McGuane: Mistakes that could cost Cats, Tigers a flag
The two best teams of 2020 will face off in the Grand Final after getting there via very different paths.
While both teams finished top four and lost their first final, Geelong brushed aside Collingwood and Brisbane while Richmond had to survive a bruising preliminary final against Port Adelaide.
What are the tactics, moves and match-ups that will decide this heavyweight encounter?
WHAT TO EXPECT
Which of the two Grand Final teams is best served by the inclusions since the last time these teams played in Round 17?
The Tigers were without David Astbury, Nathan Broad, Shane Edwards and Dion Prestia; the Cats had to make do without Gary Ablett, Gary Rohan, Joel Selwood, Rhys Stanley and Sam Simpson that day.
Richmond won by 26 points.
Catch Fox Footy's Grand Final Week coverage on Kayo. Stream all the latest news and insight right up until first bounce plus halftime and full-time analysis from the Fox Footy commentary team. New to Kayo? Get your 14-day free trial & start streaming instantly >
These are the best two teams capable of scoring from turnovers.
Richmond loves to keep the ball in motion. The Tigers want constant speed on the game and have a get-it-forward mentality with quick kicks and handballs to get metres gained. The Tigers are still the best side in the AFL at scoring from turnovers.
Their ability to score from stoppages has gone to a new level in the past two finals, adding another layer to their reliable game style.
They bring physical hardness to the contest. You just know Richmond will be up for the fight.
Forward 50 pressure.
Brisbane failed to apply enough pressure on Geelong's defenders in the preliminary final and paid the penalty. They created only nine forward 50m turnovers, which allowed the Cats to control the tempo of the game and possess the ball in an efficient manner.
Controlling the footy in the direction they want is just gifting the Cats the game on their terms. They are a terrific kicking team when placed under no pressure.
Richmond cannot allow that.
The responsibility lies with Daniel Rioli, Jason Castagna, Shai Bolton, Kane Lambert and Dustin Martin to provide manic, aggressive tackling pressure.
They must disrupt Geelong's control out of defensive 50. That is paramount.
Richmond must replicate their second-best forward half pressure game for the year - last Friday's preliminary final - when their pressure factor was 192.
Controlling the stoppages.
Breaking even with the Cats in this area is a must. Of equal importance is defending scores from stoppages.
After a disappointing start, Brisbane was OK in raw clearance numbers on Saturday night, but their inability to stop Geelong from scoring from stoppages - the Cats won this stat 38-13 - is the challenge Richmond has to get right on Saturday.
It is all very well to get clearances, but you also have to stop the opposition from scoring from theirs.
The ability to defend from stoppages is a massive challenge for the Tigers, but they are more than capable.
Richmond must replicate their fourth quarter heroics against Port Adelaide when they won contested possession (+8), ground ball (+8), and clearance (+12). That physicality and desire to win those contested situations in a Grand Final must be at the forefront of the Tigers' midfield minds.
Richmond had a 28-9 clearance differential in the second half over Port Adelaide. It just proves the Tigers midfielders can fight the fight with the best big-bodied mids in the competition.
Don't allow Gary Ablett to get goal-side.
Nathan Broad must be the man to stop that from happening. Huge concentration will be required for this role. You cannot ball-watch as that will allow Gazza to bring his damaging footy intelligence to the game.
The Tigers' mantra must be: No time and space. Fair dinkum, this bloke could lose you in a phone box.
His on-the-run goalkicking is as pure as ever, and his ability to execute the perfect pass is still lethal. He sees free teammates others don't.
As much as Richmond is a systems-based defence, there is still room to identify a threat. The only way to nullify that threat is through an aggressive, disciplined single coverage approach. Being attached to Ablett's hip and living in his shadow is something Broad should be conscious of.
Give Ablett space at your peril. Just ask Daniel Rich!
Play your way.
The Tigers' turnover game is the AFL's best, averaging 43 points. Richmond has a great capacity to transition the ball from their defensive end to their forwards and score.
But they should not underestimate Geelong's pressure.
They must be ready for the heat. As much as you might force the turnover, you have to be ready for the heat to come back at you.
The Cats hunt the man with the ball as well as anyone. Don't expect time and space with the ball.
Can the Tigers' turnover game stand up when an opposition applies the defensive blowtorch?
Geelong won't be replicating their insipid first-quarter display against the Western Bulldogs in Round 14 when they failed in their output in terms of pressure.
Who else but Dustin Martin?
