Friday, September 22, 2017
Cricket fans throughout Australia will again have to cede their wintertime venues for end-of- Summer contests, in this case, the Preliminary Finals of the Australian Football League 2017 season. Two of the four teams playing in these preliminary finals, the Adelaide Crows, the Geelong Cats, the GWS Giants and the Richmond Tigers, will finish these weekend contests heading into this season's Grand Final. None of the teams is what might be called perennial favorites. Whoever survives, the competition will be great.
While we wrote of the Irish Aussie Rules Grand Final last weekend, and while the Swedish Aussie Rules Grand Final takes place this Saturday in Stockholm, Australian Football fans worldwide all are excited by the Granddaddy of all Grand Finals, to be held at the Melbourne Cricket Grounds next Saturday, September 30th. Don'tforget the parade: The annual Grand Final parade will be held in the streets of Melbourne on Friday, September 29 — a public holiday in Victoria. Saturday Sport is being published a day early this week, to allow all of you to share in the excitement.
The first match will take place at the Adelaide Oval, the Adelaide Crows against the Geelong Cats, Friday evening at 7:20 p.m. ACST. These two teams have the top two spots on the "ladder," but at this point of the season, does that matter? In their recent games they are evenly matched, each winning and losing to the other evenly. The Crows have had 15 days to prepare since they cruised past Greater Western Sydney in the first qualifying final. A short training camp on the Gold Coast has the minor premiers in good spirits as they aim to punch their ticket to the Grand Final for the first time since winning back to back in the late 1990s.
Before they dream of ending a 19-year premiership drought, though, the Crows must get past a Cats' side that put the football world on notice with an emphatic 59-point thumping of the red-hot and ever popular Sydney Swans last week. Many of the followers of this space are Swans fans, and still have not gotten over the loss. This is a clash of two of the highest-scoring teams in the competition. The Crows are ranked first with 15.9 goals per game, while the Cats are equal third, with an average of 13.9 goals. Will Geelong reign supreme, or will the Cats have to eat crow?
Saturday's match sees the GWS Giants play the Richmond Tigers at the Melbourne Cricket Grounds. Richmond has not played in a preliminary final since 2001, when they lost miserably. The fairytale team of this year's finals takes on the game's most talented list in what shapes as an intriguing battles of defense and offence. If defense wins premierships, Richmond is in the box seat to reach a historic Grand Final. But the hard run and slick attack of the Giants,which has been so surprising in recent weeks, can never be discounted. Last year they lost in the preliminary final to the Western Bulldogs, who went on to win the Grand Final for their first time since the 1950s. Richmond lacks players with experience at these levels, and will go in with just one player (Josh Caddy) who has played this deep into September, but they are battering down hurdles throughout this season and look like a team on a mission. With more than 90,000 fans already having bought tickets at the MCG, set to cheer them on, it will take something special from GWS to stop the Tigers' charge. Indeed, sales have been so good for the playoffs through the Grand Final because the excitement in these finals has been infectious.
In the USA, NCAA College Football this (Saturday) evening, an exciting game will be the Nittany Lions of the Pennsylvania State University at the University of Iowa Hawkeyes. Both teams are currently undefeated. That great temple to football, Kinnick Stadium, in Iowa City, will see an epic game. Iowa is 3-0 for the second time in three years as they host the Nittany Lions in this Big 10 contests.Penn State's fierce defense has generated nine turnovers throughout their first three wins. Penn State has just about recovered from their multi year suspension, and may very well dominate play this evening.
In the USA, in Major League Baseball, Divisions are being decided all over the place, as will happen this time of year. The Houston Astros and the Cleveland Indians have already clinched in the American League races, with the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees keeping things interesting in the AL East. In the National League, the Washington Nationals, of course, clinched the NL East weeks ago, it seems. It will take very little for the Los Angeles Dodgers to clinch the West, but the Arizona Razorbacks still have the slimmest of chances.
The Central Division is once again the key battle ground of baseball in the National League. Like the AL East, the NL Central always provides plenty of excitement right up until the end of the regular season. Last year's World Champion Chicago Cubs are heading the division, with their chief challengers being the Milwaukee Brewers. They are currently playing each other, so the standings could shift rapidly. In third place, but still within striking distance, are the St. Louis Cardinals.