Melbourne have raised serious questions about their future as AFL premiership contenders after another wayward night in front of goal, this time with dire consequences.
The Demons racked up eight more scoring shots than Carlton at the MCG in Friday night’s semi-final but a series of misses in the last quarter sealed another straight-sets exit to remain winless in September since the triumphant 2021 grand final.
Max Gawn missed a snap from close range – albeit on a tough angle – in the final quarter, yet his impact on a Clayton Oliver shot with just minutes left proved even more significant.
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Oliver earned a free kick on the very edge of the 50m arc with Melbourne leading by three points.
By the time his set shot reached the goal line there were less than three minutes left on the clock, and a two-goal lead would have made things very difficult for the Blues.
Instead a terrific kick was touched on the line and went to a review that will make for sore viewing at the Demons.
Goal-line footage showed Carlton’s defenders missed the Sherrin entirely and it was actually Gawn who tapped the ball.
“It just appears to be a brain fade,” James Brayshaw said in Channel 7’s post-game coverage.
“He’s the only one who touched the ball. He only needs to make sure nobody else touches it and it’s a goal and Melbourne win the game!”
Tigers great Matthew Richardson said “it’s tough” in the heat of the battle.
“But it’s almost like he’s trying to tap it back in,” Richardson said.
“It’s hard to work out, really, what was going on. That’s the other thing – how is there only one Melbourne player on the goal line against three?”
Hawthorn premiership great Luke Hodge said defending the line with multiple players is a “simple little thing you get taught in under-12s”.
“These are the things you look back, you review, and you go ‘this cost us a final’,” he added.
Melbourne did have another chance to put the game away moments after Gawn’s error when Kysaiah Pickett snapped and hit the post, but it wasn’t to be.
With just over a minute left Carlton went from one centre wing to the other, Sam Docherty blasted the ball inside 50 and found Blake Acres for the match-winning goal.
As the siren went on full-time Gawn was left to rue the defeat while his captaincy counterpart Patrick Cripps celebrated just metres away.
“Absolutely extraordinary – 16 goals 28 (behinds) in the two finals they’ve played,” Brayshaw said.
“Again they win the contest – they win clearances, inside 50s for the second time in a row. They will find it hard to believe that they’ve lost these two finals.
“There’ll be lots of soul-searching, don’t worry about that.”
Hodge called back to Gawn’s response to last week’s defeat to Collingwood – when the skipper called it “a good old Melbourne loss”.
“And once again you repeated it. In fact, for 18 months it’s been the same issues,” he said.
“Their defence is amazing, their midfield is outstanding. Their forward connection is where they’ve really struggled.
“You probably have to look back at the (Brodie) Grundy chase – they should’ve gone for a forward. It’s come back to bite them in a very painful finals loss again.”
Gawn was downcast in a post-match interview with Channel 7’s Abbey Holmes.
“I’ll give it my best but I don’t think I’ve got much for you,” he admitted.
“We were in front for a lot of that last quarter, obviously they kicked the first two to start it. We were in front for a lot of the game.
“Just a flattening finish. We gave away some silly free kicks, a couple of reversals, a couple of 50s, you can’t do that in finals especially against good teams.”
Gawn owned up to risking the ire of Melbourne fans, saying “they’ll be incredibly disappointed” to hear him argue their two finals defeats were “good performances”.
“Unfortunately we weren’t able to get over the line late in both,” he said.
“But if you compare that to last season I think there’s a lot of good to come from that. Obviously they’re two losses, finals losses, and we’re out of the 2023 race.
“But good things take time and hopefully this will be a stepping block to what we can do next season.”
– with AAP