The Blues are the most gripping team in the AFL…but it can’t last

We’re only at round ten and already half of Carlton’s wins in this remarkable 2022 season have followed nearly identical patterns.

Total domination in the first half, set up by a complete dismantling of their opponents on the coal front, plenty of ball for their star midfielders and a plethora of supply for their big players on the attack.

Then, as if it were clockwork. They stop. Their opponents get a run on, first one, then two, then five or six goals, and suddenly the deficit is cut to the ground.

But no matter what, whether their lead is 50 or 30, the Blues find a way to hold onto death. It’s rarely easy, it’s rarely without panic, but a series of grinding, inspiring tackles or monster controversial marks are always on hand to save the day.

So it was against Sydney, almost to the letter. This time, the lead was 38 points at halftime, thanks to a stunning nine-goal second quarter where Blues fans partied like it was 1995. The comeback this time put it eight points ahead of the Blues, led by their coolest heads and a young star in Zac Fisher starting to move into places, steady to win 15.

We are told over and over that close games are a lottery in the long run. But the Blues have already done it four times this season – five if you count their pre-season win over Melbourne. It’s almost uncanny how similar the pattern was to the Western Bulldogs, Hawthorn, Port Adelaide and now the Swans.

Have they found a way to crack the thriller code, or have they burned out all their luck halfway through the year?

One thing is certain, if the Blues can find a way to maintain their midfield dominance over the course of a full four quarters (perhaps even three), there would be few sides in the league that could match them. With the Swans already showing weakness on coal in 2022, and persevering with the approval of King Josh Kennedy concluding his glittering career on the wing, the first half at Marvel Stadium was a slaughterhouse.

Only the Blues’ inaccuracy and the Swans’ ability to make the most of the tiniest bit of a turnover gave the visitors a one-point lead in quarter-time. With Charlie Curnow looking impressive with two goals, and the Blues finishing with 37 additional divestments and a whopping 19 more contested possessions for the period, everyone could see the Swans were just holding back the tide.

But the sheet pile burst after a quarter of an hour; what followed was one of the most dominant quarters of the year. This was Carlton at their most terrifying, the version of this building Blues outfit that can surely challenge even Melbourne and Brisbane for supremacy. Unstoppably close – even with Jack Silvagni, Patrick Cripps and Matthew Kennedy doing their fair share of ruckwork against Swans duo Tom Hickey and Peter Ladhams – and with their forward line beautifully set up to give Curnow all the space he needs it was a massacre.

Curnow, the match winner with six goals (five from the first half), made a very good defender in Tom McCartin look like a clubbie. From giving away free kicks in a blind panic to dropping easy intercept trails, the youngest of the McCartin brothers had his colors down well… and Charlie, a younger brother himself, had no intention of letting him go off the hook .

Virtually every time he got close to the ball, he looked dangerous, leading to fears that the extra pressure on his shoulders from Harry McKay’s absence would affect his output to bed. Most encouragingly for Michael Voss, his goals came in a myriad of ways: thumping kicks from way over 50, free kicks from terrified defenders, markings on the lead, crumbling near the goal square… you name it, Curnow did. the.

At his feet, Corey Durdin and Matthew Owies have seemingly taken advantage of McKay’s absence, with fewer balls riveted through the large marker, meaning more spills to mop up. Three goals between them, plus one more for second gamer Jesse Motlop, may not seem like much; but add in their relentless pressure and impressive ability to occupy Swans defenders and leave room for Curnow to show his stuff, and their impact goes beyond mere stats.

But as good as Curnow was, he couldn’t have dominated without the Blues’ total dominance at the center. It’s going to be hard to remember that last year under David Teague, the Blues finished in the bottom four on both clearances and disputed possessions. With new cattle and a new set-up under Voss, the transformation is clear: they are now sixth and third respectively in those stats, behind Melbourne and Brisbane for the contentious ball.

