The Kennedy midfield crisis, Lance and the Big Dance – Grand Final Preview

AFL Grand Final

Sydney Vs Hawthorn

Saturday, September 29th, 2012
MCG, 2:30pm

One of the eagerly awaited and evenly matched grand finals of recent times sees season-long premiership favourites Hawthorn take on the perennially underrated Swans.
An irresistible battle of attack versus defence awaits on that ‘one day in September’.

Hawthorn finished minor premiers with 17 wins and one of the biggest percentages ever recorded – 154.59. The Hawks kicked 2,679 points (at an average of 121.7 per game) for the season – almost 42 goals more than the next most attacking team – Adelaide, who finished second.

Sydney finished third on the ladder, with 16 wins, with the best defence in the league – only conceding 1629 points – at an average of 74 per game. The Swans were also the fifth best attacking side in the comp, kicking an average of 104-points per game. Their percentage of 140.98 was the fifth highest in the history of the Swans/South Melbourne, only bettered by the 1909 (premiership year 168.9), 1919’s 158.71 (2nd on the ladder), 1912 – 156.97 and 1918’s 143.07 – when they also took out the flag.

In the two previous meetings between the sides this season, the Swans unexpectedly defeated the Hawks 106 to 69 in Tasmania in round five, while Hawthorn prevailed by 7 in a classic grudge match at the SCG in round 22 after trailing by a big margin in the first quarter.

Lance Franklin – who was subdued early but finished with 4.3 and Sean Burgoyne three goals, seven marks and 26 disposals starred for the Hawks in the round 22 victory, while Josh Kennedy racked up 36 disposals and Daniel Hannebery with 31 including 21 by hand were the best from the hand-ball heavy Swans.

In that game Hawthorn were able to use their advantage in the hitouts and their superior foot skills to generate more marks (69 HAW 62 SYD) and scoring shots (27 HAW 25 SYD) from less disposals (376 SYD to 336 HAW) and fewer kicks (203 SYD 199 HAW) than the Swans.

The last time these two teams met at the MCG was the semi-final last year where the Hawks came out harder and more determined and blew the Swans away early, and coasted to a 36-point win. The Swans last beat Hawthorn at the MCG in round 11 2007, and have lost the last four clashes between the sides at the ground. Overall the Hawks hold an 83 to 66 – with two drawn games – record over Sydney/South Melbourne.

The Swans not only boast the statistically best defence for the season, but also one of the most settled back sixes, and a potentially dangerous rebounding one. Defender Rhys Shaw, who leads the league in running bounces, said in the lead up:

“We pride ourselves on our defence and we’re hoping we can stand up this week… Because we know if it doesn’t, we’re going to get blown out of the water. We just have to do what we’ve been doing all year.”

Swans coach John Longmire believes the imperative attitude to win the grand final is:

”You have to make sure your pressure is absolutely elite and for four quarters. You can’t have any lapses in concentration, and you’ve got to take your chances when you get them.”

Josh Kennedy has been the talk of the week with his genealogical ties to his grand final opponents. He averages 29 disposals, seven clearances, five tackles and a goal a game for the season, and almost 28 disposals for his six finals matches. Against Collingwood in the Preliminary Final he had 30 possessions – 19 contested – four marks, five tackles and two crucial goals. Kennedy remarked on that match “On the weekend (against Collingwood) our pressure was right up there and if we can bring that intensity it will go a long way to winning the game.”

Expect Sam Mitchell or Brad Sewell on Kennedy in a crucial duel to go head to head in a battle for clearances.

The All Australian centre half forward in Lance Franklin will match up on the AA centre half back Ted Richards in a contest that will be crucial as to who lifts the cup. Lance Franklin can win the game off his own boot, and is an ominous and irresistible figure in the Hawks forward fifty.

Richards held Buddy goalless for the only time in 2012 in the Swans round five win. After a quiet first three-quarters Franklin let loose with three goals in ten minutes and finished with four for the day when the Hawks toppled Sydney at the SCG. Richards, who concedes four cm in height and 10kg to Franklin, is the No. 1 intercept marker in the competition and No. 2 for intercept possessions, so Buddy will have to be conscious of the offensive outlet provided by the Swans #25.

Cyril Rioli showed that he just needs the barest of opportunities to create goals, and Nick Smith will be given the task of curtailing the livewire forward. Jaryd Roughead will be primed for a big game after being accused of favouring preservation over taking possession against the Crows, while Luke Bruest offers poise and speed.

The clash of the midfield will be a titanic struggle, even more so in the predicted wet weather. Hawthorn have a top class crew of centremen with Sewell, Mitchell, Burgoyne all hitting hot form, and Lewis keen to atone for his game against the crows, where he has vowed to ‘go in harder’. They are capable of quick clearances and effective forward entries with their foot skills, and as their five goal second quarter in round 23 showed, capable of piling on quick points.

Sydney open training session. Credit: http://www.flickr.com/jeffers1984

Sydney have hard nuts in stalwart Jude Bolton and Luke Parker when subbed in late to get the hard ball, the hand-skills of Hannebery and the classy clearances of Kennendy to get the ball out and quick to their forward line.

Up forward Sydney have the large presence of Goodes, Sam Reid, who while taking some contested grabs, is not hitting the scoreboard, and Tigers discard Mitch Morton who can sneak behind defences for some opportune goals. Roberts-Thompson will most likely be used trying to negate spoiling-king Josh Gison and keep him from coming in third-man up. Isaac Smith will most likely be given the matchup on Lewis Jetta, who is capable of long, freakish goals and precision passes alike.

The Hawks seem to have it all in place, but that also comes with expectation, which almost bought them undone against the Crows. The Swans will need to pressure the Hawks for four quarters and will take great comfort from their round five win and the first quarter of their most recent encounter.

Prediction

A tough, hard contested battle awaits, with the rainy conditions expected to favour the Swans style of play. Swans by three.

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