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Big four a dream scenario

Gough Whitlam was prime minister. The Sydney Opera House was yet to be opened. Television in this country was still a black-and-white affair. It was 40 years ago, 1973, and in the context of football's development, an eternity.

That's how long it's been since the then VFL clubs who came to be known as the big four - Carlton, Collingwood, Essendon and Richmond - all competed in the same finals series. But a long wait seems more and more likely to be ended.

And you can almost hear the rubbing of the hands of the AFL in glee, not to mention the ringing of the cash registers. For the league, we're heading for a finals series straight from heaven.

For these days, it's not just a big four but, throwing giants of recent times Hawthorn and Geelong into the mix, a heavyweight half-dozen who are all going to be playing a part. And if that seems a little parochial, the strong presence of two other states, via the legitimate flag claims of Sydney and Fremantle, should placate the champions of game development.

Yes, it's an early call. But after having claimed a couple of weeks ago that we might already have our top four of 2013, I'm inclined to think we've now just about got our final eight locked away.

The current ladder doesn't necessarily reflect it - Port Adelaide is back in the top half after a superb, gutsy win over the Swans on Saturday, and a game ahead of Carlton and West Coast, who are locked on six wins and six losses - but scan the run home of all those clubs for their remaining 10 games, and there's a fair argument the dye is cast.

Ken Hinkley's Power has clearly recovered the ''oomph'' it lost between rounds six and 10, beating up on Greater Western Sydney the weekend before last, and against Sydney, completely dominated the second half in general play and, eventually, on the scoreboard.

Emerging star Chad Wingard was instrumental, as was Brad Ebert and veteran Kane Cornes in shutting down Sydney star Daniel Hannebery. But given what lies ahead for the Power, it's going to have to maintain this standard weekly.

Port's great win was only the first leg of a quadrella of big games which, over the next three weeks, takes in Collingwood, Essendon and Hawthorn. And four of its last five assignments are challenging to say the least - another Showdown with cross-town rival Adelaide, and away games against Geelong and Fremantle at, arguably, the two most unfriendly venues in the AFL. Port's final game is against Carlton.

West Coast might just have turned a corner, despite its loss to Hawthorn on Friday night. The Eagles pushed the Hawks hard, though their comparative lack of pace is increasingly apparent, and perhaps an explanation for an unusually poor record of 2-4 in their own backyard.

But, again, if the Eagles are still to play a part in September, they're going to have to get much better. Six of West Coast's final 10 games are against sides in the eight, and there's two more against the still-capable Adelaide, immediately beneath it on the ladder. Essendon twice, Sydney, Geelong, Fremantle and Collingwood - one thing's for sure, if the Eagles do still get there, they will have earned it.

Carlton, meanwhile, has its challenges, too. But it does have eminently winnable games against St Kilda, North Melbourne, Gold Coast and Western Bulldogs, and more encouragement in its consistent competitiveness this season - none of those half-dozen losses by any more than 17 points.

At the moment, I have Richmond and Carlton filling the final two places in the eight with 13 and 12 wins respectively, both less than the 14 required last year, but enough in a season in which the top couple of teams have grabbed more of the spoils than in 2012.

If what has to be the AFL's preferred final eight does eventuate, it brings its share of logistical difficulties with it, none the least the distinct possibility of four finals in Melbourne in week one.

If Hawthorn, Geelong and the other four local participants were all to make it, we'd have one final at Etihad Stadium. And if that was to feature the Hawks against an interstate side, given the presence of the Magpies, Bombers, Tigers and Blues, you would rightly hear plenty of squawking from Waverley, given the Hawks copped the short end of the stick in terms of grand final preparation last year.

But that's flak the AFL would be prepared to cop if the trade-off was the league's most popular local clubs all taking part in the most important time of the year.

Much of the world, let alone football, has changed significantly since the days of the early '70s.

But the pulling power of the game's biggest clubs hasn't. And if all the big guns are there, the league will have a memorable finals series on its hands before it has even started.

70 comments so far

  • I'm a Pies supporter & I think we'll JUST make the finals. I hope I'm wrong but I don't think so.

    Commenter
    Christos
    Date and time
    June 23, 2013, 11:16PM
    • @christos -pies arent that bad, there draw in the upcoming weeks is very winnable and with Clinton young and dayne beams to return soon, along with goldsack, krakour, daisy and fasolo out there doing ok.

