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by Tim Murphy

AFL Semi-Finals

Grant Thomas exited out! The Stainers dropped a bomb last Tuesday by sacking Thomas, for reasons which are still not clear. Apparently the Sainter board believed Thommo would never win a flag, after finals failures in the last three years in which the Saints led all three games at three-quarter-time. A lot of ‘threes’ in that sentence. Injured players were a clear factor in those losses, but other reasons for the axing emerged, such as Thomas’s autocratic rule over the Saints’ footy department. But the axing reeks of things unknown. Thomas, while disagreeing with the decision obviously, took it with reasonable grace. The Stainers have certainly come a long way from mid-2001 when Thomas played a large hand in the sacking of ‘messiah’ Malcolm Blight and his own installation. The players’ reaction was interesting, younger types who’ve known no other coach, led by Nick Riewoldt, were hurt and angry. Aging club icon Robert Harvey, who’ll be under his eighth Stainer coach if he plays on next season, gave a verbal shrug of the shoulders. The debate now is whether the Satins will hire a ‘novice’ - John ‘Horse’ Longmire and Mark Harvey, assistants at Sydney and Freo respectively, are current favourites - or a man with AFL experience. Ayresey!

The All-Australian side was announced last week:

B: Nathan Bassett (Adel), Darren Glass (WC), Lindsay Gilbee (Foot)

HB: Craig Bolton (Syd), Joel Bowden (Rich), Andrew McLeod (Adel)

C: Simon Goodwin (Adel), Scott West (Foot), Adam Goodes (Syd)

HF: Alan Didak (Coll), Barry Hall (Syd, v-c), Ryan O’Keefe (Syd)

F: Nick Riewoldt (StK), Brendan Fevola (Carl), Brad Johnson (Foot, c)

Foll: Brendon Lade (PA), Chris Judd (WC), Ben Cousins (WC)

Inter: Shaun Burgoyne (PA), Dean Cox (WC), James McDonald (Melb), Matthew Pavlich (Frem).

Bolton and McDonald, unexciting but hard-working, high-tackling, defensive types, were the most surprising selections (along with that of Johnson as captain) in what was termed a ‘blue-collar’ team. Didak was deemed a lucky pick ahead of Jeff Farmer or Aaron Davey, but it’s fair enough. Farmer didn’t really hit form until the final third of the season, Davey runs hot-and-cold. Didak set up twice as many as his 41 goals. Bizarre selection of three CHFs but not Bommer Scott Lucas, who had a very good season, other unlucky omissions included Poi backman James ‘Arnaud’ Clement and Hawk rover Sam Mitchell in a side biased heavily towards teams finishing in the eight - Bowden, Fevola, Lade and Burgoyne were the only non-8 picks.

In other news, Pie Brodie Holland copped a 6-game suspension for clattering Brett Montgomery last week. Scott Lucas won Essadun’s B&F and club chairman Neil McKissock resigned. Brendon Lade won Port’s B&F. Oh, and there’s been wailing and gnashing of teeth in Victoria over the absence of a Vic side in the final four. We’ll get over it, although the VFL finals on the weekend drew huge crowds.

At Subiaco:

Fremantle   3.3   7.9   11.15   14.18 (102)
Melbourne   3.0   7.3   10.4    11.8 (74)