We know he is a great centre bounce player who drifts forward to become an important part of the forward six.
That's when Kane Lambert rolls up to become their midfielder. Centre forward is the area of the ground where Martin does most of his damage.
Dusty has averaged 20.6 disposals, 10.2 contested possessions, 365 metres gained, 3.7 clearances, and 5.6 scoring involvements.
It's no surprise he is the Norm Smith Medal favourite going into the game. He has already won two of them, and he would create history if he can add a third.
He loves performing on the big stage. He is a matchwinner and a gamebreaker. He clearly has to be controlled as the star in the Richmond ranks.
It's time for Grand Final redemption for Jason Castagna.
He kicked 0.5 in last year's premiership playoff - from 20 disposals - and he will be eager o hit the scoreboard at a more efficient level this year.
He has kicked 16.11 this year, ranking fourth in Richmond's goalkicking.
Against the Cats in Round 17, he kicked 1.2.
Castagna forces defenders to panic because of the electricity he brings to the team and the chaos he provides with his blistering pace.
Message to Geelong's defenders: don't underestimate him.
He just has to back himself in to convert his chances because he will get opportunities.
MAGNET BOARD: IF I WAS RICHMOND
Noah Balta must play on Tom Hawkins - the power forward against the athletic defender.
In Round 17, Balta played 87 minutes on Hawkins, restricting him to one goal in the last quarter. That means David Astbury will have to be the ruck relief option again.
I'd be making sure Tom Lynch gets isolated in dangerous areas to own the match-up against Harry Taylor.
Challenging Taylor in as many one-on-ones should be a priority.
Richmond's wingers - Kamdyn McIntosh, Marlion Pickett and Jayden Short - must be aware of their respective opponents in Mitch Duncan, Zach Tuohy, Mark Blicavs and Sam Menegola. They play important roles but knowing the influence their counterparts can have, their concentration must never wane.
They also cannot allow Tom Stewart to accumulate uncontested marks and be an effective kicker out of defence.
Chris Fagan put Cam Ellis-Yolmen on Stewart as a defensive forward in the preliminary final which says how dangerous he can be.
Richmond doesn't tag, but Stewart is the type of player who must be monitored closely.
WHAT TO EXPECT
The Cats are a tough team that relishes the contested part of the game.
They are a strong stoppage side who have the ability to score from stoppages but, equally as important, they can keep the opposition from scoring from this source.
Geelong also is an outstanding defensive unit that works as one, which makes them hard to score against.
They control the game with a kick-mark brand, which is their trademark when in possession of the footy.
There was an interesting shift last Saturday night when they went quick in their defensive half by playing on 38 per cent of the time in this area, their highest percentage of the year. More of that, please!
Dominate contest and clearances.
Richmond's second-half clearance dominance against Port Adelaide just proves in finals footy when the stakes are high, the best mids get to work, and pride themselves on contest and clearance wins.
That equates to important territory gains.
Evidence of why Geelong got the upper hand against Brisbane in the first quarter was their +18 contested possession differential, +18 ground ball differential, and their clearance differential was +11.
The scene was set. They came to play. Their midfielders got to work.
Can they reproduce the same aggressive start in a Grand Final?
With Joel Selwood leading the way, it would be foolish to say they can't.
The Cats' efficiency going forward against the Tigers' great defensive unit will be crucial.
If you go back to the Round 17 clash when Geelong was kept to one goal in the first three quarters, the Cats generated a score from only 27 per cent of their inside-50s, their lowest percentage of the season.
They must be smart when in possession of the ball going forward. They can't blast away with high bombs into Tom Hawkins, Rhys Stanley or Patrick Dangerfield.
They have to dissect the Tigers' defence.
The onus of responsibility lies with the Cats' ball-carriers. They must quickly scan the ground by lifting or lowering their eyes, looking to assess the best option then hitting that option. It's time for cool heads and the thinking footballer.
Honour the hit-ups!
This is where it gets complex for most footballers because Geelong has towers of strength in front of the footy in Hawkins and possibly Patrick Dangerfield, with the aim to get it in and let them do the work.
But if you continually do that with high ball entries, this will invite Astbury, Balta, Dylan Grimes, Nick Vlastuin and even Toby Nankervis (as we witnessed against Port Adelaide ) into the game.
This suits the Tigers' roll-off defenders. They all have the courage to leave their opponent and get to where the footy is going with the intent of helping out a vulnerable teammate.
