Amazingly, this weekend will be the first time since 2011 that both preliminary finals will be played at the MCG. In the last 7 years one has been at the MCG with the other being played in Sydney, Adelaide or Perth. Indeed in 2015 both preliminary finals were played in Perth.
Only 4 of the 18 preliminary finals played in the same time period have been closer than one goal difference at the final siren, with another 5 being won by 40 plus points. Indeed, only last year the points difference in the two games was 39 and 66 points.
From a purist point of view, preliminary finals are the most even contests. Clubs cannot tinker with their teams or play “ducks and drakes” because their season is on the line. We all remember the runners-up, but no one remembers the losing preliminary finalists, unless of course you follow that team!
From an umpiring perspective your selection into the grand final team hangs on your performance in a preliminary final. So is it of little wonder that the umpiring panels for this weekend contain not only our best performed umpires in 2019, but a wealth of preliminary final experience. Five of the six field umpires have all been to preliminary finals many many times over, with Mathew Nicholls, Ray Chamberlain, Shaun Ryan, Matt Stevic and Simon Meredith all officiating in over 300 AFL games and multiple grand finals. The new boy on the block is Andrew Stephens. This is Andrew’s first finals series after spending 2017/18 as an emergency umpire. To finish top 6 is a remarkable achievement in your first finals campaign and one to be extremely proud of. Andrew who originally comes from Queensland has umpired 110 games, including 2 finals this season.
Six of our eight boundary umpires have also previously experienced preliminary final weekend. Our two preliminary final debutants are Tim Morrison (196 games, including 4 finals) and Josh Mather (122 games also with 4 finals). Matt Tomkins, Chris Gordon, Nathan Doig, Adam Coote, Matthew Konetschka and Ian Burrows all have multiple grand final experience and fully understand what’s on the line this weekend.
Following our two grand final goal umpire debutants in 2018, this year’s final 4 has the same grand finalists, Steve Williams and Steve Piperno working with debutants, Angus McKenzie-Wills (68 games and 4 finals) and Michael Craig (98 games including 3 finals).
It is often said that the biggest crowds and the most noise are reserved for preliminary final weekend when the grounds swell with more club members and less corporates. This weekend will be no different with three of Victoria’s largest member-based teams, Richmond, Collingwood and Geelong are joined by GWS in a face off that has all of us sitting on the edges of our seats.
Good luck to all involved and may the best teams win.