoldt and Sarah Jones.
Cats burning question: Can they keep up with Sydney’s pressure?
The Swans were the AFL’s late-season pressure kings in the first quarter and held first place in the league with a 201 starting pressure since Round 17. The Magpies showed in their qualifier final against Geelong that intense heat is key to challenging the Cats as Craig McRae’s side posted an insane 207 pressure rating (average is 180) in the first quarter to seal the game check. So did it create a blueprint of how to actually test the cats?
“It’s not so much a crack in Geelong’s armory, but it’s the time we saw them most vulnerable in the hot streak they had against Collingwood in the first week of the Finals,” said Saints champion Nick Riewoldt on Fox Footy On the couch. “It wasn’t that Geelong didn’t handle it, but they just couldn’t find the time and space … if you don’t bring it, they cut you.”
Cat Burning Question: Have the Star Strikers Found Their Match?
Tom Hawkins meets an opponent who has had the better game in Tom McCartin lately. In fact, in the last three times they’ve played each other, Hawkins has scored 1, 1 and 2 goals respectively to trouble the Cats star’s power forward, including Paddy McCartin (seven intercept marks) cutting all that clubs last played in Round 2. Dane Rampe was similarly successful when he played Jeremy Cameron, taking him 0, 1, 3, 1 in his last five meetings, dating back to the latter’s days at GWS and scored 0 goals.
“There’s a confidence, this is one of the few defenses able to match what is arguably the best combination of key strikers in the league – and two real match winners,” said Lion Jonathan Brown, the three-time Premiership winner On the couch. “We last saw Tom Hawkins play in a grand final (2011), he ripped Collingwood’s heart out in the second half when he caught Ben Reid and arguably should have won the Norm Smith medal. We saw Cameron a few weeks ago in the first final against Collingwood, he can tear them apart. It gives you a level of confidence, if you’re a Sydney Swans fan, they can go with these big boys.”
Cat Burning Question: Does red-hot Danger have company?
Callum Mills was great against Collingwood and recorded a team-high 27 disposals, playing a variety of roles in midfield (63%), defense (15%) and wing (13%), including defensive matchups against Jack Crisp and Scott Pendlebury. It included the Swans co-captain running late defensively and committing a game-stopping snatch to embody his selfless performance. Mills decisively knocked out Patrick Dangerfield the last time those teams played Round 2 when the Cats star was held to 13 disposals – his second-worst return this year. And with Dangerfield performing best locally in the pre-final against Brisbane with 28 disposals and two goals, former Demons skipper Garry Lyon predicted Mills would be given the job again at Dangerfield to ensure the Brownlow medalist didn’t roam free allowed weeks in a row.
“I think because it’s not an absolute lockdown, you can,” Lyon said. “Back him up when he starts to get hot to close up a bit.”
Brown said of Mills, “He’s a symbol of the Bloods culture that we’ve seen for 20 years. It’s an investment in the team, he’s able to fill a number of different roles on the floor. The big strength for him is that he still contributes offensively, he can invest time in a player and reduce his influence but still find the footy himself. He’s a Bloods man and therefore a young captain.”
The Swans’ burning question: how will their forward line be restructured if Reid misses?
The Swans will be without Sam Reid against the Cats as the veteran forward hopes to overcome an adductor problem. Sydney really struggled after Reid was substituted at half-time of their provisional final win over Collingwood, lacking air presence in attack as the Magpies rushed back into the game. Logan McDonald also struggled a lot, not recording any touches in the first half and ending with just one goal. He clearly needs to step up if Reid misses.
“We’ve seen him play great games when Buddy Franklin wasn’t around. Logan McDonald has a job to do when Sam Reid isn’t playing. He’s capable, he can, they need to get him involved early on,” Lyon said.
Peter Ladhams would have been the obvious replacement but he is unavailable due to a now costly three-week suspension from the VFL. S0 should the Swans turn to a similar but relatively unproven Hayden McLean or Joel Amartey, or restructure with a smaller player? Brown stressed the importance of picking against Geelong’s elite defensive interceptors.
“They have McLean and Amartey as bigger players, or do you just roll with the smaller forward line and try to challenge Geelong’s key defenders?” He posed. “Knowing that Logan McDonald is more of a hit-up player at this point in his career and being a physical beast and competing and putting the ball on the ground is not Buddy’s greatest strength.
“It gets critical because those intercepting (Geelong) defenders are a real problem.”
Swans’ burning question: are they repeating the great mistake of the lions?
Brisbane were widely criticized last week for allowing Geelong to play with a substitute behind the ball and mixing Rhys Stanley and Mark Blicavs between ruck and defense while Tom Stewart and Sam De Koning played as loose defenders. Riewoldt noted that the Swans “know it’s coming” again this week in a key mechanism setting up everything the petty prime ministers do. And if Saturday’s decider is not played early on Sydney’s terms, John Longmire would be wise to ensure he doesn’t repeat the Lions’ mistake and hold every player on the field accountable. Brown admits it was “disappointing” that Brisbane didn’t prioritize eliminating Stewart and thus taking away Geelong’s number one reserve defender last week.
“Tom Stewart – arguably one of the best defenders of our generation – can’t sit alone behind the ball and build his defensive flow and get it going,” Brown said. “It just didn’t happen. It has to be a matter of planning and execution. They had to do a much better job to address a major strength for Geelong Football Club.”
Swans Burning Question: Do They Have Match-Ups For Geelong’s Livewire Forward?
While the likes of Jeremy Cameron and Gary Rohan have garnered plenty of praise in this series of finals, it was the small forwards that really lit up in Geelong’s 71-point final win over Brisbane. Gryan Miers (No.1 overall against Brisbane), Brad Close (No.5) and Tyson Stengle (No.10) were all instrumental in the win to overwhelm the Brisbane defence. It ironically comes as Joel Selwood discussed how playing as a half-forward used to be such a difficult position for Geelong under their slower playing style, in stark contrast to his now exciting ball movement. And so, Brown wondered if the Swans would have the right match-ups for Geelong’s buzzing attack.
“This will challenge Sydney…they might be able to run with them, but can they defend them?” He posed. “(Oliver) Florent, (Jake) Lloyd, (Nick) Blakey, these guys, can you defend these guys of guys? That will be very interesting.”