Rick Browner reporting for AFANA from Patersons Stadium, Perth
A bumper crowd of nearly 43,000 fans witnessed an epic Semi-final contest in perfect football conditions in Perth. West Coast was charged up to win a game and go one step closer to a Grand Final berth. Carlton had never won a Finals match away from Melbourne but this did not seem to faze them as they produced a cracking start in the opening minutes of the game.
Darren Glass won the toss and kicked with the aid of a strong breeze but all the action was happening at the other end of the ground. Jeff Garlett kicked the Blues’ first after an intelligent tap down had him streaming towards goal to kick truly from 30 yards out. Eddie Betts picked his opponent’s pocket and handballed to Bret Thornton who kicked their next from point blank range. When Heath Scotland put on a turn of speed to burn off his chaser to kick another goal for the Blues, there was a sense that the game might become a blowout. The Eagles were stunned and rattled and made poor choices in their disposal of the ball. They were continually over-running the play and this made them look like the victims of cruel bounces, always in the wrong place at the drop of the ball. David Ellard won a free kick for the Blues in front of goals after a high tackle from Chris Masten. When he goaled, the home crowd was silenced. Matt Priddis finally goaled from a free kick to bring up the first major for the Eagles, but it took 20 minutes and was the only Eagles’ goal for the quarter. By the last part of the quarter West Coast was winning more of the ball but peppered the goals and lacked effective delivery into their forwards. Carlton looked very much the in-form team and went into the change ahead by 14 points.
Verbal sprays by the coach are generally reserved for later in the game, but John Worsfold didn’t hold back at the break. As a result, the Eagles came out with more hardness at the contested ball. Mark Nicoski won a 50 meter penalty to kick a goal and from there the floodgates opened. Quinten Lynch took a strong mark and booted a booming 50 yard goal. Nicoski added his second and before the ball was bounced, a free kick was awarded in the West Coast goal square. Jack Darling was the recipient after having been slung to the ground as the umpire was signaling the previous goal to Nicoski. It was the Blues’ turn to be on the back foot and they looked shaky. Marc Murphy, who was bobbing up all over the ground, steadied the Blues with a goal. Nicoski was having a purple patch and kicked his third for the Eagles after some good groundwork by Luke Shuey. Eagles’ Captain Darren Glass made a rare error and turned the ball over to Andrew Walker who snapped a wonderful boomerang goal to tie up the game. Big Eagles’ ruckman Dean Cox started another spread of goals when he took a mark and played on to launch the ball 50 yards through the middle of the goals. Josh Kennedy stepped up to the plate for two more, a remarkable feat given that he was almost knocked out early in the game. After being on the brink of substitution after a clash of heads, he came back to have a real influence despite a great shiner on his left eye. Aaron Joseph showed plenty of dash for the Blues when he sprinted into the 50 meter zone to goal and bring Carlton back into the game with seconds left to play in the half. The Eagles had kicked eight straight goals in the second quarter to take a slim 11 point lead into the half time break.
Carlton made a substitution over the break with Zach Tuohy coming on for Thornton who landed heavily late in the first half and was taken to hospital with suspected head and neck injuries. Shannon Hurn kicked the West Coast’s first second half goal when he received a handball from an Andrew Gaff free kick. It was classic Hurn as he drilled it through the goals from the 50 meter line as sweet as a well struck 4-iron. The game had the feel of a heavyweight boxing match. Just when you thought the fight was over after a flurry of big hits, the opponent launched right back into it. Such was the case when seeming to be out of the fight, the Blues went back on the offensive. Their kicking efficiency and aggression at the ball lifted. Mitch Robinson led the charge along with Murphy, winning the ball and distributing it efficiently to the Carlton runners. Betts brought Carlton back to within 14 points with a goal and it was the Eagles turn to be on the ropes. The Blues’ intensity gave West Coast a bad case of the fumbles and costly errors started creeping into their game. Walker made the most of some indiscriminate West Coast disposals to goal for the Blues and they were right back in the contest. Kade Simpson was the beneficiary of some trademark Betts magic and his goal had Carlton trailing by only three points. It was a long time between goals for the Eagles but Kennedy kicked his third for the quarter to give them a small buffer of nine points as the siren sounded.
West Coast scored the all-important first goal of the final quarter when Darling took a strong mark and converted from 40 yards out on a 45 degree angle. Daniel Kerr, who had been a star in winning hard contests so far in the match, made a crucial turnover. He kicked the ball into a pack on his 50 meter defensive line. Irish football recruit Tuohy took a strong mark and played on to drill the ball through the middle. The Blues were on the way back. It was fierce all over the ground with the both teams aware that the loser would be bowing out for the season. In a particularly ferocious contest on the outer wing, Kerr risked body and soul to come away with the ball to deliver to Darling. His resulting goal capped off the courage shown by his team mate and put the margin out to 15 points. His work was undone when Hurn made a rare error to be run down from behind by Murphy and caught holding the ball. Murphy kicked the goal to make the margin very close and it was anyone’s game. Carlton would not give it up and were prepared to risk everything to advance into the next round. West Coast made their substitution as Patrick McGinnity replaced Chris Masten and the change paid immediate dividends. McGinnity’s foot was on the end of a tightly contested pack on the goal line to give the Eagles back their 15 point buffer. When Mark LeCras kicked the next goal late in the game, there was an air of expectancy that West Coast had done enough and that the result was in. In true Ali-Foreman style Carlton kept up the fight and punched it out again. Running on fumes and giving his all, Garlett put on a turn of speed to score the next goal for the Blues. He turned the defense inside out after a bad bounce of the ball gave him possession in the pocket and he ran right to the goal line. With only seconds to go, Walker scored again and the Blues were only three points behind. A come from behind upset was in the making but the Eagles managed to get the ball clear and into their forward half as the clock finally ran down on a very long quarter.
Carlton players never gave the game away and were courageous to the end. The Eagles had chances to put the game beyond doubt but missed opportunities when they counted. Next week the Eagles take on Geelong with the winner going into the Grand Final. West Coast was one of the few teams to beat the Geelong juggernaut during the season and, whilst they go into the Preliminary Final as definite underdogs, fans and players will believe in the possibility of an upset.
Scoreboard West Coast: 1.3 9.3 11.8 15.11 (101) Carlton: 4.1 7.4 10.5 15.8 (98) Best Players West Coast: Kerr, Priddis, Kennedy, Glass, Nicoski, Cox Carlton: Murphy, Robinson, Betts, Scotland, Judd, Warnock
Article last changed on Wednesday, September 21, 2011 - 6:27 AM EDT