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.