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AFL sides set for finals frenzy

The 2011 AFL finals kick off this week with four exciting match-ups to be hosted in footy’s heartland, Melbourne. Qualifying finals will see two teams earn themselves a week off and a place in the preliminary final, while the two losers from the elimination finals will be abolished from the premiership race. Cambodian kick-off times are shown.

Second Qualifying Final
Friday September 9 – 4:45pm
Geelong (2) V Hawthorn (3) @ MCG

THE second qualifying final is the clash of finals week 1, with red-hot rivals Geelong and Hawthorn going head to head in a battle that will determine the main challenger to the Magpies.

Form/Fitness: Geelong smashed Collingwood last week to finish the season off strongly and restore the faith after some questionable form over the preceding rounds.

The Cats’ well-known run and carry through the corridor was back with a vengeance last week.

The Hawks, too, are in great health and fly into the finals having won eight in a row. They will welcome back several guns after resting eight players last week against the Gold Coast.

The Tip: These two star-studded teams have a recent history of ferocious, close encounters , of which Geelong has won the past six.

The Hawks are a chance if forwards Rioli and Franklin get hold of the game, but I expect Geelong’s celebrated back line will curb their influence.

Score prediction: Geelong by 17

First Qualifying Final
Saturday September 10 – 11:20am
Collingwood (1) v West Coast (4) @ MCG

ON Saturday afternoon, league leaders and premiership favourites Collingwood meet the big improvers of the year, the West Coast Eagles.    

Form/Fitness: Despite last week’s unexpected belting at the hands of a highly motivated Cats outfit, Collingwood remain the team to beat after dominating a majority of their opponents on their way to a 20-2 season. The Magpies have a few personnel concerns leading into the game with key players Tarrent, Goldsack and Cloke picking up niggling injuries last week, while skipper Maxwell is in doubt with a broken thumb.

The West Coast list is in tip-top shape, and they will take a settled line up into the game. The Eagles are now a proven force away from their home fortress, having won six of their past seven away matches.

The Tip: A case can be made for a tough, tight game but in reality, the Pies’ loss last week must be dismissed as they were clearly saving themselves for this contest.

I expect West Coast to challenge early, but it won’t be long before Collinwood’s relentless pressure and flawless zoning prove too much for a team playing its first final since 2007.

Score prediction: Collingwood by 43     

Second Elimination Final
Saturday September 10 – 4:20pm
St Kilda (6) v Sydney (7) @ Etihad

TWO in-form teams capable of beating anyone on their day lock horns at Etihad stadium in the secnd elimination final.  

Form/Fitness: After a shocking start to the year, the Saints managed to turn their season around and will go into the finals with some confidence, having won eight of their past 10 games.

Key players Dal Santo, Goddard, Milne and Montagna were all in form last week in a win against the Blues that ensured a home final this week.

The Swans too, bring great form into the game, having won three in a row, including a win against the Saints in Sydney.

The Tip: A tough one to call. History between these two sides suggests a close, scrappy affair.

Both teams are known for getting numbers to the contest, for their hard tackling and a focus on defence.

Goals won’t come easily at either end, and it will come down to the battle in the midfield.

Score prediction: Saints by 16

First Elimination Final
Sunday September 11 - 11:40am
Carlton (5) v Essendon (8) @ MCG

ANOTHER classic match-up here, with traditional rivals Carlton and Essendon meeting in a do-or-die final on Sunday afternoon.

Form/Fitness: Both teams take unconvincing form into the game.

Carlton, after a great first half of the year, have slipped a little in the past two months, surrendering their top-four slot and struggling to deal with the better teams in the comp.

Injuries to key players have played a  part and remain a concern this week.

Essendon looked far from convincing in their last outing, scraping home in the final term against lowly Port Adelaide to secure eighth spot. The Bombers have their own injury worries, with season regulars Crameri, Prismall, Dempsey and Winderlich all unavailable.

The Tip: The Blues deserve favouritism and will be desperate for a first finals win under Brett Ratten after falling short two years running.

For Essendon to cause an upset, their tall forwards would have to fire against the Blues’ unsettled backline. I can’t see it happening.

Score prediction: Carlton by 32

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