      Commenter
      Grant
      Date and time
      June 24, 2013, 12:01PM
  • Rohan, are you saying Port make it or not? Using the ladder predictor on the AFL website - as you said the other week, agree that the top 4 is set. Then there is a huge gap (10 pts) between 4th and 5th. I have Ess (5th) playing Rich (8th) and Coll (6th) playing Blues (7th). Sure there is still 10 weeks out and there will probably be a surprise somewhere, but if form holds, can you imagine the hype around the opening week with Ess v Rich and Carl v Coll as two of the finals at the G??? 90,000+ at each of the surely.

    Commenter
    DJCJ
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    June 23, 2013, 11:21PM
    • Essendon (the cheats) should be sitting on the sidelines by then so include port.

      Commenter
      Harshdozer
      Date and time
      June 25, 2013, 4:58AM
  • When Hawthorn make the finals again, this year, I'm confident should they finish top 2 they will not be giving up a final at the G to make way for a Richmond, Collingwood, Carlton, Essendon or anyone else for that matter, especially if those sides finish lower. Hawthorn will be playing at its HOME ground, the people's ground, the mighty MCG.

    Commenter
    Hawks13
    Location
    St Kilda
    Date and time
    June 23, 2013, 11:21PM
    • Contractual obligations will see at least one final at Etihad, (stupid but true!) Hawthorn have the lowest support of the Melbourne sides likely to finish in the 8 so off to Etihad they should go. Hawthorn already play with the umpires on their side week after week they don't need anymore breaks...

      Commenter
      Collingwood Fan
      Date and time
      June 24, 2013, 2:41AM
    • It won't be up to Hawthorn regardless of what they think. The AFL runs the fixture and Carlton v Collingwood, Essendon v Richmond, Carlton v Richmond, Collingwood v Essendon, Essendon v Carlton, Richmond v Collingwood won't be played at Docklands.

      Commenter
      Psi Cop
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      June 24, 2013, 9:46AM
    • "Hawthorn have the lowest support of the Melbourne sides likely to finish in the 8"
      Collingwood fan, what stats are you basing that on? Hawthorn has more members than blues, dons & tigers. They have more supporters than those 3 as well & get bigger crowds too at the G, their home ground (unlike dons & blues who play at Etihad).
      Dissappointing article Rohan. This whole "big 4" myth was created in the 90s so the AFL could justify blockbuster games further compromising the fixture. The facts are both Carlton & Essendon have been a rabble the last 10 years, both near the middle or bottom of the ladder for most of that time & the tigers have done nothing for 30 years. The real Big 4 Vic clubs are actually the Big 3 - Collingwood, Geelong & Hawthorn. Richmond or Essendon might be able to join that group again, but need to be top 4 contenders the next 3 years. Carlton are pretenders stuck in the 90s still.
      It wasn't long ago that the saints & dogs were top 4 & getting 70,000+ to the MCG in finals.
      The moral is any Vic team playing finals will draw a big crowd to the G if they're playing another Vic team - not just your fraudulent "big 4"

      Commenter
      Moe
      Date and time
      June 24, 2013, 10:11AM
    • @Moe.....attendances will determine who plays where and when. Geelong will probably sustain their success by choosing Simonds stadium for it's smaller games as they get a better slice of the gate and more likely to win but it kills their attendance figures. Hawthorn played in the GF last year due to a great season but were still beaten in the attendance figures by Carlton and were narrowly ahead of Richmond, neither of whom played in the finals.

      In 2008, Hawthorn won the flag and were beaten in H&A attendances by the four clubs you seem to think are irrelevant despite 3 of those teams not playing in finals.

      Commenter
      L
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      June 24, 2013, 12:43PM
    • Interesting point about rights to Home (State) finals per ladder position. (Remember how West coast was shafted in the early 90s by having to play all finals in Melbourne?)

      How's this for a possibility: Geelong finish, say, second, fifth or sixth, and Fremantle finish, respectively, third, eighth or seventh, and Geelong asks for a Home final at (the beautifully renovated & upgraded) Kardinia Park!

      Commenter
      Leonard Colquhoun
      Date and time
      June 24, 2013, 1:22PM

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