You could almost picture the moment Carlton lost this game, couldn’t you?
The opening of the third quarter, the Blues up by five goals and the slingshot from defence going from Charlie Curnow at 70 to the bucket hands of Harry McKay 15 metres out from goal. It was meant t be the start of the Carlton celebration.
They had been the better team through the first half, strangling the Swans like some weirdo that hangs around Albert Park Lake, and as Harry clunked a strong mark, it was just about party time. I have to admit, it struck me as the straw that would have broken the camel’s back.
After missing an open goal in the first quarter, it was also the chance for Harry McKay to make things right… but they went horribly wrong.
Sometimes, it is amazing the impact one kick can have. That miss from Harry McKay – a set shot from 20 metres out – went wide right and the heads of the Swans, which had dropped just moments before, suddenly perked up and things were now not as bad as they seemed.
And that’s when things switched.
Sydney stormed back into the game in the second half, taking the game on and risking it all to work the footy through the guts whenever they could. The Blues hit back in the third, but the fourth quarter saw the lead dwindle, and Carlton slip into some prematurely conservative footy. It was only some desperate acts from Blake Acres, Sam Walsh, and Jack Martin, of all people, that turned the tide just enough to see them home.
In front of 92,000 rabid supporters at the MCG, Carlton hit the finals winners’ list for the first time in a decade and the deafening roar from the Baggers in attendance was something to behold.
The Swans were valiant. They were gutsy and were happy to opt for the all-or-nothing approach, but in the end, Carlton held their nerve and now walk into week two of the finals to face the Dees.
Let’s dive into the details of this one with The Mongrel’s Good, Bad, and Ugly.
Okay, before I get started here, I want to make a confession.
I don’t like Carlton. I dont hate them – I’m not petty, but i don’t like them. And its for good reason, guys… not just because I am a jerk. I’m a jerk for completely different reasons, but this isn’t one of them.
I grew up in the 80s and my earliest memories of football stem from the 1977 Grand Final, which I didn’t care about too much. The first year I genuinely cared about things was probably 1981. I was invested. I fell in love with footy.
And the Blues were goddamn monsters! Every time I watched them play, they tore my team apart. I remember the aura and reverence of Jesaulenko, the headband of Bruce Doull, the mosquito fleet of Ashman, Marcou, and Sheldon. The hard nuts of Wayne Johnston and Wayne Harmes, and the presence of Mark McClure and Mike Fitzpatrick. This team was scary… and their fans knew it.
They were arrogant and with good reason, and it instilled in me almost a little bit of fear of what this team could be again. I have a long memory and I remember those Carlton fans… there were so damn many! Of course, the last little while has seen very little to be afraid of, but with the way the Blues hit this game and the second half of the 2023 season, all of a sudden, there was a glimpse of what could be once again. There was a smidgen of the Blues of old.
People talk about supporters coming out of the woodwork… I feel Carlton supporters have always been there, like a knife in the night, waiting to strike. They have bided their time, and they’re hungry. Insatiable. And their time, as they see it, is now. It is the kind of feeling that will make the resurgence of other clubs look like a kids’ tea party!
in the second half of 2023, there was a sense of that arrogance that the club, the supporters, and even the administration started demonstrating again. Those with long memories started to believe again. Those younger supporters started to believe, maybe for the first time.
Now, instead of Bosustow, there was Curnow. Instead of Hunter, there was Weitering. Instead of Kernahan leading the team, it is Patrick Cripps, and whilst the names of those who have been and gone at the club are legendary, this current group seems ready to craft a legend of their own.
Years ago we smelled what they were cooking. We heard them saying they were coming.
They’re here now, and maybe… just maybe this group is ready to break more than just one drought.
On with the review.
CAREER-BEST MATT COTTRELL
When you think of Carlton match-winners, I am pretty sure that the name of Matt Cottrell isn’t one of the first that leap to mind, but after watching him bust his arse to both hit the scoreboard and get back to shut down the Swans inside defensive 50, his time on the wing gave the Blues a fantastic level of energy, particularly through the first half.
Carlton rotated Cottrell with Sam Docherty, and together they made life very difficult for Errol Gulden through the first half. Both players hit the scoreboard in the first half and that forced Gulden to start paying a lot of respect to the Carlton runners. He is so used to playing free and easy footy, and I reckon Michael Voss knew that the best way to keep him under control was to punish him on the scoreboard.
Doc kicked the first of the game, and Cottrell scored the last of the first quarter, as a shellshocked Swans outfit scrambled to stay in touch.