Freo amended their finals ‘win’ column with triumph over the Dees, kicking off a big weekend in Perf. After a close first half the home side controlled possession and territory but couldn’t put it on the scoreboard, or at least not completely. The Dees appeared a tired outfit after the long break and despite staying in-touch most of the night, and closing within 10 points early in the final term, you never really felt they’d win. Freo might’ve blown it. Their flaccid effort in windy Adelaide last week had a distinct ‘straight sets’ feeling about it and the Deez cranked up the pressure after they arrived, led by assistant coach and former Dokker Mark Riley. He suggested the home crowd would ‘turn’ on the Shockers if things didn’t work out. But the crowd were great for most of it, very noisy and Freo repaid their faith. Melbun are an odd lot, stuttering along in the bottom half of the eight for a few years now while still with a claim to being a developing, building side. First-year men Matthew Bate, Nathan Jones, Lynden Dunn and the very good Clint Bartram - draft pick 60-something - were all good while youngsters like Aaron Davey, Jared Rivers and Brock McLean continue to improve. Byron Pickett was a good recruit. The Dees’ll probably get better, although time is marching on for skipper David Neitz. In selection Freo finally admitted Paul Hasleby’s ‘abdominal problem’ was, surprise, osteitis pubis. Freo effectively played with 21 last week after a pre-game jab did nothing for Hasleby, he was out here along with injured Antoni Grover (back), replacements were Ryan Murphy and Luke Webster. Freo skipper Peter Bell played his 250th game, a great milestone for the inspiring midget. The Demons lost Matthew Whelan, suffering an injured shoulder when squashed by Steven Baker last week, and no. 2 ruckman Mark Jamar broke his foot late in the win over Sinkilda. Incoming Deez were Nathan Brown and ‘x-factor’ ruckman Nick Smith, who hadn’t played an AFL game for nearly 3 years.

Conditions were very warm during the day and the night brought a heavy dew, making it quite slippery. The Dockulaters and their large, vocal contingent of supporters were raucous but nervous and they weren’t calmed when the Deez scored the first two goals. Cameron Bruce, shadowing Peter Bell, sold a noice dummy and kicked towards Aaron Davey and Dokka defender David Mundy, Davey maneuvered Mundy under the ball for a clever mark and goal. All night Freo worked hard, ran hard and kept playing-on through the corridor, just such a slick move led to their first shot but Heath Black’s punt hit the post. The Demuns played a slow-tempo, chip-about game designed to keep scores low and close, then maybe nick it at the end. Just such a move ended with ruckman Jeff White finding Brock McLean on-the-lead, he booted the Dees’ second major and they led by 11 points. Crowd a bit quiet. Freo skipper Bell won a free at the restart and kicked wide to Black, his long punt spilled from the pack and roving Luke Webster snapped it through. A bit later Josh Carr honoured Matty Pavlich’s long lead, the All-Australian bench-warmer played on quickly and hammered a long kick home from 60m. The Dokkaz led by a point, the crowd awoke and the Dees went into a prolonged keepings-off chip-about. They pinched the lead back at a throw-in when Colin Sylvia’s tackle on Josh Carr forced the ball loose, Russ Robertson snapped a great goal. But Mundy gave the Dockers a korter-time lead, his long free-kick for marking interference cleared the pack and went through for full points. Freo by 3 points at the first break. Melbun’s best period came early in the second stanza as their forwards found much space in which to operate. As Dokka backman Luke McPharlin came barreling from defence he was caught by opponent David Neitz, the ball eventually squirted out for Davey to speed clear and slot a terrific major from the boundary-line. A bit later the ball went long to Nick ‘Who?’ Smith and his man, Smith dropped the mark but knocked the ball clear for Adem Yze to stab it through from close-range. A coupla minutes later Brad Green drilled a pass for leading Neitz to mark, 60m out. McPharlin didn’t retreat sufficiently on the mark (as umpire Goldspink explained with his usual hectoring annoyance), so Neita had a 50m penalty and easy goal. Worries in the Shocker camp as Melbun led by 16 points. Freo kept runnin’, though. Pavlich inserted himself for the next centre-bounce and won the clearance, Ryan Crowley’s handpass sent Byron Schammer in for a running major. The Deez replied, Neitz was spoiled on-the-lead but as McPharlin fell Neitz gathered the ball, ran clear and booted a fantastic tight-angle sausage. Dees by 15 points. Freo were having real trouble inside the attacking 50, so Ryan Murphy was introduced. Immediately he marked and majored, found by Jeff Farmer’s skilful gather and smart kick. ‘Wiz’ was simmering after scant involvement so far. Deemun All-Australian stopper James McDonald, on Josh Carr, had been knocked down in an off-ball ‘incident’ featuring Carr and Shaun McManus. McDonald played on but didn’t do much. Soon Murphy soared over the pack for a great grab, but missed woefully. Justin ‘J-Lo’ Longmuir booted a long behind but presently Longmuir had another shot, set up by Webster collecting McLean’s hacked kick from deep in defence and passing to J-Lo. Longmuir goaled and Melbun’s lead was cut to a point as Freo were coming now, a free-kick to the dominant Aaron Sandilands handballed to Mundy, he lobbed a centering kick for Murphy to ride Nathan Carroll for another big grab, Murphy converted this time. Freo by 6 points at the long break.

