After Round 12 of the 2023 season, the Carlton and Greater Western Sydney Football Clubs occupied the 14th and 15th positions on the ladder, respectively. Their supporters were distraught – some (a big hello to certain Blues fans) were irate, tired of failure after the promise of success.
For the Blues, it was a disaster – this was a team that steeled themselves for a run at finals in 2023 after missing out on the post-season in 2022 by a solitary point, falling to the Magpies in the final game of the home and away season.
In contrast, GWS were doing what many expected them to do; struggling under a new coach, they were unable to find their groove, becoming one of the very few to drop a game to the abysmal (at the time) West Coast Eagles. They were sitting right where many experts believed they belonged in 2023 – at the tail end of the ladder.
All signs pointed to a long remainder of the year for these two clubs, with teams above them yet still outside the top eight including Grand Finalists Sydney, the improved Freo who played finals in 2022, as well as Adelaide, Gold Coast and Richmond. All of them were expected to give Finals Footy a nudge in 2023.
However, with three games remaining in the race for the 2023 Premiership, we have Carlton and GWS capable of actually playing off for the flag against each other. Who writes these scripts? Do they have a swerve to pull on the supporters tipping a Brisbane versus Collingwood decider?
Each team has a plentiful amount of stories emanating from this season. For the Blues, it is the first finals series for… well, basically everyone that has been at Carlton for a while. Patrick Cripps, after years of putting this team on his back, now has the help he requires. Robbie Williams is singing about Tom De Koning, for crying out loud, and Sam Walsh is demonstrating the form that made him the best player from his draft after starting the season recovering from back surgery. Sam Docherty is dislocating his damn shoulder and playing on, Blake Acres is making his trade for a third-rounder look like the bargain of the decade, and Michael Voss has made his way back from the coaching version of the hangman’s noose.
As for the Giants, we are seeing Toby Greene becoming the captain some of us knew he could be, Jesse Hogan is clunking contested marks like it’s 2018, and the orange tsunami is rolling over all that stands in its way. Lachie Whitfield is settled at half-back, Sam Taylor has established himself as the best defender in the game, and Stephen Coniglio is making everyone forget about the player he was across 2020-21 when he was down on form as captain of this club.
And underneath them, the clubs are getting role players doing above and beyond what is expected of them
Yep, they are making the type of big, big sound that simply cannot be ignored.
And underneath the stars mentioned for both teams, the clubs are getting role players doing above and beyond what is expected of them. That are what premiership teams invariably have – unsung heroes.
Whilst Collingwood and Brisbane will get the bulk of stories written about them, and deservedly so given the continued great form all season long, the upstarts of the Blues and the… Oranges, have added a dimension to the finals not many would have seen coming after Round 12.
With a collective eight wins from 24 games, these teams were completely shot. I don’t know the odds for them to win the flag at that stage, but my guess is that you could have just about written your own and the bookies would have taken that bet. It is a credit to the discipline and damn pigheadedness of their respective coaches that saw them stick to their system, their game plan, and their belief that what they were doing was going to work.
It damn well did!
Both teams possess stars – the Giants have Tom Green, who has gone from being a kid with enormous talent to a miniature version of Patrick Cripps. The Blues have the actual version of Cripps, who played like a tractor with legs against the Dees, crashing through tackle after tackle, being knocked down but refusing to stay down.
Both teams have wonderful defensive generals. Sam Taylor at GWS and Jacob Weitering at Carlton. And up forward, their superstars have been great all season, Toby Greene changing the perception of himself to become the All-Australian captain, and Charlie Curnow winning his second Coleman Medal.
Both teams have pieces in places that other teams don’t even have places. They may have come from the clouds, but both the Giants and Blues have had the tools to threaten all along. It just took time, and in some cases a very long time, to put all those pieces together properly.
As we tick down to the third-straight sudden death final for both teams, you could be forgiven for thinking that they may have used their ‘get out of jail free’ cards already. You could also be forgiven for thinking that these teams are in the mix just to make up the numbers as the top two sides of the season prepare to advance to the Grand Final. However, you should probably also acknowledge that Carlton have won 11 of their last 13 games, and that GWS have won more games on the road than any team this season.
It may sound like I am barracking for a GWS v Carlton Grand Final, and in a way, I am. I do love the underdog and a finale with these two teams that looked all but gone halfway through the season would be a fitting end to one of the most competitive seasons in recent history.
Of course, it is not lost on anyone that Brisbane hasn’t lost at the Gabba all season long, which means Carlton have to do what no team has been able to. And Collingwood’s record at the MCG sits at 12-3, including a 65-point demolition of the Giants way back in Round Nine.
Heading into the second half of the 2023 season, this scenario would have been but a dream to Adam Kingsley, Michael Voss and their charges. And now it is a reality. What’s one more hurdle when you’re leaping them week after week?
The hope now for the Giants and Blues is that dreams are realised and the situation doesn’t turn into a nightmare in the week before the Grand Final. Both teams have had enough of those in recent years to last a while.
Dare to dream.
Like this content? You could buy me a coffee – I do like coffee, but there is no guarantee I won’t use it to buy a doughnut… I like them more. And I am not brought to you by Sportsbet or Ladbrokes… or Bet365, or any of them.