The highlight of Cottrell’s game for me was his rundown tackle on Gulden in the middle of the ground late in the third quarter. Sydney had ramped up the pressure, with Gulden slotting a goal of his own, and when he received the footy on the attacking side of the centre, Carlton fans would have had their hearts leap into their mouths.
But as Gulden surveyed the forward 50, Cottrell put on the jets, closed the gap on the ambling Gulden, and won the free kick. It was the type of action that makes teammates walk taller, and given it came from a bloke that many would call a borderline best-22 soldier, I am sure it had the desired effect.
THE POWER RUNNING OF BLAKE ACRES
We’re going to put aside some of the wayward kicking for the sake of this section. Sometimes in a tight game, the best ally you have is distance, and as the Swans repeatedly pressed the Blues in the fourth quarter, Blake Acres ran his guts out for his new club.
Some of his second efforts in this one were incredible – genuine lung-bursting runs from the back half, down through the wing, and to the point where he was pumping the footy inside 50.
But wait… there was more.
Who was the bloke getting back on defence to get a hand on the footy as both Brayden Campbell went for home with a long shot in the third quarter, and Errol Gulden did the same in the last?
That’s right, it was your old, gut-running friend, Blake Acres, making the ground on the fat side to get back deep inside 50 to be the man on the goal line.
This aspect of the wingmen’s game has been one of the more underrated aspects over the past few years, but efforts like the ones Acres was responsible for in this game were not just good – they were frigging great! He ran harder than anyone else, got back to help his defence more often than anyone else, and when push came to shove, it was his commitment to play the team-first role and make sure he was the last man standing in defence that saved two goals.
He may not have won the Mongrel’s Wingman of the Year Award this season, but for a bloke coming into a new system with a new coach, he earned every cent of his contract with the work he put in during this one.
CURNOW V TMAC
Coming into this game, I was a little worried that the ability to win the footy at ground level of Charlie Curnow would be too much of a worry for the Swans’ big defender, Tom McCartin. I rate TMac in the air – he is as solid as they come, but on the deck… he sometimes strikes me as a little too robotic.
However, in this game, I don’t know whether McCartin got some type of software upgrade, or the Swans trading him in a Cyberdyne for a newer model, but he looked quick and matched Curnow step for step when the ball hit the deck.
He finished this game with 12 intercepts and seven spoils, as he patrolled the defensive 50 like he owned it. As a matter of fact, the only time Charlie looked really dangerous was when he ventured up to the wings in the last quarter. He is a fantastic pack marking option when he gets a good run at it, and his ‘Get out of Jail’ grabs were vital for the Blues down the stretch.
All in all, it was an intriguing battle between the two, but with McCartin restricting Curnow to one goal, you give him the chocolates in this one, and I reckon even Carlton supporters would concede that.
Go on… concede it.
WELCOME BACK, SAM
Sam Walsh has had 30 or more touches on five occasions this season. After starting the season slow following back surgery (that’s two words you don’t want to hear mentioned in succession… right up there with “testicle” and “removal”) he was eased back into the side, and whilst he has had his moments, I have often felt as though he was lacking… something in his game.
Only after watching him in this contest can I put my finger on what it was.
Urgency. Up until this clash, Walsh seemed to lack urgency.
Sure, he can find the footy as easily as I find my kids when they play hide and seek (they hide in the tent, or behind the couch… all the time!) but with Patrick Cripps locked in a battle with Callum Mills, the Blues needed someone to take charge around stoppages.
Adam Cerra did an admirable job early in the piece, collecting 15 first-half touches, but I loved the genuine hard work of Walsh at the contest. His six clearances (team high) and 17 contested disposals (also a team high) gave the Blues a powerful presence in and under.
He may have had games where he touched the footy more often, and he may have had games where he hit the scoreboard, but I am not sure he has had more impact on the result of a game than he did in this one. Not only was he urgent, but he was strong! His power when he changed directions was back, and his acceleration off the mark looked to be back to the point it was at prior to injury.
The form of Walsh this September may go a long way to determining just how far the Blues can go. I am a big believer that once you hit the final four, anything can happen. Carlton are one game away from making that happen, and with Sam Walsh up and about, ready to step in and fill any void left by the captain when he is under siege, Carlton may just be getting their young superstar back to his best at exactly the right time.
And he ‘only’ had 29 touches. A great 29 touches.
MCLEAN AND THE DECISION TO LEAVE HIM
It’s wonderful when you see a player come of age in a game, isn’t it?
Hayden McLean took all before him in this game, constantly remaining on the move and presenting as an option for the Swans as they exited defensive fifty and worked the ball up the wing. What was interesting was the way Jacob Weitering would stop as soon as it became apparent that McLean was going to keep venturing outside fifty.
