Mo­men­tum and the mo­ment


Once the fi­nals came around, there was some­thing spe­cial about them. It just didn’ t make sense tome how the Bull­dogs were win­ning any of them.

My first grand fi­nal was in 2009, in my eighth sea­son in the AFL. I’d al­ways dreamt of play­ing in a grand fi­nal, and I’d sit at home on that Sat­ur­day af­ter­noon watch­ing other teams play­ing. I’d al­ways won­der how they must be ner­vous at ev­ery­thing com­ing down to the next two hours of footy.

I can re­mem­ber be­ing in the change rooms be­fore the 2009 grannie. I had a re­ally good sleep the night be­fore, which I thought was weird – I wasn’t ner­vous. I was chat­ting with my St Kilda team-mate Leigh Mon­tagna, and I said to him: “I ac­tu­ally feel a lit­tle ner­vous be­cause I’m not ner­vous. De­spite our dreams com­ing true or be­ing crushed in the next two hours, I feel OK.”

And then he said: “Mate, we’re ready to do this. We’ve trained hard and given the whole sea­son our all. Now it’s time to ex­e­cute, just one more time.”

We did give our all that day, but un­for­tu­nately, it wasn’t enough to win, los­ing only by a kick. The same thing hap­pened again the next year. How­ever ex­pe­ri­ences like these taught me a lot about how teams de­velop mo­men­tum com­ing into the fi­nals, and how they can use that to roll along in Septem­ber.

Firstly, mo­men­tum does ex­ist. The play­ers are well and truly aware of it, and es­pe­cially in Mel­bourne where you can’t es­cape the talk of what is go­ing on out­side your foot­ball club. Mo­men­tum is im­por­tant, but then there’s the is­sue of get­ting it at the right time – and you don’t have to look any fur­ther than last year with the Bull­dogs. They were com­pet­i­tive through the sea­son, but once the fi­nals came around, there was some­thing spe­cial about them. It just didn’t make sense to me how they were win­ning any of them.

You can’t put your fin­ger on what it is, but you can feel it; you run out with team­mates you have the ut­most con­fi­dence in and you’re com­fort­able with the plan, rather than be­ing ner­vous about the un­cer­tainty. You’re al­most at ease.

Along the same lines, I don’t think you can flip the switch at fi­nals' time. The clos­est would be a team like Hawthorn dur­ing its tre­ble – you had the feel­ing with the Hawks that if they qual­i­fied, they’d be OK. They had so many sea­soned cam­paign­ers and were able to play fi­nals-brand foot­ball when it mat­tered.

An in­ter­est­ing case study this year will be GWS. They’ve slipped a bit from where they were at the start of the sea­son, when ev­ery­one was tout­ing them as premier­ship favourites. I’m still bullish about what they can achieve this year. Con­sid­er­ing they’ve been dec­i­mated by in­juries, where they’re sit­ting on the lad­der is still a good ef­fort, and they’ve done it with re­place­ment play­ers fill­ing a role.

It is dif­fi­cult to say whether the Gi­ants can sud­denly switch back on to play fi­nals­brand foot­ball if they get their play­ers back. You need to have a build-up of con­fi­dence in re­gards to ex­e­cut­ing and get­ting re­ward for your ef­fort.

But my as­ter­isk is: the Gi­ants are that skil­ful, and have that many in­di­vid­ual game-win­ners, if we are ever go­ing to see my the­ory chal­lenged, they are the team to do it.

I’m fas­ci­nated to see what the men­tal­ity of the fi­nal­ists will be like, par­tic­u­larly deal­ing with the un­pre­dictabil­ity and even­ness of the com­pe­ti­tion. From week to week, but even within games, I’ve been amazed at how teams can be so suc­cess­ful dom­i­nat­ing, and in 15 min­utes, they hardly touch the ball again. This year, more than ever, I don’t think it mat­ters where you fin­ish, even if you’re eighth, and even if you have to travel to Syd­ney or Ade­laide. There are no guar­an­tees in any fi­nals game this sea­son.

Try telling Mar­cus Bon­tem­pelli and the rest of the Bull­dogs mo­men­tum doesn't mat­ter in the fi­nals.

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