Carlton is through to the preliminary final for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century, after a win over Melbourne in their semifinal.
Blake Acres kicked a goal in the final 60 seconds to give the Blues the two-point 11.7 (73) to 9.17 (71) win, in front of a huge crowd of 96,412 at the MCG
The loss means the Demons bow out of the finals in straight sets for the second successive year, while the Blues head to Brisbane to face the Lions in a preliminary final.
Carlton came into the game off the back of a narrow win over Sydney in last week’s elimination final, but the Blues were under big pressure early as Melbourne kicked the opening three goals of the game.
Carlton steadied, however, to kick six of the next seven goals as they took a two-point lead into half-time and led for most of the third term before late goals to Bayley Fritsch and Kysaiah Pickett put the Demons up at three quarter time.
But in a dramatic final term, Blake Acres put them ahead for good with 60 seconds left, as they kept their season alive.
Carlton will now face the Brisbane Lions at the Gabba next week in the preliminary final — the last time the Blues made it this far was in 2000.
The Demons are 0-4 in finals matches since their breakthrough 2021 flag.
Sam 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’s 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 could not capitalise.
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.
Look back at how the action unfolded in our blog.
AFL semifinal: Melbourne vs Carlton
Melbourne: 9.17 (71)
Carlton: 11.7 (73)
What a night
That’s where we’ll leave it for tonight from the MCG, after a game of footy we all won’t soon forget.
Carlton’s celebrations can’t last too long though, because Brisbane and a preliminary final await next weekend. There are some sore boys in that dressing room, but the prospect of a grand final being just one win away will cure what ails them.
It’s season over for Melbourne, left to count the cost of critical errors before they refresh and reboot for another charge in 2024. They’ll be up there among the best of them next year for sure.
We’ll be back tomorrow night as Port Adelaide and GWS play the second semifinal, so be sure to join the blog again then. Thanks for your company tonight!
Straight sets for the Demons — again
Since the 2021 grand final, Melbourne have played four finals, all at the MCG, and lost them all.
And in this case, they really only have themselves to blame. Better conversion in front of goal wins this game for Melbourne, because they won inside 50s (albeit only by one) and had eight more scoring shots, with a few more out on the full.
What has to change for Melbourne going forward? They definitely seem to be a key forward short. But apart from that, there are no major weaknesses.
The midfield did the job tonight. Steven May was close to best afield. They just didn’t kick straight enough.
Tough to swallow, but it’s on to 2024 for the Demons.
Patrick Cripps is over the moon
The skipper took some whacks tonight, but stood up as always for his team.
He’s been speaking to Channel Seven:
“I can’t believe it. This is unreal. It’s just a credit to the boys, credit to Melbourne. I love the way they go about it, a fierce contest all night.
“Vossy says to win a final, you’ve got to win it a few times in the game. You know, we knew they would respond from last week. We fought back. Just an arm wrestle. Special game.
“I’ve waited 10 years for this. Two down, off to Brissie next week now.”
Lift off on Lygon St
I still can’t believe Carlton pulled that off. Their excellent first half slowly wasted away in the second, and with only a few minutes remaining in the game it looked for all money like the experience of Melbourne would tell.
There is so much belief in this Carlton team. They’ve been doing it all year. Who’s to say how many more of these they’ve got in them.
Blake Acres’ match-winning moment
A play for Blues fans to rewatch and savour forever.
FT: CARLTON WIN BY TWO POINTS! BLUES IN A PRELIM
Speechless. An incredible final, an unbelievable story. A night to go down in Carlton folklore.
The Blues looked done. Out of legs and out of ideas. The Demons had chance after chance to ice the game, but the post kept getting in the way.
Turns out all Carlton needed was a flicker of hope. Hope, and Blake Acres who has become the man for the Carlton moment over the last two weeks. He is the hero at the end of a staggering game of football.
So much to talk about. Melbourne are out in straight sets. Carlton will play Brisbane in a preliminary final next week. Insane.
1′: CARLTON ARE GOING TO WIN
A behind is soccered through for Carlton with three seconds left! The Blues will play a prelim!
1′: BLAKE ACRES KICKS A GOAL! BLUES IN FRONT
Carlton lead by a point! Weitering at half-back found Hollands, who set Docherty up for a clutch mark at half-forward.
He plays on, bombs it to a two-on-one in the square where Acres did the rest.
Remarkable. 56 seconds left to play. Carlton by a point.
2′: Lever with another clutch mark in defence
It’s desperate stuff for Carlton. They’re just begging for something to fall their way.
3′: Pickett hits the post!
His bouncing snap couldn’t have been any closer!
Blues trail by five points and have 2:10 to manufacture something.
3′: Has Oliver kicked it?
No! Max Gawn hit it into the post! It was going to carry through if not for the Melbourne skipper’s hand!
That would have been the dagger.
4′: Oliver will burn some clock
He pinned Walsh holding the ball 50 metres out, right on the boundary. Don’t think he’ll be able to kick this, but he can pretend like he thinks he can.
5′: What was Brodie Kemp thinking?
The defender found himself 50m out on the boundary line, and took a shot at goal.
Out on the full. No time for plays like that.
6′: The crowd figure is in and it’s huge
Just the 96,412 in the house tonight. Massive.
7′: Jesse Motlop brings the house down! Goal Carlton!
The Blues find their answering goal and it’s back to just three points!
Bowey was wrapped up in a Curnow tackle and spilled the ball out, where Motlop picked up the scraps and snapped truly.
What a game.
7′: May is dominating at the back
Curnow looks completely out on his feet.
If Melbourne get the next one, this might be done and dusted.
9′: Fritsch in the pocket now! Takes the mark
The Blues look like they’re out of gas. Langdon intercepts on centre wing and two kicks later, Fritsch is in and marking.
But he’s missed too. The snap hooks too much. The door remains ajar.
10′: Gawn hits the post! So close!
The Blues are hagning in there, but it’s threatening to get away from Carlton here.
11′: Gawn on the goal line! What a mark!
Too big, too strong!
And now Max Gawn needs to manufacture something from the tightest of angles. Could the skipper find something in the biggest moment of this game so far?