Queenslanders vye for a spot in the AFL Grand Final

By Peter Blucher

Lachy Keeffe faces an anxious week as he ponders the possibility of his greatest football moment going one step further into a grand final or turning into his biggest nightmare.

Keeffe was a star in the GWS GIANTS’ heart-stopping Preliminary Final win over Collingwood at the MCG on Saturday afternoon, but will be on the cutting edge ahead of selection for Saturday’s MCG grand final against Richmond.

The former Gympie boy was a late inclusion for the Preliminary Final side, replacing the suspended Toby Greene, but did a brilliant job on Collingwood forward Brody Mihocek.

Mihocek was Collingwood’s leading goal-kicker for the season with 36 and had averaged 13.6 possessions and 6.1 marks per game.

But under the watchful eye of the close-checking Keeffe he did not touch the football in the first three quarters and finished with two possessions in the final quarter as the Giants pulled off one of the biggest upsets in finals history.

Keeffe, who played 89% game time, finished with seven possessions, three marks and 10 one-percenters in what was an outstanding defensive effort.

It was his first win in three finals appearances after he lost a 2013 Elimination Final to Port Adelaide when playing with Collingwood, and a 2018 semi-final to Collingwood playing with GWS.

The question, now, is whether Keeffe will retain his spot in the GWS side for the Grand Final to fly the Queensland flag with Sunshine Coaster Sam Reid.

Greene will return, and GWS are confident that Lachy Whitfield, who missed the preliminary final following an appendix operation, will also be fit.

Even Stephen Coniglio, who hasn’t played since 14 July due to a knee problem, is considered an outside change to play in the Giants’ first grand final.

That means at least two players and possibly three will have to make way for the crack reinforcements.

The only fresh injury concern for the Giants is skipper Phil Davis, who suffered what the club said was a calf problem in the first quarter which meant the regular fullback played most of the game at full forward.

But Davis insisted after the game he would “spend the week in the ice bath” and would be fit.

Ian Hill was the deputy for Whitfield on Saturday and would seem to be one player under the pump.

Although it would be cruel, and an unjust reward for his superb effort on Mihocek, the same logic suggests it will be Keeffe for Greene, unless Davis is ruled unfit.

Others who might come into the discussion are Adam Tomlinson, who was dropped for the Giants’ first final against the Western Bulldogs, or the unheralded Daniel Lloyd, who has played Round 23 and the three finals since being recalled to the side.

The presence of only two genuine talls in the Richmond forward line – Jack Riewoldt and Tom Lynch – counts against Keeffe. They will be the responsibility of Davis, if he’s fit, and Nick Haynes.

But the question for Giants coach Leon Cameron is cover for Davis if he is under any sort of cloud, and cover, too, for sole ruckman Shane Mumford.

Although Keeffe was used exclusively in defence on Saturday he could be deployed as back-up for Mumford against the two-pronged Richmond ruck division of Toby Nankervis and Ivan Soldo if Cameron chose to leave out Tomlinson.

Keeffe has the athleticism to play on opponents of varying heights, and can also play forward.

Reid finished the preliminary final on the bench following a heavy knock late in the game, but after playing every game this season the 29-year-old utility player looks set to continue his fairytale second chance career in the grand final.

Reid played 86% game time despite his early finish and had eight possessions in what was a typically unobtrusive contribution from a player loved by coach Cameron because of his willingness to play a variety of defensive roles for his team.

The other Queenslander in the Preliminary Final on Saturday was Collingwood’s almost hero Josh Thomas.

He kicked two final quarter goals and provided a real spark in the final quarter as the Magpies came from 33 points down to pull within a kick with what seemed like plenty of time for them to run over the top of the tiring Giants.

Oddly, Keeffe and Thomas, good friends and former Collingwood teammates, were both involved in a dramatic and controversial moment in the final quarter.

Thomas’ first goal, which helped spark his side’s revival,  appeared to have been touched by Keeffe off the boot before it was awarded full points because, according to the media reports, there was insufficient evidence to overturn the goal call.

Thomas finished with an equal team-high two goals, a team-high seven score involvements, 14 possessions (eight contested) and four tackles in an important contribution.

The only Queenslander in the Richmond camp that will play their second Grand Final in three years is Mabior Chol.

He had played nine games in a row to Round 22 but has been kept out o the side since then by the good form of Soldo and Nankervis’ return from injury.

Chol would be expected to be named among the Richmond emergencies by coach Damien Hardwick which will at least make him part of the Grand Final parade on Friday in what will be a massive highlight for the Sudanese-born ruck/forward.

Richmond’s only concern heading into the Grand Final is the fitness of Jack Graham, who dislocated his shoulder in the first quarter of the preliminary final win over Geelong on Friday night.

He courageously returned to play out the game but after his shoulder dislocated five times in total during the game, including three in a fitness test after the initial injury, it would be a surprise by coach Hardwick risks a player who in 2017 played in a premiership in just his fifth game.

Among the contenders to replace Graham if he is ruled out are boom recruit Sidney Stack, who hasn’t played since Round 21, fellow youngster Jack Ross and possible debutant Marlott Pickett.

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