As the third term, indeed second half, progressed the Dokkaz were in increasing control but their inaccuracy and the Deez occasional goal kept the scores close. Superb work from McLean to win the ball against three Dokkers set up the opening major, McLean hooked a kick for Neitz to hold a chest-mark and steer it through from a tricky angle. Scores level. Webster’s good gather and handpass allowed Matthew Carr to grub a left-foot kick for a major and the Dorkers led again, by 6 points. Sandilands dropped an uncontested mark 10m out but Freo had the next goal. After Josh Carr kicked ahead he was hammered by a late Byron Pickett tackle. A downfield free to Pavlich, Dee men didn’t seem to know what was happening as Josh Carr ran by to collect the ball from Pav and handball for Farmer’s goal-square tap-through. Freo won the following centre-clearance but Farmer’s shot hit the post. Davey kicked a point for Melbin before the Deez struck a blow, Brad Miller - playing very well from CHF - crashed a pack to allow Travis Johnstone to collect the ball and tumble a kick for Robertson to mark. Robbo majored and Freo led by 7 points. Dokka Heath Black - also playing very well - won the ball from the restart and Farmer reeled in a one-handed, with-the-flight mark. Wiz sausaged. All Freo now, the game being played exclusively in their attacking half. Brett Peake drove the ball in, Yze was shoved aside by Murphy and Troy Cook snapped a major. Freo by 19 points, Murphy missed a coupla shots and Mundy kicked a behind. Late in the Mario the Deez managed a thrust, Johnstone’s long kick spilled from Neitz’s contest and roving Robertson managed to snap truly. The Dokkers led by 17 points at the last change. The Demuns scored the opening goal of the final term, Miller clutching a strong grab at the head of the goal-square. Despite dining on scraps they were 11 points behind. Soon Miller held another emphatic mark, but missed from 50m. Fremandle had relief, a defensive rebound and Black’s long pass allowed unattended Matthew Carr to mark 20m out, play-on and slam it through. In the build-up McPharlin rolled an ankle and he limped off, but he’ll be okay the Dokker folk reckon. From the centre-bounce following the Carr goal McManus won the ball, it went to Farmer whose pass was dropped by Pavlich - but luckily he was knocked over head-on by McDonald. Pav free-kicked a major. Tight for a few minutes as Freo led by 22 points, after a bit Longmuir spilled a mark but his good shepherd on Smith allowed Des Headland to sweep by and boot a goal. Freo with one foot in the prelim as they led by 28 points. Melbun had one last crack but McDonald and Bate missed fairly kickable set-shots. Pavlich missed a final shot before the Purple Haze could go mad.

