Geelong flipped the finals series on its head with a dramatic, powerful upset win against Sydney on Friday night, with the Cats rebounding from a shellacking against Richmond to power their way through to a preliminary final against Adelaide.
From the opening minute at the MCG, the Cats swarmed all over the Swans, who were uncharacteristically timid, confused and lacking their usual hardness and polish.
After starting the year with a 0-6 losing streak, Sydney had blitzed their way to 15 out of 17 before Friday night and most assumed they would dispatch Geelong and head to Adelaide for a blockbuster preliminary final. The Cats though were having none of that as a Chris Scott coaching masterclass helped restrict the Swans to their lowest score since Round 1, 1997.
Then on Saturday night, the Giants followed a similar path to Geelong, recovering from a first-up finals shocker against the Crows to demolish West Coast at Spotless Stadium.
The Giants lost star big men Shane Mumford (foot) and Jeremy Cameron (hamstring) to injury before the match but if anything, going with a smaller team was only a positive as the home side ran the Eagles off their feet.
While Steve Johnson stole the headlines with his six goals, it was the GWS engine room, back firing on all cylinders, which led the way. Stephen Coniglio (35 disposals), Josh Kelly (33), and Lachie Whitfield and Callan Ward (28 apiece) were all in vintage form.
The 67-point shellacking was resounding on every level, and may cause Richmond players and supporters a few sleepless nights ahead of their preliminary final at the MCG on Saturday afternoon.
Chris Scott: Scott's coaching credentials had been questioned by many after the Cats' horror first-up final against Richmond. Despite boasting the best win-loss record, 73.86 per cent, of any coach in history who has appeared in more than 70 games, critics were keen to highlight the Cats' recent finals record of two wins from their past nine September appearances.
With the seemingly down-and-out Cats hosting the red-hot Swans, few gave Scott's men any chance but Geelong stood tall on the back of some sensational coaching from Scott. Aside from his ability to lift the team emotionally after such an insipid defeat, Scott's tactics -- starting Patrick Dangerfield deep forward, using Mark Blicavs as a tagger on Josh Kennedy to name two -- played a key role as the Cats stunned the Swans.
Geelong captain Joel Selwood paid tribute to Scott in the rooms after the win: "The coach set the standard last Friday night [against Richmond]. As soon as we came in he said, 'we've got to get over it quick and we've got to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off and get to work'. He was the best player tonight."
Stevie J: Whoever compiled Johnson's football obituary after the veteran's axing for the Giants' first final obviously forgot to inform 'Stevie J'. Against the Eagles on Saturday night, the 34-year-old was back to his enigmatic best, taunting and terrorising the West Coast defence on the way to a bag of six majors. In fact, it only took one quarter for Johnson to remind the footy world just how much of a match-winner he is, with the 2007 Norm Smith medallist booting four goals in the third term and finishing with half a dozen as well as a renewed sense of confidence.
Importantly, Johnson appeared to be moving more freely than in recent months and after the match he revealed a new injection had helped ease some lingering knee pain.
"When I missed out against Adelaide I just took it on the chin, and I've just tried to train with some real enthusiasm and show Leon [Cameron] that I'm desperate to play," he said.
"The knee has felt better over the last couple of weeks then it has for the past 20, so hopefully it pulls up well. I'm reasonably confident I'll train on Wednesday and have a good preparation for the prelim final."
Matt Priddis, Sam Mitchell and Drew Petrie: Losing a final by 11 goals is never a nice way to end a season, let alone a career. But the West Coast trio - the former a long-serving club great, the latter duo one-year recruits - can hold their heads high after hanging up the boots.
Priddis, Mitchell and Petrie walked off an AFL field for the final time on Saturday night, and leaving with them was 901 games of experience. It was lovely to see the trio spending their final couple of minutes playing together through the midfield as the Eagles' season spluttered towards a limp finish.
West Coast coach Adam Simpson said, while Mitchell was staying on at the club to transition to a coaching role, it was an emotional evening.
"They were emotional, we all were, in particular 'Pridda'," Simpson said post-match." He's done so much for our club and we're so proud of the type of person he's developed into.
"We're going to lose three very good individuals, three very good people, let alone footballers."
Small-game Swans: If the opposite of a big-game player is a small-game player, the Swans had far too many of the latter during their listless loss to the Cats on Friday night. It was difficult to name too many winners for Sydney, but some key players struggled to have any impact at all.
Lance Franklin had a rare off night, Dane Rampe was all at sea against Patrick Dangerfield, Callum Sinclair was horrible, while Gary Rohan, Luke Parker and Sam Reid all loomed as match-winners but failed to fire a shot. Rohan ended with just seven disposals and didn't offer any of his famous long, winding runs, while Parker won just 13 touches - his equal-lowest tally in over four years. Reid kicked the game's first major but had just five more kicks while his fellow big men, Sinclair and Sam Naismith, also had no influence.
Worryingly for coach John Longmire and Co, Sydney have now won just two finals (the 2012 grand final and last year's preliminary final) at the MCG in their 11 games there since 2005.
A Giant question mark: Can the Giants play at their best on a ground they're so unfamiliar with? In their short history, GWS have played at the 'home of football' 11 times for just one victory, against the Demons in 2014. Their only visit to the 'G this season was, coincidentally, against the Tigers back in Round 18, with the Giants starting strongly before succumbing by 19 points as Richmond's season started gaining serious momentum.
While Saturday night's thumping of West Coast would have boosted the Giants' collective confidence, their lack of experience on the wide, open expanses of the MCG - and conversely, Richmond's intimate familiarity with their home ground - could be a key factor in determining who wins through to the grand final. It's fair to say the the 90,000-plus members of the Tiger Army will also be doing their utmost to make the experience even more uncomfortable for the men in orange and charcoal.
Tom Lonergan's dodgy sausage roll: The veteran Cats defender was a late withdrawal ahead of Friday night's final against the Swans, with the culprit apparently a "dodgy sausage roll," according to skipper Joel Selwood.
Whatever it was, Lonergan's illness had the potential to derail the Cats' premiership hopes, with his record on Lance Franklin as good as anyone's. But Harry Taylor filled the breach spectacularly, allowing the Cats to progress to another prelim final.
Remarkably, Lonergan's illness isn't the only food-poisoning sub plot ahead of the Crows-Cats prelim. Back in Round 18, Crows forward and ESPN columnist Josh Jenkins was almost sidelined after eating some dodgy ham in the lead-up to the Adelaide-Geelong clash before declaring himself fit. After the match, Taylor produced what has gone down in folklore as a post-game 'hamshake' with Jenkins, bizarrely hiding some of the deli meat in his sock and whipping it out after the final siren.
"He shook my hands and when we separated there was ham in my hand - probably 25gm worth from the deli. I don't think it was smoked. I wasn't getting too close to it ... I was going to throw up," Jenkins said afterwards.
Just another reason for players on all four teams to be wary of what they eat in the lead-up to the penultimate weekend of the season.