Carlton coach Michael Voss is excited about giving talented recruits Elijah Hollands and Orazio Fantasia a fresh start as the Blues attempt to build…
Carlton has been through ten long, hard years of pain and misery on the bottom – but now, the club finally has a reason to celebrate.
While it was expected that Carlton would be a top-four contender in 2023, just weeks ago that looked well out of contention, with the club still in turmoil.
The Blues were well and truly on the canvas, losing eight out of nine games and sitting 15th at the end of round 13. Coach Michael Voss was on the brink of being sacked as the club was well below standard. It was not only this year – but also falling short of the eight last year by a solitary point, after losing their final four games.
What was to turn around over the next ten weeks was incredible, as Carlton won nine out of ten games. Including defeating the likes of Port Adelaide, Collingwood, Melbourne, and St Kilda – all teams in the top eight. The Blues had risen from 15th to finish fifth at the end of the home and away season.
Then came what any Carlton fan had been waiting so long for – finals footy – and it did not disappoint. Coming up against the Sydney Swans in the Elimination Final, the Blues only had 17 games worth of finals experience, with the vast majority of players not experiencing a game in September.
Having a five-goal lead in the first half, the Blues had played out of their skins and were handling the occasion well. But in the second half, as the Swans made a massive challenge, the Blues got nervous; they were missing a lot of set shots, including Harry McKay’s miskick from 20 meters out directly in front.
But unlike previous years, Carlton found gears where they had to and responded with three straight goals in the third quarter, after the Swans had kicked that number in a row from five goals down.
Sydney never went away, two late goals reduced the three-quarter time margin to 15 points. Blues fans and players were nervous (especially given what has occurred in the past). In the last quarter, the Swans reduced the margin back to eight points, which was as close as they had been since the first quarter.
As the Swans kept closing and closing, Blake Acers kicked the biggest goal of his career to seal the game with a little over five minutes left. In the identical spot from the goal square that Jeff Garlett sealed the 2013 final from – as the MCG erupted.
Carlton took plenty of strong defensive marks to wind the down clock. Hayden McLean’s last-minute goal gave the Swans one last desperate hope with 25 seconds left, but Carlton wrapped them up with plenty of tackling pressure in the centre and the clock ticked down with Nic Newman marking the ball as the final siren sounded.
The siren was the finale of a classic Elimination Final with Carlton a goal in front, sparking massive emotion from Blues fans all over the G, as Patrick Cripps fell to his knees, and he was not the only one with a tear to his eye.
Carlton held off a huge challenge to win their first final, with not much experience. The occasion no doubt got to them in the second half, but the nerve they showed to get over the line was incredible. They held out defensively and kept applying scoreboard pressure when needed.
“It was a desperate team with a will to win and in the end, won on heart.”— Carlton FC (@CarltonFC) September 8, 2023
One proud coach speaks after our elimination final triumph! #StrongerTogether
It was a huge joy for their fans, who suffered through many years. The period of heartache for the Blues where they had two wooden spoons, sacked three coaches, constantly finished in the bottom six and came the closest you can come to making finals without making it last year. It can now all be put in the past for not just the supporters, but the whole club.
Winning a final for the Blues was a huge monkey off the back, and it could mark the dawn of a new era for the club. The list features a Colman Medallist and Brownlow Medallist, plus an excellent mix of youth and experience with many upcoming players. There is no doubt that Friday night’s victory will forever live long in the memory of the club.
Carlton went through so many years of agony, with poor coaching and list management, that caused a decade-long wait for any finals appearance, let alone victory. But Friday’s win against the Swans was a reward for many years of trying to get the list correct, coaching correct and a reward for the young players who were drafted into the club many years ago.
The Carlton Football Club’s rebuild was one of the longest and most painful rebuilds in the history of the game, but a new era can now begin. While the players have tasted a finals victory for the first time in a long time, their work is not yet done in 2023. The players will, hopefully, realise the sky is the limit and will try as hard as they can to keep the momentum going towards a first Preliminary Final since 2000, a first Grand Final appearance since 1999 – and ultimately a first flag since 1995.
A huge clash with Melbourne awaits on Friday night at the MCG. No doubt the Blues will feel confident they can win this as they finally beat the Demons in Round 22.
There is no ceiling on what the Blues can achieve this year, but even if they get eliminated, there is no doubt that the years ahead look rosy and fruitful for this famous club. Voss has done an extraordinary job to try and get his side back to the glory days, especially considering he was on the brink of losing his job and facing a huge amount of scrutiny – to turn the club completely around in only a couple of months and leading his side to a finals victory.
Regardless of where they finish in the finals now, to reach the last six will mean that season 2023 has been a huge success for this club. As they continue to embark on their journey to achieve bigger and greater things (top 4 finishes and flags). Carlton will be a huge destination club as the culture has become incredible, warm, and welcoming to its players and staff.
There is no doubt the Blues fans suffered long and had to endure a lot of pain, but Friday night brought huge joy all around. So, a huge credit to the whole club and management, for achieving what they have and may they continue to climb the ranks and do their best to contend for the premiership this year and years to come, as the club embarks on a bright new era.