Very good game from Heath Black (28 disposals), nominally playing off half-back but he ran upfield to good effect. Aaron Sandilands (32 hit-outs, 15 touches) gave the Dokkers a huge advantage in the ruck and Josh Carr (26 disposals) and Peter Bell (22 handlings) were good around him, Byron Schammer (25 possies, a goal) was also handy, especially in the first half. Shane ‘Fess’ Parker (11 touches) worked hard at the back. Matthew Carr (19 handlings, 2 goals) played well from a wing. Scoring was a communal effort, Ryan Murphy, Jeff Farmer and Matthew Pavlich (19 touches, 7 marks) kicked 2 goals each. Melbun had a great game from CHF Brad Miller (14 marks, 19 disposals, a goal), arguably the best he’s played. Reprieved Nathan Brown (28 possies, 14 marks) did quite well on Farmer and Brock McLean (25 touches, a goal) and Travis Johnstone (22 possies) were alright in a beaten midfield, Brad Green (21 touches, 9 marks) was okay too. Nathan Carroll (10 disposals, 7 marks) did a good job on Pavlich, considering. The forwards made the most of limited chances, David Neitz and Russ Robertson kicked 3 goals each, Aaron Davey bagged 2 majors. "It seems the game against St Kilda took more out of us than Freo," Dee coach Neale Daniher said. I didn’t know Freo played Stinkilda last week, too? "I think over the ground they were covering it a lot better than us. Up until half time it was a pretty good contest but I think their additional run - we couldn't match it basically, and that's why our season's finished and they're still going. We had a crack but we need to be able to sustain a superior running work rate if we want to get into prelim finals. Obviously it was a disappointing way to finish the season." Daniher promised a hard pre-season as a cure. "It's hard to be critical of Matthew Bate, who is only 18, but he was super last week and he couldn't lift his legs. We just need to teach our kids, like Jones, Bate and Sylvia and McLean and those sorts of kids, to do it consecutively in the finals. For those blokes, this was a big lesson for them. Hopefully it will inspire them in the pre-season. We made a lot of big steps this year but these young blokes, and you can throw in Bartram, (Lynden) Dunn, (Matthew) Warnock and Chris Johnson, are the blokes we're looking to, to come into the team and be able to back up. It's not hardness. We're hard enough. I've got no problem with that. It's our ability to sustain the work rate and run over the ground, over 120 minutes of footy." Chris Connolly was happy of course but expressed concern over inaccuracy. "History often shows games can be measured by that (accuracy in front of goal) and we were putting ourselves under pressure. They were grabbing their opportunities and we were missing easy shots but as it evolved we got more shots off, our inside 50's were high and the Melbourne defence was always going to be under pressure (under those circumstances).” The prelim? "We are under no illusions as to what is on offer next week. This is uncharted territory for our playing group but history shows these opportunities don't come round too often and we have got to grab it with both hands and we will endeavour to do that." Siddey will start warm favourites.

At Subiaco:

West Coast  4.3   8.7   9.12   16.17 (113)
Footscray   3.4   4.6   4.9     5.9 (39)

Next night the Wiggles belted the Doggies, absolutely dominating the game after quarter-time. A late goal-barrage gave a fair scoreboard reflection. The Weevils’ inability to turn pressure into points was seen as the biggest barrier to the ultimate prize. Big Quint Lynch bagged 6 goals here, and his improvement in the stead of disgraced Michael Gardiner is the Weegs’ counter to that charge. The Bulldogs were thoroughly outplayed, managing only 29 inside-50s for the game, a season-low in the AFL. Footscray played like a side which satisfied their season aims over the last few weeks, making the eight and winning a final. Next year they hope to have Luke Darcy, Rob Murphy and Mitch Hahn back in the side and a more experienced group to move forward. Nevertheless this was a downbeat way to farewell 300-gamer Rohan Smith, the Kingsville-raised boy who grew up to play for his local (AFL) club. In many ways Smith is the prototype of the current Bulldog, a hard-running, long-kicking flanker. Smith never won an individual honour but was a team-man and a great performer in State-of Origin games too. Ball-magnet rover Scott West also played his 300th here, his achievements are already many and remarkable, but West’s retirement is a long way off. Probably. The Weegle side here was strengthened considerably compared to the one which went down narrowly to Siddey. Daniel Kerr, Andrew Embley, Ashley Hansen and ruckman Mark Seaby returned, at the expense of Mark LeCras, Jaymie Graham, Drew Banfield and ‘usual’ Brent Staker. No change for the Bullies, who set some sort of record by fielding three 300-gamers.

