In the 2023 AFL preliminary finals, two Lions proved the difference after an apathetic start and a gun Pie continues to prove he's a big game player, but a Blues star is left to lament an underwhelming finals series. Here's whose stocks are up and down.
Our footy experts cast their eye over the week's action to find out whose stocks are up -- whether it's a coaching masterstroke or a player having a blinder -- and whose are down. Every club features, so jump ahead to your team below (desktop only).
Stocks up: Chris Fagan's quarter-time messaging was clear and concise. "We just weren't working hard enough and our effort was a bit off," Lions captain Lachie Neale told ESPN. Brisbane trailed by 24 points at the first change and looked anything but a side that had gone undefeated at the Gabba in 2023. But there was an immediate shift in ascendency when play resumed, with the Lions ratcheting up the pressure and hunting the football in a manner we've become accustomed to. It didn't take long for that deficit to be turned into a Brisbane lead and the result was never in doubt.
Just how valuable will Josh Dunkley be on Grand Final day? We're tipping extremely! The former Bulldog kept Carlton captain Patrick Cripps staggeringly quiet in the midfield, holding him to just 13 disposals in the preliminary final. Dunkley also won 23 disposals of his own, a game-high 16 contested possessions, six clearances and laid five tackles. Looms an important player against Collingwood in a week's time.
Also while we're at it, the kicking skills of Keidean Coleman are just ridiculous... the rebound defender had 21 touches (18 kicks), used the ball at 85% efficiency, and also finished with 10 marks, seven score involvements, and 627 metres gained. He was just far too influential, and the Blues had no answers.
Stocks down: The Lions are into a Grand Final and won't be too worried about it, but the inaccuracy and wastefulness of Charlie Cameron was certainly a surprise against the Blues. Cameron batted at a disposal efficiency of 40% on the night, kicking 1.3 and missing a couple you'd have him penciled in for 99 times out of 100. Still, better to get that game out of the way now!
Stocks up: It wasn't the way Blues fans had hoped the season would end, but what a season it was. From the hot start to the mid-season lows, and then the incredible run home, Carlton gave their loyal supporters one rollercoaster ride. To end the season with an 11-2 record shows the future of the club is incredibly bright.
A man who deserves praise for the stark mid-year turnaround is Michael Voss. The Blues coach was under immense pressure after his side had slipped to 15th, following a sixth consecutive defeat, yet he never panicked or waivered in his belief of how the team should play or what could be achieved. He's off the hot seat for now.
Cue the Sam Walsh vs. Connor Rozee debate ... again! The young Blue's reputation has skyrocketed after an incredible finals series that may have him winning the Gary Ayres Award. Walsh was inspirational against the Swans and Demons and, once again, produced a classy display against the Lions. He won a game-high 33 disposals -- nine more than the next most on the ground -- and 14 contested possessions. Walsh also laid six tackles, had seven score involvements and over 600 metres gained.
Stocks down: He kicked two goals, but Blues skipper Patrick Cripps was well held by Josh Dunkley, not for the first time in season 2023. The first-year Lion put the clamps on last year's Brownlow Medal winner, limiting his influence at the stoppages and restricting him to just 13 disposals - his fewest in a full game since 2019.
But Cripps wasn't the only superstar Blue to have a down day. Back-to-back Coleman Medal winner Charlie Curnow can't be too happy with his maiden finals series, kicking just one goal in each of the three games and looking a shell of the player which many had labelled the best in the competition.
Stocks up: All eyes were on young gun Nick Daicos, who was making his long-awaited return from a seven week injury layoff, but it was his midfield partner in crime, Jordan De Goey, who stole the show and owned the first preliminary final. De Goey channeled his early season form and led the game in a host of categories, including disposals (34), contested possessions (17) and clearances (13). He was at his destructive best all night, breaking tackles and launching Collingwood's attacking thrusts. He will no doubt start Grand Final day as one of the favourites to win the Norm Smith Medal.
We've spoken ad nauseam about the resilience of this Magpie group and it was once again on display against GWS. Craig McRae's side trailed by three goals (and had managed to kick just two) early in the third term, yet there was no panic or concern. A four-goal third quarter propelled them back in front by the final change, and they never trailed until the final siren.
Stocks down: Grand Final week always means one thing is guaranteed - a hard luck story. And could this year's one belong to Patrick Lipinski? The former Bulldog struggled to impact the game against the Giants, and the same can be said for his qualifying final performance against the Demons a fortnight earlier. His decision making has been suspect and his disposal has consistently let him down. With John Noble on the sidelines, McRae has plenty to ponder ahead of the 'Big Dance'.
The saving grace for Lipinski might be that Dan McStay misses with what could be a knee injury which keeps him out of the Grand Final side. Time to fire up the 'every player who plays deserves a premiership medallion' takes!
Had the Magpies lost to GWS, a massive discussion point in the aftermath would have been the inability to get De Goey back on the ground. The star of the night spent the final 10 minutes of the game on the bench, frustratingly unable to get back out. Collingwood has simply got to be better with its rotations and ensure, especially in a final, it's best players are on the field in the dying stages. There's no excuse for them not to be.
Stocks up: Last season, the Giants' midfield finished the year as the third-worst in the league. This year, it was one of the competition's best. The inside, contested work of rising star Tom Green, combined with the outside class of Josh Kelly and Stephen Coniglio, plus Lachie Whitfield's drive, has helped to make GWS a genuine heavyweight. The quartet combined for 116 disposals, 43 contested possessions, 22 inside 50s and over 2,000 metres gained in the heartbreaking loss to the Magpies, but have proven they can mix it with the best when it matters.
No matter what happens on Grand Final day, Adam Kingsley is the coach of the season. To step in to the role after a horror 2022 campaign and lead GWS from third-last to a preliminary final defies belief. He has stamped his game style on the team, reviving the 'Orange Tsunami' and has the Giants primed for another flag assault in 2024. Take a bow, Adam!
And finally, a special shoutout to Connor Idun. The defender has one of his best games on one of the biggest stages in the game, defending beautifully (with seven one-percenters) and picking up eight intercept possessions. Usually, when a defensive unit keeps their opposition to just 58 points, you win the game.
Stocks down: There were a number of Giants who would love a preliminary final do-over. And just 2% more production out of any one of them may well have reversed the result and had GWS playing in the Grand Final. It wasn't a night to remember for veteran Callan Ward, who had little impact and was subbed out of the contest in the final term with just five kicks to his name.
Ruck prodigy Kieren Briggs also had his colours lowered, in what was maybe his least impactful game of the season. Briggs was smashed in the ruck by Mason Cox and Darcy Cameron, finishing the night with his fewest hitouts, clearances and second-fewest disposals of the year - did the Giants take too big of a risk in playing him after picking up a shoulder injury against the Power.
Jake Riccardi kicked one goal but was virtually unsighted otherwise, Jesse Hogan also played a significantly underwhelming role in comparison to what he had been producing in recent weeks, and Lachie Keeffe will want a few moments back again, including in the third term when he burned skipper Toby Greene in going for a snap for goal from 15 metres out when Greene was in the goalsquare unmarked.