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A last-minute Blake Acres goal propelled Carlton into a preliminary final after a pulsating semi-final with a Melbourne team that has suffered consecutive straight-sets September exits.
Matthew Kennedy – playing only after Harry McKay (concussion) and Jack Martin (suspension) were forced outs – dribbled through a late behind to seal a two-point victory that triggered an eruption from the Blues faithful when the siren sounded seconds later.
The match-winning play unfolded when Sam Docherty marked about 75 metres out, then took off instantly as young Demon Judd McVee fell to ground, before driving a kick deep into attack for Acres to gobble up and blast through.
The critical moment: Blake Acres boots the winning goal.Credit: Channel Seven
It was another huge moment for ex-Docker and Saint Acres after he touched two crucial Sydney shots in last week’s slender win, on top of slotting the goal that gave them enough breathing room to grimly hang on.
Michael Voss’ men, who have won 11 of their past 12 matches to climb out of the bottom four and into the final four, again had the lion’s share of support from the 96,412 fans who packed into the MCG.
They were last in a preliminary final in 2000, and are headed to the Gabba to take on the Brisbane Lions, the club at which their coach became a triple-premiership captain and legend.
“The atmosphere in the change rooms was quite incredible, and to see the journey that we’ve been on, to get to this point in time [is amazing],” Voss said, while praising his side’s resilience.
“You see the smiles on people’s faces and just how excited everyone is, and I think we’re all in a little bit of disbelief how it all unfolded.
“That was just a cracking game of footy – full of errors, full of mistakes, but somehow we found a way through some will, some grit and some courage and were able to hit the scoreboard at the end. I guess that’s what matters – being in front at the end.”
Sam Walsh was best on the ground with 34 disposals, two goals and eight tackles in another outstanding display, but it was Jesse Motlop’s second goal with barely six minutes to go that stirred Carlton into action as they erased a nine-point deficit to score a famous triumph.
Patrick Cripps attempts to fend off Jack Viney.Credit: AFL Photos
The Blues had plenty of good contributors, from Jacob Weitering (10 intercept possessions) to Nic Newman (30 disposals) and captain Patrick Cripps, who was physical from the outset and finished with 27 touches and 16 contested possessions.
The Demons will rue their wastefulness throughout the final term, including misses from captain Max Gawn – whose check side shot smashed into the post – Bayley Fritsch and Jack Viney that could have put them more than two goals clear.
They finished with a 9.17 scoreline and eight more scoring shots than Carlton, a week after failing to capitalise on 19 inside 50s in the fourth quarter against minor premiers Collingwood in a seven-point defeat.
Melbourne looked the winners for most of the second half once they hit the front, with Simon Goodwin’s inspired move to make Kysaiah Pickett his deepest forward rescuing his previously nightmare night and unlocking his impotent forward line.
Pickett could hardly have been worse in the first two quarters, giving away a free kick with a jumper punch that prevented a Joel Smith set shot, then delivering a bump on Cripps that will be closely scrutinised by the MRO.
He booted two second-half goals and set up two others – for Smith and then Fritsch – while Steven May shut down Charlie Curnow and took six intercept marks as he repeatedly repelled the Blues in the last term.
Melbourne’s early 19-point lead was the biggest margin of the night, but Carlton largely dominated the rest of the first half, including a five-goal burst that threatened to end the Dees’ resistance.
Tom De Koning swung the match in the Blues’ favour with two goals in almost as many minutes late in the opening quarter – one from a mark, and the second from a free kick – in a perfect answer to a Christian Petracca special at the other end.
De Koning spelled Marc Pittonet, who did an effective job blunting Gawn’s influence, in the ruck and took a great first-half pack grab as he demonstrated why so many rival clubs tried to prise him from Ikon Park.
The surprise packet in the Demons’ uninspiring forward line before Pickett’s heroics was Smith, whose three goals masked more problems in Goodwin’s forward half. Melbourne’s ball use was again substandard at times as they resorted to bombing the ball in for long periods, and Tom McDonald failed to make an impact aerially.
Jack Viney has been one of the Demons’ best players all season and was their top ball-winner again with 31, to go with 15 contested possessions and seven clearances, while Clayton Oliver and Petracca did all they could.
Goodwin said there was “an emptiness” in the Melbourne group after the heartbreaking result, and they would have to absorb some adversity in the days and weeks ahead, but he remained positive in defeat.
“I think once we get through our review; there will still be a lot of optimism about what’s possible moving forward. There’s no question about that,” Goodwin said.
“We speak about winning more moments, as a club, and in both these finals, we’ve won enough moments, but we haven’t won the most important one – and that’s on the scoreboard, so we need to execute that better.
“But I think when we sit down and review the year, and we go, ‘How did we go?’; we’ve ended up giving ourselves a double chance, finished top four, and we’ve lost two finals by less than a kick.”
MELBOURNE 3.3 4.7 7.11 9.17 (71)
CARLTON 2.2 5.3 7.5 11.7 (73)
GOALS – Melbourne: Smith 3, Fritsch 2, Pickett 2, Langdon, Petracca
Carlton: Motlop 2, De Koning 2, Acres 2, Walsh 2, Curnow, Owies, Kennedy
BEST – Melbourne: May, Viney, Pickett, Smith, Lever, Petracca, Oliver.
Carlton: Walsh, Newman, Weitering, Cripps, De Koning, Saad.
INJURIES – Melbourne: None.
Carlton: Docherty (dislocated left shoulder).
UMPIRES – Meredith, Williamson, Gianfagna, Mollison
CROWD 96,412 at the MCG
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