AAP3 Minute Read
Carlton’s midfield star Sam Walsh has orchestrated a stunning two-point victory over a wayward Melbourne in their AFL semifinal.
Blake Acres kicked the match-winning goal with less than a minute to play as the Blues claimed a tense 11.7 (73) to 9.17 (71) win in front of 96,412 fans at the MCG on Friday night.
Carlton, seeking to end a 28-year premiership drought, are now into their first preliminary final since 2000.
They will face the Brisbane Lions at the Gabba, while Melbourne have exited the finals in straight sets for the second year in a row.
The Demons are 0-4 in finals matches since their breakthrough 2021 flag.
Walsh was outstanding with a game-high 34 disposals, eight tackles and two crucial goals for Carlton.
His fellow leaders Patrick Cripps (27 disposals, nine clearances) and Jacob Weitering (19 touches, seven marks) were also influential as the Blues clawed over the line in an epic last quarter.
Both sides led during a see-sawing final half-hour and Melbourne had a string of chances to put the game to bed, but their last five scoring shots were behinds.
Jesse Motlop snapped truly to get Carlton back within a kick before fan-favourite Sam Docherty, nursing a dislocated shoulder, outmarked Judd McVee and pumped the ball long into attack with the seconds ticking down.
Acres marked strongly, and quickly played on to boot the decisive goal from close range.
Cripps’ titanic display came despite a series of heavy hits, including a high bump from Kysaiah Pickett that will land the Melbourne livewire in hot water.
Pickett kicked two goals and directly set up another three as he threatened to win the match for Melbourne.
Joel Smith kicked three goals and Bayley Fritsch two, while Jack Viney (31 disposals, seven clearances), Clayton Oliver (27, six) and Christian Petracca (24, six) all fought tirelessly.
Steven May was brilliant as Melbourne’s defence controlled Charlie Curnow, holding the back-to-back Coleman medallist to just one goal from nine touches.
But the Demons’ forwards couldn’t capitalise.
Melbourne kicked the opening three goals in a hot start but conceded five of the next seven, including two to Tom De Koning late in the first term that gave the Blues a foothold in the contest.
Matthew Kennedy struck the first blow of the second half to give the Blues an eight-point buffer.
The Demons owned territory for long periods in the third term and led by six points at the final change when Pickett scrambled through a snap shot.
The see-sawing last quarter could have fallen either way and Oliver almost put Melbourne more than a kick in front with little time left when his long-range set shot sailed right to the line.
Crucially, replays showed it was touched by his own teammate Gawn, who whacked the ball into the post.
Pickett hit the same post with a snapshot before Acres, who is lucky to be playing in the finals after suffering a shoulder injury at the end of the home-and-away season, struck the last blow.