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Preliminary discussions: Part three

Date

Martin Blake

Caught: Travis Cloke is wrapped up by Sydney's Heath Grundy.

Caught: Travis Cloke is wrapped up by Sydney's Heath Grundy. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

Swans' defence v Pies' attack

The headache

Travis Cloke is the one. He has a history of troubling Sydney, with a match-winning six goals in 2011 at this venue, and three goals, including the match-winner, in round 20 this year. Despite going goalless last weekend, Cloke has found some form and confidence in the last month of the season.

Sydney uses Heath Grundy to play on him, but Grundy concedes strength and can be exploited one-on-one. The Swans need to either reconsider the match-up, possibly swinging All-Australian Ted Richards onto Cloke, or they need some serious team defence, which includes a third man flying into marking contests to help Grundy. Marty Mattner is the go-to man in that scenario.

Cloke is pivotal to the contest because almost inevitably, if he plays well, Collingwood will win.

 

Switch hit

Sydney likes to switch the football and create attack from defence through the likes of Rhyce Shaw. The Swans would love to create a ''plus-one'' to release Shaw, but Collingwood probably will try to deny it.

Potentially both coaches might be happy to have a spare man back, for they play similar styles and like to initiate offence from the back half. But in a final, it is less likely.

Nathan Buckley will have his forwards working hard to fill the space and prevent easy switches when Sydney gets the ball in its back half. He will also be trying to avoid the bombed kick into Richards' hands, a fault fallen into by Adelaide two weeks ago.

Sydney has the best-ranked defence in the competition, not only because of the personnel in the back half, but because its midfielders play a two-way running game. They defend as well as getting in front of the football.

The Swans conceded just 10.4 goals a game and they give up a goal for just 20.8 per cent of opposition entries, also the best in the league.

 

Dids factor

Alan Didak often plays well against Sydney. He is a big-game specialist and assuming he gets up to play - he has had a calf muscle injury - he will present a match-up issue. Alex Johnson tends to sacrifice his game and he would be an option, as is Nick Smith, an excellent stopper whose concentration rarely wavers. But more likely Smith will start on Andrew Krakouer and Johnson will be asked to keep track of the elusive Didak.

Given that Collingwood's scoring has frozen up this season (13.8 goals a game, outside the top eight, and 52.6 inside 50s, 11th in the AFL), it is unlikely to be a scoring fest.


Hawks' defence v Crows' attack

 The headache

Taylor Walker is hot, white hot after his five-goal semi-final against Fremantle. He presents arguably the biggest danger to Hawthorn's chance of getting through to the grand final, for he has that X-factor that lifts his performance when it counts most.

If he gets away from Ryan Schoenmakers or Josh Gibson, as he did with Alex Silvagni in the semi-final, Hawthorn can find itself in more trouble than its supporters bargained for.

Schoenmakers has improved hugely; his ability to stand up against key forwards from the opposition is what gives Gibson the licence to become the No. 1 spoiler in the AFL. Gibson is brilliant at picking his moment to leave his opponent and help his teammate in a marking contest. It is the essence of the ''team defence'' ethos that has become so prevalent in modern football.

If Adelaide can spread its forwards and get the ball to Walker one-on-one, Hawthorn has a big challenge on his hands.

 

Two-way street

Hawthorn's ability to score quickly and heavily is its trademark. But its ability to curtail the opposition is less heralded. The Hawks were in the top couple of teams all year in defensive ranking, calculated by goals scored against. They concede just 46 inside 50s a match, the best in the AFL, and 11 goals a game, better than all bar Fremantle and Sydney.

Plainly, Alastair Clarkson's team knows how to close down an opposing team. Like all the best teams, the Hawks help each other rather than leaving each man to his own issues. This means that a Matt Suckling, or a Luke Hodge if he is back there, are given licence to run off and create.

 

Tippett-toe

Adelaide drew a brilliant game from Walker last weekend and Jason Porplyzia provided the back-up. Porplyzia is a brilliant player, whose career might have been quite something had it not been for injuries.

But the extra factor in Adelaide's forward half is Kurt Tippett, who was disappointing in both finals. Tippett has had three concussions in the second half of the season and seems to be in quicksand; he had 30 goals to the end of round 15 and has 35 now.

If he could jump up and take some contested marks, as he is quite capable of doing, it would present an extra problem for Hawthorn, whether it is Gibson or Ben Stratton who takes him.

The Crows like a spread of goalkickers; they are fourth in the competition for scoring. Tippett needs to be part of that focus.

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