Finals silver lining in Hawks’ heartbreak
The first week of the AFL finals has been decided after crucial clashes shaped the top eight.
Seven teams moved positions in the top eight in the final weekend of the competition with the Cats and Lions finishing top two, with one win separating the top five.
Here are the big talking points from Round 23 of the AFL in 2019.
UNLUCKY WINNERS RUIN PREMIERSHIP DREAMS
Hawthorn may have been the unlucky team to miss out on the top eight, but the side may have had one of the biggest impacts on the AFL season.
Needing a win to have any hope of making the finals, the Hawks claimed a 38-point upset over defending premiers West Coast in Perth to sit in eighth before the all important Western Bulldogs-Adelaide match.
The Bulldogs did what they needed to do with a 34-point win to finish seventh and set up an elimination semi with the GWS Giants in Sydney.
It left the Hawks out in the cold and looking at Mad Monday.
Although they won't play in September, the Hawks have definitely left their mark.
In one of the closest AFL seasons in memory, West Coast, the defending premiers, now need four straight wins in elimination games to claim back-to-back glory, having dropped to fifth from third in the chaotic run to the finals.
Seven of the top eight teams changed positions in the final week of the season, with the Giants the only team to stay put with the Eagles the big losers.
While the Eagles believe they can emulate the Bulldogs' 2016 run, as they came from seventh to win the flag.
Others, like Kane Cornes, are not so sure.
"I don't think you can win it (the premiership) from outside the top four," Cornes told AFL.com.au's The Round So Far.
"I know the Western Bulldogs did it in 2016, but it's extremely unlikely. It's so hard to win a premiership, let alone to do it outside the top four.
"Particularly with the travel factor, it's highly unlikely. In fact, I don't think they can do it.
"I don't think now, on the back of that, they can win the premiership this year, unless Brisbane can upset Richmond."
The Lions lost and finished in second which pushed the Eagles to fifth and an uphill battle.
As a consolation prize for the Hawks, who were outsiders to nab the final spot heading into round 23, that's not too bad.
Especially when coach Alastair Clarkson admitted the side are still "finding some players" as a bright future beckons for the club.
"The method we used today was strong and we need to continue to work out ways to strength our list because there is a gap between us and the top sides," he said.
"We sit where we do for a reason, because we haven't been good enough and consistent enough in big moments.
"I hope the supporters at home are proud of our effort. The past six or eight weeks, we've won six of eight and I hope our supporters are starting to see that some of the young blokes running around for us have got a big future for our footy club."
MINOR PREMIER CATS LASH OUT
You would think being minor premiers would be a good thing - not so for the Cats.
Geelong claimed their first minor premiership since 2008 and will take on the Collingwood Magpies in the first round of the finals - at the MCG.
The Cats have been battling throughout the season after racing away early in the season, only to fall back to the pack late in the year.
But after claiming first spot on the ladder after 23 rounds, Cats coach Chris Scott reignited the MCG debate, having to shift their finals from their Kardinia Park home to the showpiece ground of the AFL.
The AFL want as many fans to be able to get in as possible but Scott described the decision as "bizarre".
"I'm going to take it away from the Geelong thing, because anyone that's not a Geelong supporter just considers it whingeing," Scott said in his post-match press conference.
"The one thing I will say is that most normal people know the system is wrong. There can be no doubting that it's wrong. But it is what it is. West Coast and Brisbane, GWS for that matter, maybe the Crows and Port, have to come and win a grand final, probably at their opposition's home ground as well.
"The system's bizarre. So you need to be that little bit better. Which West Coast were last year.
"Are we confident we're that? We're hopeful. We've had a good preparation. We've given ourselves every chance. Now whether we can go and beat teams that play 15 games at the MCG every year, including probably 10 or 12 in a row, is yet to be seen.
"But we're up for the challenge."
Geelong won the last three matches against Collingwood at the MCG but they hold only a 50 per cent record at the ground in the past three years, while they have won 22 from 25 at GMHBA Stadium.
STARS SPARK END OF AN ERA
The final round of the AFL season has continued to see the cavalcade of retirements farewell their home crowds.
The Swans match was particularly interesting with four retirees and 300 gamer Buddy Franklin hoisted on shoulders.
It means the AFL is set for a long motorcade with 20 retirees in the league this season.
It was emotional scenes at the SCG particularly for former Swans captain and All Australian Jarrad McVeigh who ran out for his final game on the eight-year anniversary of his baby daughter Luella's death.
Clementine McVeigh hit the AFL world in the feels with an emotional message to her husband. And again after.
Jarryd Roughead, who said his final goodbye last week, made his way to Tasmania to farewell his best mate Jordan Lewis, who also retired
Then there was Daisy Thomas, with the Carlton star literally giving a fan the shirt off his back.
Best of luck to those boys and all the stars going into retirement at the end of this season.
CAMERON'S QUICK CELEBRATION
His raised arms and primal scream as he secured the AFL's Coleman Medal spoke volumes about what the honour meant to GWS forward Jeremy Cameron.
In a remarkable display, Cameron slotted a career-best nine goals - including five in the third quarter - as the Giants defeated last-placed Gold Coast by 72-points on Saturday.
When Cameron kicked his seventh of the night after the three-quarter time siren off his trusty left foot he knew he would move ahead of North Melbourne's Ben Brown (64 goals).
Two more goals in the final term lifted him to a regular season tally of 67 goals, but while thrilled to become the first Giant to win the medal, Cameron said securing a premiership remains his overall goal at the club.
"It's an individual award and why I play footy is to win a flag," the 26-year-old said.
"We haven't won one yet so I want to play my best footy for my side and that's what I'm going to be doing come finals."
Giants coach Leon Cameron was delighted for his big forward's achievement but said the bigger picture was getting some much-needed form before finals after back-to-back beltings in the past two weeks.
"It's good to get a confidence-boosting win but equally it means nothing now," the GWS mentor said.
"A new season's on and whoever we happen to play in two weeks' time, we've earned the right to host the final because we've finished sixth and looking forward to resting for two days and then we'll put our squad together ready to roll."