The first setback of the 2022 AFL Grand Final is fast approaching. The top two teams of the season will go head-to-head in Melbourne’s home of football.
No team has been able to get the best out of Geelong or Sydney since May and July respectively. The Cats are on a 15-game winning streak while the Swans have won nine straight games.
Both sides have talents at opposite ends of the experience spectrum. From Patrick Dangerfield and Luke Parker to Sam De Koning and Chad Warner, young and old compete on the ultimate stage.
The inner sanctuary looked at four of the matches that will define the 2022 AFL Grand Final.
Patrick Dangerfield vs. Callum Mills
The Swans and Cats only met once home and away, until Round 2. While the night’s focus was Lance Franklin’s 1,000th goal, Callum Mills’ job at Patrick Dangerfield was one of the keys to managing the Teams swans to victory.
Mills took on the tagging role, keeping the Brownlow medalist to just 13 dismounts — his second-lowest of the season and the first time he’s been held under 15 touches in a full game since the 2020 Grand Final.
Dangerfield still managed six within the 50s and six clearances but couldn’t fully shake the tag.
Mills, meanwhile, had one of his best games of 2022. The 25-year-old has 29 disposals, seven points, six within the 50s, six goal involvements, four tackles and one goal. He received two Brownlow votes for his efforts.
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Mills’ ability to create tremendous offensive impact while knocking out the opposition’s most damaging midfielder was a crucial part of the Swans’ season.
Whether he can do it again on Saturday remains to be seen. However, Dangerfield isn’t the only midfield weapon the Swans have to worry about.
Cam Guthrie, Joel Selwood and Tom Atkins all represent a danger within. You can’t nullify them all – if Guthrie gets off to a hot start, we might see Mills shift his focus instead.
Sam De Koning vs. Lance Franklin
When these two sides last met, Lance Franklin made history. He was only the sixth man in V/AFL history to score 1,000 goals.
It’s safe to say that the opportunity has not escaped Sydney locals.
Franklin’s four goals put him over the line for the record and, more importantly, made the difference in a game between the ultimate contenders of the season.
Last time out, it was Mark Blicavs who held the post of main defender. That was before the emergence of young star Sam De Koning.
The 21-year-old has proven to be one of the best defensive talents in recent drafts, taking on some of the biggest names in footy week in and week out.
With Sam Reid having no certainty of being at full fitness and Logan McDonald falling behind in favor of Hayden McLean, it looks like De Koning will almost certainly be up against the greatest goalscorer of modern times.
Isaac Heeney will be another extremely challenging match-up. He kicked five when the teams last met, with the Cats seemingly having no answer for the 26-year-old.
At 185cm tall, Heeney is able to play well above his height which is one of the best covering options within Sydney’s Offensive 50.
A player like Jack Henry, who is a bit taller, can give De Koning and Jake Kolodyashnij the main defensive positions and might be the best option.
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Ryan Clarke vs who?
Since his senior return in Round 15, Ryan Clarke has played an incredibly important defensive role in John Longmire’s attacking line.
He’s been tasked week after week with taking on the opposition’s most attacking defender, making it frustratingly difficult for any team playing the Swans to score goals from half-back.
In doing so, he also has his own offensive impact, drifting onto the wing when needed and giving Ollie Florent the freedom to move behind the ball when Longmire needs more courage on defense.
There appear to be two possible candidates for Clarke’s attention on Saturday: Tom Stewart and Zach Tuohy.
Tuohy is the more likely type given the Swans’ match-ups over the past few months. He creates run-and-carry out defenses and gives players like Mitch Duncan and Isaac Smith space in spades.
But there’s no doubt that Tom Stewart is Geelong’s most influential defender. Coach Chris Scott is now a four-time All-Australian and is shaping the defense around him.
Clarke gives up size and flying ability, which would be the main concern of the match-up. Stewart’s suspension has the potential to unsettle a backline that was near impassable at times in 2022.
McCartin brothers versus Hawkins and Cameron
Much has been said about Geelong’s “three-headed monster” in the attacking line – Tom Hawkins, Jeremy Cameron and Gary Rohan.
Together they have scored 141 goals in 2022. Rohan has missed a good chunk of the season, having played just 11 games home, away and the final and is the moodiest of the three.
Hawkins and Cameron will no doubt be Longmire’s top concerns. As a key striker, the two have massively different strengths.
McCartin brothers Paddy and Tom were pillars of defense alongside the always influential Dane Rampe and Jake Lloyd.
Hawkins’ strength and ability to field teammates in better spaces has kept him at the top of the league’s forwards in the twilight of his career.
Expect Paddy to get the job. He’s the bigger and stronger of the two, and if anyone has a chance to take on Hawkins and win, it’s him.
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The player going with Cameron, meanwhile, must achieve the athleticism and explosiveness that he is at his best.
In 2022, Cameron spent a handful of games in midfield – not just pushing up the ground as a marking option, but also in and under.
Tom will likely have the job within forward 50, but if he can get off the chain and move up there are very few at the Swans who have the same mix of pace and size.
Nick Blakey hasn’t played too many one-on-ones this season, but his athletic qualities might be in demand when Cameron is away.
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