Cameron Larkin .com

X factors and the bottom four – AFL finals time

Finals aren’t won just on the top players in a list. They are won with a good mix of superstars, foot soldiers and role players on the day. More often than not, it takes the players at the bottom end of the team to shine on a particular day.

We all expect Judd to have a day out or Buddy to kick 10, but in reality finals are won based on everyone performing their roles, game plans working and certain players ‘doing a job’ for the team.

In some cases, you don’t need your top-tier to shine to be successful, although having your A graders play to their maximum goes a long way to sealing a victory.

On the flip side, some marginal players kick-start their careers by playing that one game in September that forces their way into the hearts and minds of coaches and supporters.

Dippa’s famous modicum, ‘born to play finals’ doesn’t apply to every player on the team sheet, but finals footy is a strange beast and can sometimes unearth some hidden talents in an otherwise ‘good ordinary’ player.

The bottom four of any best 22 is a matter of opinion. It is an unwanted and uneasy title for some but in reality the schoolyard rules of list management still apply. Below is a list of what this author deems to be the bottom four in the list of all finals combatants.

The rules of the schoolyard don’t apply to another group of players, the x-factor players. They are the guys we know have something special about them, even if we only see it in glimpses. Sometimes years between moments, however it is there.

All it takes is a minute of brilliance and a final is won, sometimes from the most unlikely source. In saying that, there are players that at all times need special attention be it the best tagger or top defender being sent to them, or in Scarlett’s case, not letting him roam free in the defensive 50.

Some teams have barometers. Others have players that have a certain amount of x-factor about them that can play havoc with the opposition.

X-factor is an over-used term, usually allocated to a player who plays forward of centre, one who usually doesn’t rack up touches but can be brilliant at a moment’s notice. Opposition coaches know that if this sort of player gets loose, then the game can be lost in an instant.

In essence, they need to be watched come finals time, or ignore them at your peril.

Here is a list of the x factor players in every team, as well a break down on who has the best ‘bottom four’ in the finals teams’ list.

Collingwood

X factor – Krakouer: case in point – his grand final in the WAFL last year. Knows how to play on the big stage, is relishing his second lease on footy and has enough tricks in the bag to be extremely dangerous either in the forward 50 or in cameo roles through the middle.

For fans everywhere, to see Krakouer excel in the first week in October would be a delight and the feel good story of the year.

It is tough to decide between Krakouer and Didak for pure x-factor.

Didak has had his x-factor moments in the past, but his form this year hasn’t been great and is still finding his feet in this brilliant team. But saying that, he could be the player that explodes throughout the finals, we all know what he is capable of and that should be enough of a reason to keep him in close check.

Bottom four – Goldsack, Brown, Blair, Toovey

Summary on the bottom 4 – It is a very good bottom 4 to have, considering the talent that could be possibly miss out on a spot in the 22. The Pies have exceptional depth, with any of Buckley, McAffer, Rounds, Wood,  and Sinclair all capable of slotting into the team and playing a role.

Mick is a horses for courses man, emotion doesn’t play a large part in his decision-making and he will make sure the best team is selected for a particular match. Whilst others may not see the value in a Leigh Brown or a Jarrod Blair, Mick can see what they can do the team and we are all left red-faced when they continually perform at the highest level.

On a side note, all Collingwood players always appear to be ready, no matter what their age. A great team, a greater coach and a superbly ran football club.

A shame Mick won’t be coaching next year, at least 6 clubs could do with him leading the charge at building something.

Like a lot of great coaches, he gets everything out of his players. Would Blair, Brown or Wood be vying for a finals spot at any other club? Doubtful, but they are a part of Collingwood’s 22 and that’s all that matters.

Geelong

X factor – Steve Johnson.

Occasionally quiet in big games, but enough credits in the bank to be a force at a moment’s notice. Could kick eight in a prelim, could also go missing for three-quarters. But coaches won’t let him off the leash; they know he could win a final off his own boot in a matter of minutes.

An honorable mention goes to Travis Varcoe who has stepped up this year since the departure of Ablett to the Gold Coast Suns.

Similarly Chapman, who has had a quiet year by his standards could surprise everyone and dominate the next month.

Bottom 4 – West, Menzel, Christensen, Stokes.

Summary of the bottom four – In short, their bottom four has quality written all over them. Ditto Collingwood, they have players in reserve that other teams would love to have in their best 22. Mooney, Milburn and Byrnes are on the fringe but would probably slot nicely into any teams below Geelong.

Chris Scott has done an exceptional job of not only keeping this team at the peak of their powers, but managing a list of 30 plus players and having them all ready for finals action.

Hawthorn

X Factor – Buddy or Cyril?

Who to choose? Buddy could kick 10.1 or 1.10, or Cyril who could have only a few touches that change the course of a game? We will stump for Buddy, as when he is at his electric best then the rest of the competition know they are in for a tough battle.

