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The final questions: Port Adelaide v Geelong

So, does topping the ladder all year count for anything? No. But that’s no different to any other finals series where all combatants reset for the post-season. Port and Brisbane have done exceptionally well to accumulate 14-3 records but the sheer fact that Port must first overcome Geelong, seemingly a permanent figure in the finals, illustrates succinctly how hard flags can be to win.

2. Are Geelong in a late-season slump?

It’s one of the trickier questions to answer. Geelong simply went missing against Richmond in round 17, to the degree that you can almost entirely dismiss what happened that night just a few weeks ago. They brought back a wealth of experience for the match against an inexperienced Sydney Swans a week later – Gary Ablett, Joel Selwood, Gary Rohan and Jack Steven (dropped for Thursday’s final) – and seemed to take a large portion of the match to find their groove. Most importantly, however, the Cats scraped a win and secured the double chance. Which leads me to think that any so-called slump will be cast aside. The young Swans have been a team on the rise in some respects and have showed plenty of improvement in the second half of the season. They were not easily cast aside.

For the record, Geelong captain Joel Selwood is bullish about the club’s current standing ahead of yet another finals series. He’s convinced the Cats are as well placed as ever with their available personnel, and says they’ve matured mentally in 2020, pointing to their ability on more than one occasion to overcome the odds and come back in matches as well as put teams away when they’re in front.

3. Will this match be decided by one of Tom Hawkins or Charlie Dixon?

It’s not too much to suggest that a bag of goals from either forward – even a return of 4-5 majors in a low-scoring match – will probably go a long way towards delivery a victory for either team. Few would dispute that Hawkins is playing as well as ever in 2020. A return of 42.25 from his 17 matches – a Coleman Medal-winning tally – shows how important he has been for the Cats during this campaign. Similarly, Dixon has been a beacon up forward for Port. His 32.21 from 16 matches is an excellent return.

Will Tom Hawkins be decisive in this qualifying final?

Will Tom Hawkins be decisive in this qualifying final?Credit:Getty Images

If defence wins finals – and thus premierships – a backman from either team who shuts down either forward could certainly determine this result. Hello Harry Taylor or one of a few Port defenders who could go to Hawkins.

4. Does Geelong’s big win in round 12 mean anything?

This match in mid-August at Metricon Stadium was a decisive Geelong victory, by a straight 10 goals no less, 14.7 to 4.7. Port had just 1.6 on the board by half-time and were never in it, the Cats putting down 7.0 to 1.0 in the final quarter to put an exclamation mark on the big win. Crucially, Dixon was goalless whereas Hawkins drove home 6.2 in possibly his best game of the year. The win came during a Geelong purple patch, hot on the heels of another 10-goal win over eventual finalist St Kilda.

Perhaps Port coach Ken Hinkley had it right in the post-match when he described the loss as an “outlier”. “We just didn’t play with the energy you need and the hunt and Geelong did. It’s a bit of an outlier for us. It’s hard to explain. It’s such an unusual season. To Geelong’s absolute credit, they’ve been in really good form and they were able to carry that into this week and we weren’t.”

5. Final word and prediction:

I’m going to lean towards putting some stock in the value of home-ground advantage here. You can’t dismiss the overall consistency of Port Adelaide’s output across the season too. But a victory will be incredibly hard earned and the experienced Cats will push them all the way.

Port Adelaide by nine points

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