AFL Finals Wrap

Aliir Aliir has had arguably the AFL’s most costly sleep-in.

He paid for it 16 weeks in a row during the home-and away season, and did likewise last night when the Sydney Swans selected their team for the start of the 2017 AFL Toyota finals series.

Aliir was named as an emergency for the Swans elimination final against Essendon at the SCG Saturday afternoon.

It is a role the exciting ex-Aspley defender, originally from Kenya, has filled more often than not since he was dropped from the side in Round 7 after missing a Saturday morning training session.

Aliir, who established himself in the Swans side last year only to miss the grand final through injury, had made a mixed start to the 2017 season after an injury-disrupted preparation.

He missed Round 1, played Rounds 2-3-4 and spent Rounds 5-6 in the NEAFL.

But with the Swans having started the AFL season with a diabolical 0-6 record he was recalled to take on the Brisbane Lions at the SCG in Round 7. Until he slept in.

Coach John Longmire took a hard line, dropping him for disciplinary reasons, and despite some good NEAFL form and arguably his best game of the year last week Aliir hasn’t been able to get back into the side.

Twenty-year-old first-year player Lewis Melican has locked in the second key defensive post beside veteran Heath Grundy, and has played 17 of the last 18 games.

With the Swans having won 12 of their last 14 games to become the first side in AFL history to make the finals after an 0-6 start Melican was never going to be left out.

Aliir’s non-selection was a not unexpected disappointment for Queensland AFL fans on a night of disappointments at selection for the first week of finals.

Sydney’s Kurt Tippett also missed out on the Swans side, and Geelong’s Wylie Buzza missed the Cats side for the Friday night blockbuster against Richmond at the MCG.

This was after fellow Queenslander Sam Reid, hit by an untimely injury late in the season, missed the GWS side for Thursday night’s opening final against Adelaide.

This leaves only two Queenslanders to play in week one of the finals – ex-Gold Coast Suns pair Charlie Dixon and Zac Smith.

Dixon will make his finals debut for Port Adelaide in the elimination final against West Coast in Adelaide on Saturday night, while Smith, who played in the finals with the Cats last year, will lead the Geelong ruck division in the qualifying final against the Tigers.

The up side for Aliir and Tippett is that they are now expected to play for the Swans in the NEAFL grand final against the Brisbane Lions at the SCG on Saturday night, after the AFL final.

Tippett, who has endured a shocking run with injury, had played the last four games in the seniors but lost his spot at selection when Sam Naismith returned from injury and coach Longmire preferred Callum Sinclair ahead of him as the back-up ruckman/forward.

Naismith hadn’t played at AFL level since Round 19 due to a hip problem, but got through a comeback game in the NEAFL last weekend.

The Swans also welcomed back Dan Hanneberry and Tom Papley,omitting Tippett, Harry Cunningham and star youngster Will Hayward.

Hayward, who has kicked 22 games in 17 games in his first season in the AFL and ranks fourth in the club’s goal-kicking behind played Lance Franklin (69), Sam Reid (29) and Papley (28), was the Round 23 nomination for the NAB AFL Rising Star Award.

Aliir, Cunningham and Dan Robinson are the Sydney emergencies.

Essendon welcomed back Michael Hurley and Orazio Fantasia from injury, but Cale Hooker, their No.2 goal-kicker this year with 41, could not be considered due to a leg injury.

Hurley has missed the last two games and Fantasia the last three.

Heath Hocking and Jayden Laverde, omitted to make way for Hurley and Fantasia, are emergencies with Shaun McKernan.

Buzza spent an anxious week waiting on selection before being left out.

The 20-year-old Gatton forward/ruckman had played six games in his first season at the level including Rounds 19-20-22-23, but was squeezed out on team balance.

With Smith, Marc Blicavs, Harry Taylor, Tom Hawkins, Lachie Henderson and Tom Lonergan six tall players guaranteed their spot coach Chris Scott ruled there wasn’t room for 199cm Buzza against an under-sized Richmond opposition.

Especially not with Taylor tipped to play forward, as he did when Geelong thrashed Richmond in the home-and-away season, and Jack Riewoldt being the only recognised tall option in the Tigers forward line. And with rain forecast.

Still, as much as Buzza will be disappointed he should be enormously proud that he was even in the selection discussion for week one of the finals in the first season.

The big omission from the Geelong side was forward Dan Menzel, who has kicked 38 goals in 17 games to rank equal second on the Cats goal-kicking list, behind Hawkins (48) and equal with Patrick Dangerfield.

Buzza were omitted to indirectly make way for the return of captain Joel Selwood, who hasn’t played since Round 20 due to injury, while 19-year-old Zac Guthrie was preferred to Menzel to play his eighth AFL game and his first final.

Buzza, Menzel and Jackson Thurlow are the Cats emergencies,

Richmond dropped youngster Oleg Markov to include Josh Caddy after he missed the last two games through injury.

Queenslander Shaun Hampson, who hasn’t played an AFL game all year due to a back injury, was named as an emergency but is there only in case of an injury to first-choice ruckman Toby Nankervis.

The Tigers other emergencies are Markov, who has played seven games this year, including Rounds 22-23, and Sam Lloyd.

Port Adelaide made one selection change, recalling Jarman Impey, who had played 19 games straight before being dropped in Round 22, at the expense of Aidyn Johnson, who had played the last four games of the season.

Johnson is a Port emergency with Aaron Young and Jackson Trengove after coach Ken Hinkley kept faith with 18-year-old tall Tom Marshall, their first-round draft selection of last year who broke into the side for the last two games of the home-and-away season.

West Coast, who beat minor premiers Adelaide in Round 23 to clinch a finals berth, will go in unchanged. Chris Masten, Sharrod Wellingham and Will Schofield are the emergencies.

By Peter Blucher

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