Bottom four – Smith, Bruest, Bateman, Whitecross.

Summary of bottom four – Clarko has preached the concept of role players all year, if they lose a soldier then another can step up and perform a job for the team. Some players are more adept than others in doing this, but nevertheless the Hawks have a few players at the bottom end of the list that could step up and be useful when need be – look at Bruest on the weekend. Quality wise, positions 18-22 aren’t in the same bracket as Geelong or the Pies, but still capable of being damaging and or useful at the right time.

West Coast

X Factor – Nic Nat.

Imagine if everything clicks for Nic Nat? He could kick 15, have 40 hit outs, take Mark of the Century and then have a rest at half time. No team has a match up for him, opposition coaches and fans must hope that the day it all happens for this human highlight reel isn’t against their team.

Bottom four –Butler, Gaff, Masten, Ebert

Summary of bottom four – This is where we are starting to see the gulf in class in the bottom four. Ebert and Gaff will be class players, whilst Masten is a high draft pick who has shown glimpses, but as group they aren’t in the same bracket as the Pies or the Cats. The Eagles are a strange best though, most likely due to something in the water in Perth. Look out if the Eagles win the first final, you would hate to be travelling to Perth to play in a prelim. These players could by then be the ones to watch depending on the results of this weekend.

Carlton

X Factor –Walker.

Walkerwas tough to miss out on AA selection as he has had a good year, as well as being capable of doing the extraordinary. He could be the wildcard of the finals for the Blues; if the matchup isn’t right he could win finals on his own. Ditto Betts and Gartlett, these three have enough x factor combined to cause enormous problems for the opposition.

Bottom four – Warnock, Setanta, Duigan, and Joseph.

Summary- Tough bottom four to pick, throw in Arnfield and Davies as well, but the Blues play a team brand of footy that doesn’t show the cracks in the list too much. Apart from the gap the absence of Jamison and Waite leave, they have a good spread of talent in the bracket below their elite in Judd, Murphy, Gibbs and Kruezer.

St Kilda

X Factor – Schneider.

Ross Lyon’s brand of footy doesn’t allow too much x-factor.

They are role players. Defense first and attack a long second.

Conversely, this defense first mentality sometimes works so well that they blow teams away in a barrage of quick goals. Milne is the obvious candidate for pure x-factor, even though his form recently has been exceptional, but his record in finals isn’t great and therefore the mantle should be passed on.

Schneider is coming into the finals in good form, is finding the goals and has that bit of aggression that could make him a very dangerous commodity.

Bottom four – Polo, Geary, Ray, and Dawson.

Summary – Pure Ross Lyon bottom four. Could be a host of other players, but Ross gets his troops playing at such a high level that we forget the actual talent? Would Jason Blake or Steven Baker be in any other finals contenders’ best 22? Doubtful, but they are definitely in St Kilda’s and this is high praise for their coach.

No wonder Melbourne are about to offer him a five to 12 year deal, he deserves it after what he has achieved.

Sydney

X Factor – Rohan.

Finally got his body right and we are seeing why he was rated so highly as a junior.

He looks a bit like Cooney, but all red heads look-alike to be honest. He has speed, skill and confidence that could be deadly come finals. Compiling a very nice highlights reel, Rohan could blow games apart in a moment if given half a chance.

Rohan is all x factor at the moment, the Swans should be thankful he is playing for them instead of against. On a side note, Goodes is another you have to look at when dealing with x-factor, but his output in the last few weeks has been so high that we now expect him do these things every game. Is he possibly getting better with age?

Bottom four – Parker, Smith, Johnson, and Spangher

Summary – The weakest bottom 4 in all the finals teams. If you don’t watch the Swans week in week out, then you probably haven’t heard of these players. These kids could go on to be something, but their inclusion in the first final shows the thinness in the Sydney list.

On the flip side, Malceski, Jetta and Pyke are named as emergencies in the first final, so depending on how far the Swans go, the bottom 4 could look very different deep into September.  

Essendon

X Factor – Hurley.

Back or forward, dependant on matchups etc …just let the kid play. In finals, you need your best players in the thick of it. Hurley seems like the type of player that wants the responsibility of carrying the team to victory. Put him forward, let him do what he does best.

This young man has so much potential, you can see why Essendon are going to roll the dice with him even though he has a hotspot in his foot. For the sake of football lovers, let’s hope this hotspot doesn’t turn into something more sinister, the word navicular keeps popping up and that in footy terms does not bode well for others who have had a similar injury.

Bottom four – Hardingham, Dyson, Lonergan, and Colyer

Summary – To be honest, this was a hard bottom 4 to pick. Bellchambers hasn’t had the impact since Hille and Ryder both returned to form and fitness, plus throw in the likes of Colyer and Reimers, the bottom 4 is a matter of pure conjecture.

Let’s hope these boys seize the day during their finals campaign and make a name for them.

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