Magnificent in tight with nine eliminations and 17 disputed possession, Hewett was a revelation—and aside, just the kind of player the Swans could really use in battle right now—while a reborn Patrick Cripps, the hard-nosed Matt Kennedy and another recruit in Adam Cerra are all doing their part as well. It’s Cripps who gets the most credit, but Hewett should be seriously considering an All Australian appearance at this point.

Sam Walsh has also enjoyed a more outside role than he was used to last year, with so many big bodies in tight hands. His run and carry has been great, repeatedly turning a handball chain into something of great significance for the Blues, while his ability to win his own ball remains strong. I would still have given Hewett the best-afield honors, but you can expect 34 sales from Walsh to get him the three Brownlow Medal votes.

The Swans scored three goals from just five in the 50s for the period – they did well to get that many. Logan McDonald was a bright spot all night, enjoying the breakout game the experts had predicted was coming. He was in the lead beautifully and clever when the ball hit the ground, he had three at half time to help cover the shelter Jacob Weitering gave Lance Franklin.

Charlie Curnow of the Blues celebrates a goal.

Charlie Curnow of the Blues celebrates a goal. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

But whether it’s fitness or the Swans finally trying to curb their influence, or perhaps both, the second half couldn’t have been more different. Led by the tireless efforts of Callum Mills and Luke Parker, the Swans turned the tide at the source – after trailing 88-59 in disputed possession at halftime, the visitors overshadowed the stat from that point on, 73-78.

The Blues were not helped by a five-day break after last week’s win over GWS… Back to the future

The result? Funnily enough, with the Swans looking to take every possible chance – they would go 224-115 in the kick-handball ratio – more ball meant more forward trips, leaving the Blues’ defense looking vulnerable for the first time this year. .

With 34 extra points for the second half, the Swans finally got their usual neat ball movement going, while the exhausting Blues struggled to close the space as they had done in the beginning.

Tom Papley burst into the game and shook off the attention of several Blues, including Lachie Plowman. He would benefit from a new challenge: the loss of Josh Kennedy to a serious-looking hamstring injury opened the door for the younger, faster and sharper Braeden Campbell to show off his kicking skills with some piercing passes from the wing. Another youngster in Errol Gulden was great too, having been put under cover by the Blues and pressured every time he got it in the first half.

No matter how much they tried to stabilize the ship, the Blues’ attempts to shake the Swans off ended up sinking them further and further into the quicksand. If they tried to slow the game, the Swans would force a kick to a match, duly win that match and besiege the defense again. If they went through the middle and attacked, they’d be in trouble there too: whether it was a brilliant runaway tackle from the unwieldy Ladhams, or a horror kick from a 50-yard penalty from Durdin who singled out running Justin McInerney. , shot forward and found Papley for the first goal of the last term, breaking a 12-minute stalemate.

Midway through the final quarter, the Swans had 21 of the last 26 in their 50s and were just eight points behind. All momentum was with the visitors, as the Blues seemingly clung to a grim death. Only Weitering, with some excellent interception marks and a few misses from a hitherto deadly accurate Swans, kept them in front.

So what happened? Same thing always does for the Blues. A towering figure here from Tom De Koning, who took four in a stunning final run; a crushing tackle there from Hewett, who reaffirmed himself to his old side after a quiet third term.

And after a few misses, the deadly blow came through Zac Fisher, whose running and rustling on the ground had been remarkable the whole time. He deserved to finally finish the Swans.

Winning close games doesn’t normally last in footy – think of Port Adelaide, who went from 5-0 in games decided by fewer than three goals in 2020 and lost the preliminary final that year to Richmond by six points, to to go 5-0 again in 2021 to 1-3 this year. All logic says this Blues streak of luck—and yes, they could have easily lost one of these four wins—can’t last too long.

But who cares? Certainly not Blues fans – their team is now 8-2, almost certain of the final, and one win over Brisbane or Melbourne is not seen as a legitimate premiership fantasy.

And as their blistering second term proved again, their best is more than good enough to threaten anyone who goes around.

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