It seemed as soon as McLean reached the 60-metre mark away from goal, Weitering would just permit him to go get the footy and retreat inside 50 to clog up the next kick
You can understand why he did – McLean was going to be most dangerous inside 50. His string hands flying for marks inside 50 was where Weitering assessed was most important, and if he wanted to kick chase, the Carlton defender was content to allow him to go.
Did it work?
Well, it did make McLean look like a million bucks, and probably had plenty of people watching wondering how he continued to get so much space. It also allowed McLean to wheel and go long inside 50, largely unencumbered. He finished with nine score involvements and he has had more than that on only one occasion, so you have to question the decision to pull Weitering away from him.
On the flip side, Weitering had eight intercepts and eight spoils, so maybe Michael Voss was content with that trade off.
THE PARKER MOVE
I was reading a couple of weeks ago something where several Swans fans were lamenting John Longmire’s inability to change things up and give his team a new look.
Well, he did it in this one, it paid dividends, and almost got them over the line. Of course, it didn’t get them over the line, so it will most likely be forgotten, but the move of Luke Parker to full forward gave the Sydney forward line a different dynamic, and it was evident in the way he both engaged Jacob Weitering and won his own footy, that this was something Longmire had tucked away for a rainy day.
It’s funny – with Parker playing full-time forward, the need for him to maintain his rotations was probably not as important, but with about six and a half minutes to go, there he was, trotting to the bench for his predetermined rest.
‘Right after this, Weitering started to have an influence again, taking a big intercept grab at half-back and following it up with a couple of big spoils. Without Parker out there to keep him occupied, Weitering was free to run his own race and that rest, even though there was little could be done about it, may have cost the Swans dearly.
A COUPLE OF BLUES
I’d like to give Nic Newman his own section, as I thought he was excellent for 95% of the game, but it was that over five percent that cost his team two goals with shitty kicks missing the target in defensive fifty.
I’ve had a couple of people mention to me that Newman should have been a strong contender for an AA spot this year. He can play as a sweeper or lockdown where necessary, but in this one, his disposals let him down on two very important occasions as he bit off a bit too much with his kicks, and the Swans capitalised.
The other bloke was Adam Saad, who flawlessly played his role across half-back.
Whilst there were no trademark runs up the guts, his ability to read the footy in flight and get back to intercept relieved the pressure on the Blues several times. He had a team-high 11 for the game and his controlled use of the footy gave the Blues a sense of calm as he looked inboard and across for the switch every time he collected it.
For the second night in a row, the MCG was packed, and whilst I am sure there were plenty of Swans fans in attendance, this was a Carlton game. You could see it… feel it!
The Baggers poured into the MCG and made it feel like a Colosseum. They made the ground seem like a heaving, breathing, living entity that no other ground I have ever been to can compare to. I saw it when Richmond were at their best. I see it at some Anzac Day games. And I have been to a couple of the big finals over the years that have seen the MCG take on a life of its own.
But this… this sent shivers up my spine.
The roar of the crowd, the unbridled passion, the joy, the fear, the worry in that last minute… it was palpable and the Baggers did it!
If you were there, no explanation is necessary. If you were not, no explanation will do it justice. I mentioned at the top how I disliked Carlton – this is why.
REPUTATIONAL FREE KICK
So, I’m guessing that most of the people reading this will be Carlton supporters. As such, I expect a backlash to this section. But what sort of a softcock would I be if I didn’t address something for fear of angering some of you?
Patrick Cripps received a holding-the-ball free kick inside 50 in the third quarter – the tight, pulsating third quarter – after his tackle slipped away AND Jake Lloyd managed to get a handball away whilst laying on the deck.
Now, usually, I look at this in isolation, but when you see so many illegal disposals allowed to slip by, only for an umpire to punish a bloke who a) wasn’t being tackled when he released the footy, and b) actually got a legal disposal away, it makes me wonder how much that raucous crowd had to do with it.
Cripps, himself, was given longer to dispose of the footy down the other end minutes before he was awarded this free kick, which he went back and slotted with a lovely kick, by the way. However, in a contest such as this, when umps are allowing players to throw the footy at times (a big hello to Tom De Koning), how they managed to ping Lloyd for this was just beyond me.
The Carlton fans were bloody loud. There was a real sense of Richmond 2017 about the way they packed the MCG and made so much damn noise, and I reckon the ump may have been sucked right in by them. Happens to the best of ’em.
Similarly, you could look at Ollie Florent being pinged for “insufficient intent” despite trying to kick the ball off the deck down the line, whilst Blake Acres’ banana kick down the line to touch was deemed okay.
