Carlton have celebrated their first AFL finals appearance in a decade with a tense six-point win over Sydney that keeps their premiership dream alive.
The Blues led by 28 points during time-on of the third quarter but had to endure some nervous moments before hanging on for an 11.8 (74) to 9.14 (68) victory in Friday night’s elimination final.
Carlton will next meet Melbourne in a knockout semi-final as they continue their bid to end a 28-year flag drought.
But they will likely do so without Harry McKay after the key forward was subbed out with an injury following a third-quarter marking contest.
The Blues’ other concern surrounds Jack Martin, who faces scrutiny from the league’s match review officer after he caught Nick Blakey high with a swinging arm over a contested ball.
Blakey played out the match after passing a concussion test.
Sam Walsh (29 disposals), Blake Acres (26), former Swan George Hewett (25) and reliable defender Jacob Weitering were among the Blues’ best in wet and windy conditions at the MCG.
Martin and Matthew Cottrell kicked two goals each, while Coleman medallist Charlie Curnow managed just one.
In doubt with a shoulder injury during the week, wingman Blake Acres twice made crucial plays in the second half when he touched shots on the goal line, denying the Swans majors after video reviews.
Acres then gave the Blues vital breathing space when he strolled into an open goal with five minutes left to play.
Carlton captain Patrick Cripps (21 disposals, three clearances) kicked an important third-quarter goal but was relatively well held by Callum Mills in his first finals appearance after 181 games.
McKay had a dirty night, missing two shots from the top of the goal square before he was subbed out.
Errol Gulden kicked two goals from 23 disposals as one of Sydney’s best, while Jake Lloyd (27 touches), Blakey (23) and retiring ruckman Tom Hickey also fought hard.
Carlton had their long-suffering supporters on their feet early with goals to fan-favourites Sam Docherty and Curnow in the opening three minutes.
The Blues dominated contested ball (43-26) in the second quarter and kicked out to a 30-point lead before halftime.
Hickey gave the Swans a third-quarter spark and the visitors got within eight points early in the final term when a mix-up between Brodie Kemp and Tom De Koning gifted Luke Parker a goal.
An arm wrestle ensued and a raft of skill errors were made by both sides under pressure before Acres’ late goal appeared to have sealed the result.
Hayden McLean dragged the Swans back within a kick with 25 seconds remaining but the Blues emerged victorious from the desperate final stages.
It was another MCG failure for Sydney, who lost all four games at the venue this season following last year’s grand final thumping from Geelong.