And then there were six.
The first week of finals has come and gone and we wave goodbye to Geelong and Sydney for another season and look ahead to a pair of semifinals that seem set to deliver a more entertaining product for the masses.
Melbourne have moved closer to "doing a Richmond" -- and before them, "a Western Bulldogs" -- but a team which spanked them earlier in the season awaits on Friday. Meanwhile, Collingwood and the Giants -- two teams that rolled the dice with players returning from injury -- clash on Saturday, with the winner booking a date with the reigning premiers in the prelims.
There are no more second chances, so expect all four teams in action this weekend to leave nothing to fate.
Can the Dees repeat the dose to another finals-hardened opponent?
The parallels are there: Geelong and Hawthorn have been September staples for the better part of the past decade. In fact, the last time Geelong or Hawthorn were absent from a finals campaign was back in 2006 -- ironically when Melbourne last featured.
Last Friday, Melbourne proved it wouldn't be overawed by the big stage, but do the Demons have what it takes to repeat their first-week dispatching of similarly finals-hardened opponent?
While the Dees suddenly have serious momentum, Hawthorn have every reason to be confident. As well as finishing in the top four and earning a second chance, the Hawks have won 15 of the past 16 contests against the red and blue, including an 11-goal thrashing in Round 4.
And while their win against the Cats was impressive, the Demons could manage just 1.10 in the second and third quarters and a better opponent will almost certainly make them pay. Unlike an uninspiring Geelong, this Hawks outfit is unlikely to allow a similar drought go unpunished in a final.
It's also worth noting the last time the Hawks played finals (in 2016), they were bundled out in straight sets (at the hands of Geelong and then the Western Bulldogs). Alastair Clarkson and his charges will be hell-bent on at least recording one September win and their first since their 2015 premiership victory.
Melbourne is in uncharted waters but like the Bulldogs in 2016 and the Tigers last year, could they be on the way to a fairytale flag win?
Will Hawthorn draw inspiration from Round 4?
It doesn't make for good reading heading into a win-or-go-home final: in Round 4, Melbourne could manage just one goal after quarter time as the Hawks rampaged to a 67-point win at the MCG.
The Hawks laid out the blueprint in Round 4 and it all but screams "September football." That Sunday in April, the Hawks laid a phenomenal 113 tackles -- the third highest tally for the season -- and they also smashed the Dees in clearances (+16) and marks inside 50 (+6) despite Max Gawn dominating the hit outs (Hawthorn finished -38 on the day).
Not only that, but despite drizzle throughout the contest, the Hawks made the most of their chances in front of goal. After quarter time, Melbourne managed just 1.7 for the match (eerily similar to the 1.10 they scored against Geelong in the second and third quarters last week), while Hawthorn kicked 18.7 on the day, and a crazy-accurate 15.2 after the first break.
While it's been easy for everyone to get swept up in the euphoria surrounding Melbourne and their long-awaited return to the finals, their win over Geelong was far from perfect.
Hawthorn -- despite last week's loss -- have the runs on the board against the Dees, and should provide a much tougher test for the feel-good finalists of 2018.
How will the injury-hit Pies and Giants back up stellar returns?
Both Collingwood and GWS deserve a pat on the back for their efforts in Week 1 of the finals.
The Pies may have fallen just short against the Eagles in their qualifying final out west but fought gallantly throughout while the Giants absolutely wiped the floor with a lacklustre Sydney outfit at the SCG. While they were two very different games there was one similarity - both teams' shock inclusions justified selection.
The Giants brought in running halfback Zac Williams for his first game of the year and he slotted back perfectly with 23 possessions and nine marks. Toby Greene also came back earlier than expected from a hamstring strain and had an enormous impact with 27 disposals, eight inside 50s and three goals. And then there was Brett Deledio and Matt de Boer who have endured injury-riddled season only to come back and play an important role in a final.
For the Pies, there was no bigger story than Tyson Goldsack's return for his first game of 2018 after an incredible comeback from an ACL injury. Despite his opponent Josh Kennedy getting off the chain late, Goldsack was a shining light in what's become a depleted defence in the latter stages of 2018. Jeremy Howe also returned against the Eagles as did midfielder Adam Treloar and both played well.
It will be interesting to see how all these players fare second-up. Those in the know say the second game after a long layoff is more difficult than the first week, especially during what will be a high-pressure and energy sapping final. If there's one player to keep an eye on, it's Treloar, who really looked lethargic late in the game against the Eagles.
Can Mason Cox lift his intensity to a September standard?
He was one of Collingwood's big improvers in 2018, kicking 20 goals and clucking 49 contested marks in the home-and-away season, but the lanky Yankee, big Mason Cox, had a stinker on Saturday night.
Against West Coast in his first final, Cox managed just five touches and two marks, while he also failed to trouble the scorers and couldn't lay a tackle. It's not great reading for Pies fans, and their team simply can't afford to carry Cox for a second straight week.
The worrying thing for Cox is that he is likely to face Phil Davis who is fresh off towelling up Lance Franklin during the Giants' spanking of Sydney last week.
The way Davis played Buddy on Saturday was similar to how West Coast approached Cox. The Eagles defenders played from behind, initiated contact in the contest (admittedly walking the fine line between legal contact and tunnelling) and didn't allow Cox any easy touches both in the air and on the ground.
It's a big step up from the regular season to finals football, and at the very least the Pies need Cox to impact more contests if not the scoreboard. He was at his best during the year when he was bringing the ball to ground and giving his small forwards first use of the footy.
Put simply, Collingwood's chances of progressing to a preliminary final could depend on how Cox can impact the match.