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Brook “Boris” Kilpatrick reporting from Etihad Stadium for AFANA
A glorious sunny afternoon welcomed spectators to Etihad Stadium for the final appearance of both Carlton and Saint Kilda for the 2012 AFL season. The Carlton faithful turned out to see Brett Ratten’s last day at the helm of the Blues, their loss to the lowly Gold Coast Suns in Round 22 putting an end to Carlton’s Finals hopes and with it, any hope of Ratten retaining his job with the impatient Carlton hierarchy. For first year Saint Kilda coach Scott Watters, the game would give him an opportunity to look forward to 2013 after disappointingly missing the Finals, despite some positive signs from a team that finally blooded some new talent to support a solid core of veterans.
Given the result of the game had no real bearing on the fortunes of either club, it was somewhat surprising and certainly entertaining to see some of the players engaging in unusually rough tactics early on. Stephen Milne and Andrew Walker were at it from the first bounce, the end result being a completely ripped Walker jumper and a bit of work for the Match Review Panel. The Saints jumped to an early lead with goals to Terry Milera and Brendon Goddard within three minutes of game time. Carlton steadied as some of the Blues' players seemed to be having issues marking the football, with the sunlight beaming down through the open roof. At the seven minute mark, Jeff Garlett had the Blues on the board and they were back on even terms when Tom Bell goaled nearing the ten minute point. Milne and Walker continued their spiteful clash as Carlton gained the ascendancy in play. The enigma that is Jarrad Waite goaled again for the Blues, before debutant Luke Mitchell joined the long list of players who have kicked a goal in their first kick in AFL football with a dribbling effort that bounced the right way for a six-pointer. The Blues' handy lead was shortlived as the Saints hit back with late goals to Jason Gram and Beau Wilkes. At quarter time, Carlton held a slim four point lead with Brock McLean and Chris Judd the highest possession winners on the sun-soaked ground.
The second term was a tight affair with David Armitage breaking the drought with a goal for the Saints at the four minute mark. A rejuvenated Waite hit back for the Blues with his second goal of the match after some further wayward goalkicking attempts from the usual reliable Eddie Betts. Milera was proving a handful for the Carlton defense as he threaded through his second goal of the game, with the news getting worse for the Blues as Yarran was substituted out with what appeared to be a hamstring complaint. The fascinating off-the-ball battle between Walker and Milne continued, with members of the crowd getting involved in the sideshow as well. First year Saint Milera continued his day out with a third goal before Betts found his radar and goaled, reducing the Saints lead to nine points. Judd went to the sidelines for some strapping, compounding the injury woes for the Blues as half time approached. Saints' Coach Scott Watters would have been ropeable when a Carlton free kick turned into a fifty meter penalty as the ball was kicked away from the recipient in Nick Duigan. Watters’ blood pressure would have reached breaking point when a Saints' player voiced his disapproval at the original 50 meter penalty, resulting in another 50 meter penalty for “umpire abuse”. Duigan calmly goaled from a few meters out to reduce the half time margin to just three points, with Saint Kilda in the lead.
The siren had barely finished sounding when Gram banged through the first goal of the third quarter for the Saints. Spectators who had purchased their footy Record (the AFL match day program) were getting their money's worth using it to shade their eyes, a luxury the players didn’t have. More than once a mark was spilled as the overhead flaming orb caused havoc at the Saints' end of the ground. Mitch Robinson kept the Blues in touch with a goal but the Carlton run was once again foiled, this time by big Ben McEvoy who was getting the better of Matthew Kreuzer in the ruck. McEvoy’s set shot goal kept the Saints in front but the Blues, despite a couple of telling injuries, started to get on top around the ground. Waite goaled again from a free kick and the Blues rallied. Numerous forward entries led to Carlton shots on goal but they were not rewarded due to their wayward finishing. Finally it was Waite again who hit the target to extend the Carlton lead to nine points. In a ten minute period Carlton had dominated clearances and forward 50 entries to make a winning exit for Brett Ratten look very much a reality. With McLean racking up possessions and the Blues dominating clearances despite the absence of Yarran and Judd, the 10.15 to 10.6 lead at three quarter time could have been a lot bigger.
The Saints hit the scoreboard first at the five minute mark with a Jack Steven goal. A three point lead and a mounting injury toll looked ominous for Carlton, but it was Waite who again stamped his name on the game with a mark and the fifth goal for the Blues. McLean, possibly the best player on the ground to date, then kicked truly to give the Blues a 15 point lead and all the momentum. If the Saints were to spoil the Ratten farewell party, they would have to do something quick. Inside the last ten minutes it was Armitage who kept the game alive with a Saint Kilda goal to reduce the margin to nine. The game lifted with both teams desperate to take the last points up for grabs this season. A six minute stalemate was broken when Steven burst through the center to get the Saints within four points. After spending most of the day wrestling and therefore not troubling the scorers, it was Carlton's arch-enemy Stephen Milne who brought the Saints' fans to their feet when he goaled to put them in front. The Blues wasted opportunities had come back to haunt them as Saint Kilda went on a last minute rampage, adding goals to Stanley and Saad before the siren put Carlton fans out of their misery and drew the curtain on Brett Rattten’s coaching career at Carlton.
Ratten chose to head straight for the rooms and not engage the players or supporters out on the ground, much in keeping with his ethos to make the situation all about the team and not about him. It is now expected that ex- Collingwood Premiership Coach Mick Malthouse will take the reigns at Carlton next season with a contract worth three million dollars (Australian). Malthouse stands to inherit a very strong playing list that was expected to make the Top Four in 2012. Injuries and poor form derailed the Blues' season but it won’t take much for them to once again be a League powerhouse in 2013.
The Saints finished on a high in a season where they blooded some promising new talent with players such as Milera, Saad and Siposs adding to a team of solid veterans who will look forward to better times in 2013. The biggest question will be whether restricted free agent Brendon Goddard stays with the Saints or seeks a fresh start elsewhere in the New Year. With Round 23 in the books, it’s on to the Finals for those lucky enough to be in the Top Eight.
Scoreboard Carlton: 4.5 7.7 10.15 12.19 (91) St Kilda: 4.1 8.4 10.6 16.9 (105) Best Players St Kilda: Gram, Armitage, Ray, Goddard, Geary, Siposs, Steven Carlton: McLean, Waite, Kreuzer, Gibbs, O'Keeffe, Robinson
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