OPINION

Gear up for a feast of finals footy

Patrick Dangerfield and the Cats should be too strong for Port Adelaide on Friday night. Photo: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images
Patrick Dangerfield and the Cats should be too strong for Port Adelaide on Friday night. Photo: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

Finals are the best time of the AFL season.

And there's a fair argument the first week of the finals are, for the football purist, the best of all - not one, two, but four juicy match-ups with huge stakes attached.

We've seen some amazing games and results in the two qualifying and two elimination finals since the current final eight system was introduced for the 2000 season.

But who is to say this coming weekend might not top them all?

Particularly given how tight this year's flag race looks, the top four teams all currently offering somewhere between $3.75 and $5.50 on betting markets.

There's not even one clear-cut winner from this week's match-ups, the proverbial tipster's nightmare.

But let's not back away from the task.

PORT ADELAIDE v GEELONG (FRI NIGHT, ADELAIDE OVAL)

All this week's finals are a tipster's nightmare, but this one particularly so; last week's results having tipped the ledger considerably.

Port had been consistently unable to win games against high-ranked opponents, but managed to upend the Western Bulldogs on their home turf.

Geelong, generally impregnable at home, managed to squander a 44-point lead and top spot on the ladder, to Melbourne.

The form line of both, however, has remained solid; the Power having won their last six games straight and nine of their last 10, the Cats six of their last eight.

Geelong's loss of backline general Tom Stewart does appear costly, while Port Adelaide's biggest weapon right now is the form of its biggest stars like Travis Boak, Ollie Wines and Robbie Gray.

Ruckman Scott Lycett is also in good nick and has the capacity to exploit what has been a problem area for the Cats.

That said, Geelong dealt comfortably enough with Port at the same venue earlier this season.

And even against Melbourne, it proved that when it controls the tempo of a game it's a difficult opponent to match. I think the Cats can do that again this week.

Tip: Geelong by 12 points.

SYDNEY v GWS (SAT, LAUNCESTON)

It's the Giants who have had the better of the "Battle of the Bridge" recently, winning four of the last six meetings.

This season it's 1-1, GWS coming from the clouds to pinch victory in round five; the Swans turning the tables in round 18, hauling in a six-goal deficit to win pulling away.

GWS has since won four of five and knocked off some big names, but the Swans have won seven of their last eight and were clinical in their obliteration of Gold Coast last week.

The Giants had to battle surprisingly hard to shrug off Carlton.

Lance Franklin's six-goal haul against the Suns was ominous indeed.

The Swans have a perfect balance between the contributions of effervescent youngsters like Justin McInerney, Errol Gulden and Sam Wicks, and old hands like "Buddy", Luke Parker, Jake Lloyd and born-again ruckman Tom Hickey.

Toby Greene is no longer carrying all the Giants' weight on his shoulders, with senior players and midfielder Callan Ward, Tim Taranto and Josh Kelly on fire.

But I think Sydney bats a little deeper across the ground, and is good enough to challenge the best teams.

Tip: Sydney by 6 points.

MELBOURNE v BRISBANE (SAT NIGHT, ADELAIDE OVAL)

Here are two teams who have not only come good at the perfect time, but both rediscovered their scoring potency.

The Demons looked to be in a dangerous slump a few weeks ago, when they'd won just two of their previous six games.

But a smashing of Gold Coast was just the confidence boost needed.

Since then, Melbourne has posted a couple of its biggest scores of the season, with Ben Brown giving the Dees a badly-needed second key target alongside Tom McDonald.

It's a similar story for the Lions, for whom the loss of Eric Hipwood seemed a fatal blow as they dropped three games out of four.

But Brisbane has racked up nearly 60 goals in its last three wins, Joe Daniher having lifted significantly in that time with 11 goals and Charlie Cameron also finding another gear.

Melbourne came over the top of the Lions to win in round 12, with midfield duo Christian Petracca and Clayton Oliver starring and Steven May supreme in defence.

I think those are the areas again which might prove decisive for the Demons.

Tip: Melbourne by 20 points.

WESTERN BULLDOGS v ESSENDON (SUN, LAUNCESTON)

Another match-up which suddenly looks a lot different to only a fortnight or so ago.

Then, the Bombers had to beat the top-of-the-ladder Dogs just to stay in the finals hunt.

Not only did they do it, the Bulldogs lost key forward Josh Bruce for the season in the final seconds of the game.

That has looked more and more a telling blow as the Dogs dropped their last three regular season games, losing the double chance with it.

They can hardly be overflowing with confidence against an opponent no-one fancied to make it and, given the progress already made this season, has little to lose and plenty to win - namely a first finals victory for Essendon since 2004.

The Dogs need a lift all over the ground, particularly midfield, where Bomber duo Zach Merrett and Darcy Parish, with Jake Stringer doing excellent work at the clearances, are on fire.

There's also a big challenge for Bulldog ruckman Tim English against an equally raw but in-form Sam Draper.

Can they turn it around in time? I still have some faith in the team good enough to head the ladder until round 20.

I suspect they'll get the job done, narrowly.

Tip: Western Bulldogs by 10 points.

This story Gear up for a feast of finals footy | Rohan Connolly first appeared on The Canberra Times.