Geelong's forwards - all of them - must present and strike hard at the footy.
Movement is the key.
The ball carrier must look to honour the forward who is coming at the ball, particularly when separation exists from the defender.
Being patient and precise with kicks is imperative (think Ablett) against the Tigers defenders. They intercept the "dumb kick" and will look to punish you on turnover.
If the Cats are landing the ball 0-30m from goal where Richmond all get back to defend, they will struggle to hit the scoreboard.
The positioning of Toby Nankervis sitting behind the ball in general play will cause headaches for the Cats.
His reading of the play is elite, and was so evident late in the game against the Power. He got into the right spots, in front of Todd Marshall, Charlie Dixon and Peter Ladhams and made it difficult for them to mark the ball.
It takes courage, but when he marks the footy at crucial stages like last Friday night, it is a real morale boost for his team. It is equally demoralising for the opposition to see a player consistently position himself in that spot and intercept the ball.
He will look to plonk himself in front of Hawkins, Dangerfield and Gary Rohan.
It is really important that those players get separation, but it is also imperative for the Cats' ruckman at the time, whether it is Rhys Stanley or Mark Blicavs, to work into the forward 50 into usable areas to force Nankervis to second-guess what he needs to do.
If they can keep Nank busy, it will create one-on-one opportunities for Hawkins on Balta.
If the Cats don't get that right, it could fuel frustration and create missed opportunities.
Who else but Patrick Dangerfield?
Danger made waves in April when he said that while this year's flag would be one of the hardest to win, it would also come with an asterisk.
He and the Cats have accepted the challenges, have overcome adversity and somehow found a way in the most difficult season of their footy lives.
He has played in five preliminary finals; now he finally gets to play in a Grand Final at the age of 30.
This could be the final piece of his career CV ticked off with a flag, becoming the premiership player that every footballer aches for.
In Round 17 he spent 52 per cent as a midfielder and 48 per cent as a forward.
In his finals against Collingwood and also Brisbane, there was a philosophical shift from Chris Scott in regard to Danger's role.
In the semi-final against the Pies, he spent 14 per cent mid and 86 cent forward; it was 9 per cent mid and 91 per cent forward in the prelim against the Lions.
We know what Dustin Martin is capable as a forward - he kicks goals and he is a goal assist player. He has shone on the big stage.
Now Danger has the chance to stand and deliver in a Grand Final. I just sense he is ready to explode.
Will he be a villain or a hero on the Grand Final stage?
This is all about not shirking his responsibility because working with Hawkins, a bit of Stanley and Dangerfield, he might be the one that gets off the chain.
Grimes will get Dangerfield. Balta will go to Hawkins. When Stanley pushes forward, David Astbury will get him.
So, Rohan might be up against Nick Vlastuin.
Rohan played in two Grand Finals with Sydney in 2014 and 2016, for a collective of 12 disposals and only one goal.
But he is on the upward spiral in terms of finals this year.
He was criticised for that "nearly" game against Port Adelaide, but responded well against Collingwood (going from five disposals to 13 and from three marks to eight) and even though he didn't hit the scoreboard, he looked dangerous.
Then he took his game against the Lions to a new level, having 11 disposals, taking four marks (two on the lead), having seven scoring involvements and kicking three goals.
Rohan has the X-factor attribute: He has the speed, the leaping ability, the run-down tackle and the goal sense to be a serious threat in this game.
The Cats can't rely on Hawkins alone to kick a winning score.
MAGNET BOARD: IF I WAS GEELONG
Harry Taylor will go to Tom Lynch.
But Geelong will also have to rely on their fold-back method where their wingers and high half-forwards push back deep to support their back six.
Lynch kicked five goals in the 2019 preliminary final. He kicked 1.2 on Taylor in Round 17, when he looked menacing with five scoring involvements, taking two forward 50m marks, and having nine disposals, before doing his hamstring during the third quarter.
There will be a plan for Dustin Martin when deep forward. The faith that Scott and defensive coach Matthew Scarlett have in Jake Kolodjashnij means he will get first crack at him.
But when Dusty goes to forward 50 stoppages a handover must exist so players like Mark O'Connor or Jack Henry can get to Dusty in this situation.
The last thing Scott would want is to see Dusty kicking a miraculous goal from a forward-50 stoppage due to the wrong match-up.
McGUANE'S TIP: GEELONG BY 7 POINTS
Originally published as McGuane: Mistakes that could cost Cats, Tigers a flag