Playing conditions were very similar to the previous night, warm but the ground slicked by dew. The Dawgs had Chris Grant start at CHF, he was opposed by Adam Hunter who ran off Granty freely. Hunter slotted the opening goal, collecting Kerr’s roving handpass. The Eegs also scored a pair of early behinds and were going well before the Bullies opened their account. All-Aussie skipper Brad Johnson led and marked on the 50m line but before he could line-up a shot the whistle blew, Grant had a goal-square free-kick for holding against Glass. Grant majored amongst copious booing. The Weegs responded as Bully defender Brian Harris made a real mess of a handpass, the ball returned quickly over his head for Quinten Lynch to take an easy mark a slot it home from a tough angle. Soon the Weegs were attacking again, Chad Fletcher was allowed to throw the ball to Michael Braun, he stabbed a pass for leading Ash Hansen to mark and convert. The Coasters led by 14 points. Brad Johnson had the close-checking Adam Selwood as an opponent, but it didn’t stop Johnno leading to mark Jordan McMahon’s pass and boot the Pups’ second major. The Weegs came again, Bully Harris spoiled Lynch on-the-lead but Sam Butler roved the ball and kicked high towards Hunter, he was shoved out by McMahon and free-kicked a major. Speaking of free-kicks, there were a lot in this game with the Weegs winning the majority, of course. No more crowd-factor for them in the remaining fortnight. Late in the stanza Rohan Smith kicked towards leading Johnson, the ball bounced wide and short but Johnno gathered, turned sharply, shimmied past Brett Jones and booted a terrific goal. The Eagles led by 5 points at the first break. Tight into the second term, the Weegs lost David Wirrpanda with hamstring trouble. But the Dogs found themselves trapped in their defensive half, their own very poor kicking causing frequent clangers. Lynch booted an early goal, well-found by Hansen roving his own contest. The Weegs led by 11 points. Chris Judd missed a goal he’d eat normally, the Juddmeister, Kerr and Ben Cousins led a dominant Weeg midfield. Such was the pressure and (lack of) possession the Dogs hadn’t managed a running bounce to this stage, their trademark. The wet surface made ‘em mindful too, probably. Finally the Pups constructed a rapid defensive rebound, with bounces from Lindsay Gilbee and Farren Ray, but McMahon kicked on-the-full. Mostly one-way traffic though, Weagles Hansen and Kerr failed to score with very poor kicks and Hansen stabbed a simple running shot into the post from 15m. Johnson missed the Dogs’ second shot for the term but with the running not working the Bulldogs decided to slow things down. Some precise chip-about ended with big Peter Street punting long, Brett Montgomery fell over as he tussled with Kerr and the ump waved advantage for Johnson to pop it through from point-blank. Despite barely touching the ball since korter-time, the Pups were just 6 points behind. The Weegs got a wriggle-on late in the term. Rowan Jones juggled a great grab between two Bullies and dished a handpass to speeding Judd, he had a bounce to steady and spear it through. At the restart Cousins spun out of trouble - he’s good at that - and kicked for Lynch to hold a strong grab in front of the smaller Dale Morris, Lynch goaled. Gilbee hacked a panicky kick from defence, Brett Jones snaffled it and punted long for Lynch to seize an emphatic pack-mark and bag another. The Weevils led by 25 points at the long break.