The noise of affirmation is real. It was apparent in those two decisions.
Anyway, I am sure the Swans fans feel hard done by in terms of the umpiring. It was 19-19 for those playing at home. Those were two of the incidents that struck me as odd. I am sure you guys have some more.
I’m not sure this day could have been worse for Harry McKay.
Earlier today, I flicked through an article, or maybe it was just a quote – I read a lot and skim a lot – where Harry was lamenting the way the press came after him this season. He couldn’t understand why.
Well, Harry… let me help you out, here.
Mate, you missed two shots at goal from within 20 metres. One with no one between you and the goal line, and one set shot that even I could kick 99 times out of 100. That’s why the press went after you, mate… not because you started a podcast. You played poorly early in the year. That’s why. Bloody dill.
Anyway, after those misses, McKay’s night got worse, when he crashed into Tom McCartin and found himself concussed. It was bloody brave of McCartin to back into the pack with McKay coming the other way, but I am not sure I have ever seen Harry make a player pay for backing into his space.
He didn’t make McCartin pay, either, as the back of TMac’s head crashed into McKay’s chin and he went down, having to be helped off the ground.
McKay will now miss the game against the Dees on Friday night, which is sure to be another monster crowd at the ‘G, but one of the headlines that McKay quoted in the article I read revolved around how well Charlie Curnow played without him in the lineup. The Blues better hope it is excellent, because they will have only one of their twin towers against a strong Melbourne back six.
BYE JACK, HI JACK
I feel a little bad writing this, as Jack Martin was huge in this game. He was dangerous around goal, and when the Blues needed someone to fill a hole in defence late in the game, Martin became the unlikely source of intercept marks.
It was a game where he basically did it all.
However, one of the things he did was swing a wild forearm/fist into the face of Nick Blakey in the first quarter. Man… the Carlton lawyers get a good run amongst AFL fandom, but if they’re able to get Jack off for what looked like a blatant smack in the chops to Blakey, these blokes deserve a massive raise.
Martin’s talent has never been questioned, but over the journey, fitness and injury have been concerns. With the Blues finally capturing the imagination of their supporters and moving into the second week of finals, the time for Jack Martin to emerge as a star seemed right. He was almost there with this game, but I fear that brain fade in the first quarter may cost him at least a week.
Of course, Nick Blakey was back on the field after his concussion test, so I guess that gives the Blues something to work with, right? He was trying to tackle him and mistimed it? That work for you guys? Let’s run with it.
Of course, with both McKay and Markin set to miss next week, it opens the door for the favourite son to return.
I want Jack Silvagni back in this team – a heart and soul player if I ever saw one. His return will be very well received at another packed MCG house.
Really felt as though James Rowbottom was way off the boil in this one. Second to the footy, misreading the bounce. Sometimes, it’s just not your night, and I reckon James picked a really bad night to have a really bad night.
How important was Nick Blakey to the Swans? Well, the second option to run the footy out of defence was Ollie Florent, and he stunk it up with the ball in hand. Seven turnovers from 13 possessions (yet Champion Data has him running at 69% efficiency… duds). Not a great night for him.
I reckon Brodie Kemp did one thing wrong all game, and it was a big one. His refusal to take the footy over the line, or at least wait on the goal line for an opponent to close in on him, cost the Blues a goal. In contrast, at the other end, Gulden was in the same situation but just had a little more composure. Still a very solid outing for Kemp, who continues to grow into his role.
And Caleb Marchbank had some big moments in this one. He has had such a horrid run with injuries, so to see him able to attack the footy hard and not limp off… I kind of feel like he deserves a clean run at it for a while.
That shot to the beak of Isaac Heeney seemed to shake him up a bit. Just six touches in the second half despite considerable time in the middle… not good enough for a star.
And who won the Mills v Cripps battle?
Well, I called it during the week and they went head-to-head. Cripps’ goal probably puts him a nose in front of Mills, but with just three clearances, Mills certainly held up his end of the bargain. If we’re talking about pure head-to-head, then it is Cripps just, however, if we’re talking about the way impact was limited, I expect more of Cripps than I do Mills, so Mills gets the nod.
I guess that points to a draw, right?
Next Friday, the Blues encounter the Dees in what is a pants-wettingly exciting prospect. Meanwhile, the Swans limp off into the off-season, wondering what could have been if they kicked a little straighter.
Funny how many teams end up wondering that.
As always, thanks so much to those following our work and retaining your membership with us. It genuinely keeps the site running, and with the game now meaning so much, I intend to go above and beyond this finals series to provide you value. Sincerely – thank you
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