The Bullies had spent most of the second term trying to survive but emerged with more attacking intentions for the third term. The game opened up and there was a bit of end-to-end stuff. Both sides had a lot of trouble scoring goals, though. For the Dogs Grant was at full-back now and Harris started in the centre, Ryan Hargrave went forward. Harris soon dropped back though and did very well to get a hand on goal-bound shots from Cousins and Steven Armstrong. Haphazard Doggy thrusts were quickly mopped up. Judd missed a running shot, the Dogs took the kick-in the length of the field but Daniel Giansiracusa kicked a behind only. Big Will Minson postered following a good mark. Harris spoiled a third certain Weegle goal, from Hunter. Lynch marked 40m out, slight angle, but hooked it terribly on-the-full. Armstrong kicked a point. With a minute remaining in the quarter Tyson Stenglein drove the Weegs forward, Hunter marked strongly in the goal-mouth and booted the stanza’s only sausage. The Wiggles led by 33 points at the last change, double the Bulldogs’ score. The game was certainly over, more so after Judd centered a free-kick for leading Embley to mark and boot the opening major of the final term. Butler did very well to win the ball at the restart and give it to Kerr, he and Cousins exchanged handpasses before Cousins booted a very good major on the-run. Eegs by 46 points now. Big Cox tugged it wide and Hansen kicked another point before the Dogs managed an attack, their first inside-fifty of the final term ended with Matty Robbins being awarded a free against Dan Chick and booting a goal. Eegs by 43 points but they piled on 5 goals in the final 7 minutes. Beau Waters started the run with a noice left-foot slot after the Weegs worked the ball clear of a throw-in. Waters received the ball at the restart and kicked long, Hunter marked in the goal-square and dobbed one. Judd and Kerr were benched. A bit later Lynch snapped a very good major after collecting Bulldog Adam Cooney’s under-pressure grubber. A long Farren Ray run was ended by Braun’s tackle, the rebound ended with Armstrong delivering to Lynch on-the-lead, big Quint banged it home for his sixth. Terrific handpass from Waters allowed Cox to dribbly-kick a goal and the Weegs finished 74 points ahead, the Bulldogs with one inside-50 for the entire final quarter. Emotional Smith was chaired off to warm applause from the Weegle fans. Perhaps the tubby youngster and middle-aged struggler so enraged by Mick O’Loughlin last week joined in, too.

The Weegs’ midfield monstered the Bullies led by ‘Big Three’ Chris Judd (26 disposals, 1.3), Daniel Kerr (29 possies) and Ben Cousins (24 handlings, a goal). In a welcome change the forward-line worked well too, with Quinten Lynch (9 marks, 15 kicks, 6 goals) most productive, free-running ‘swing player’ Adam Hunter (9 marks, 18 possies, 4 goals) causing the Dawgs many headaches and Ashley Hansen (11 marks, 17 disposals, a goal) was good too. The Weegs have some amazing winning percentage when Hansen is in the side. In the backline Adam Selwood (22 handlings) did quite well on Johnson and Daniel Chick was good on Robbins, midfielder Sam Butler (30 disposals) worked hard. Bulldog man Scott West (29 disposals) was their only effective midfielder but like the others he got most of his touches inside the defensive 50. Brad Johnson (5 marks, 16 touches) did well to snaggle 3 goals from very few opportunities and Rohan Smith (17 disposals) wasn’t bad on his final appearance. Ruckman Peter Street showed his improvement. ‘Rocket’ Rodney Eade didn’t mince words. "They smashed us. It showed what a quality side they are. The first 15 minutes of the third quarter I thought we worked extremely hard but we just couldn't put any scoreboard pressure on. They just started to get on top of us there and probably should have blown us away by three-quarter time to be honest. But then the last quarter we just trailed off and I think that's probably signs of a young, inexperienced side. We are a young side so we need to make some improvements and that's fine, that (loss) showed us where we were at a bit." Eade said the Dogs had made inquiries about key-position players available for trade, but hadn’t come across any. They’re keen on Akermanis and the bloke himself is receptive. "(Tonight) shows we're a long way off, but we're not far off, if you know what I mean. It sounds like a silly statement but there is a couple of areas where we need to really improve, but I think we can improve quickly because it is only a couple of areas. Obviously getting a couple of guys back next year is going to help and the improvement of the guys that we've had and with our weights program we'll be able to put a bit more bulk on them. I think we've found a tall defender in Cameron Wight and that will help (Brian) Harris and (Ryan) Hargrave as well. (Luke) Darcy coming back in the ruck and as a tall forward is going to help us but there probably isn't a lot (else). It's just that we need to improve in some areas individually, more than anything." John Worsfold said "I am just proud of our players and the way they played. My main feeling now is just excitement about next week (taking on Adelaide in the preliminary final). Our players are confident they are good enough to beat teams anywhere, any time." Certainly the Camrys whom they’ve beaten the last three times, including twice at Foopall Park. A big game next Satdy.

Next week, Preliminary Finals:

Sydney v Fremantle, Stadium Australia, Fri. night.

Adelaide v West Coast, Football Park, Saturday.

Cheers, Tim.


Article last changed on Monday, September 18, 2006 - 5:15 PM EDT

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