FOOTBALL is life, and sometimes, life is a draw.
Carlton – forever causing heart palpitations in its fans – looked set for a mature and composed six-point win over arch rival Richmond in the opening match of 2023, until Tom Lynch soared high to take a contested mark with 17 seconds remaining on the clock.
A minute prior, Lynch had waved his arms at the umpire in vain, outmarked two-to-one as he begged for a free. But after surely spending all of summer with his last-minute elimination final miss replaying over and over in his head, he steadied, and converted.
The final scores were 8.10 (58) apiece, and both sides would be left feeling like they lost the match after battling it out on a hot night at the MCG.
TIGERS v BLUES Full match coverage and stats
Goals were traded within less than two minutes to open the game – Dustin Martin and Zac Fisher the snappers – and the two ends of the MCG took their turns to let out a six-month, pent-up, roar.
Footy was back.
Richmond's forward half defensive pressure was immense in the first quarter, but players failed to take full advantage of their opportunities, a somewhat rusty Jack Graham (after an injured toe affected his pre-season) spraying two wide and Tom Lynch missing a straightforward set shot.
By contrast, Carlton relished in its limited chances in attack (13-21 inside 50s), kicking 3.1 to take a nine-point lead into the first break.
The Blues speed troubled Richmond on the wings, with Jesse Motlop, Adam Saad and Zac Fisher showing clean sets of heels and often catching the Tigers on the hop on turnover.
After such a blistering start, the 30-16 scoreline at half-time reflected the fumbly and panicked nature of parts of the game, as both sides struggled to make strong and effective entries inside 50.
The key defenders rose in prominence as the game progressed; Dylan Grimes holding up one end, while Lewis Young worked nicely into the game down the other.
Daniel Rioli was simply superb off half-back, with the Blues having no answer to his pace and dare, while George Hewett played an underrated and crucial role in the midfield for Carlton.
Whether it was settled nerves, first-game concentration lapses or just shaking off the rust, the sluggish first half was blown out of the water after half-time, the Tigers springing to life with some clever ball use to kick three straight goals.
In all, seven goals were kicked in that third term, after just six collectively in the first half, with Tom Lynch and Charlie Curnow asserting their dominance in their respective forward lines.
Carlton debutant Ollie Hollands was lively and tenacious throughout, and looks set for a promising first season.
Old(ish) faces, new colours
Thursday night marked the first official Richmond match for star recruits Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper, who have changed the face of the Tigers' midfield. Both provided some much needed steadiness and defensive pressure at the contest – Taranto with 32 and Hopper with 18 – while the former had two flying (missed) shots at goal. Carlton also unveiled new winger Blake Acres, who had 16 disposals in a steady performance.
The crucial call
Charlie Curnow gave the Blues some much-needed breathing space with an instinctive, diving soccer close to goal. It took the margin to seven points with nine minutes remaining, but it wasn't without a moment of panic. Hearts were in mouths as the score review examined the goal, but it ultimately determining the soccer-trained Noah Balta had been unsuccessful in his attempt to deflect the kick.
Subs – who blinked first?
In the first match with tactical subs (following the change from purely medical subs), Jack Ross became the first player to take to the field in the dying minutes of the third term. He replaced Marlion Pickett, who had missed both practice hitouts due to an adductor injury. Carlton made its call just minutes later, bringing in Lochie O'Brien for debutant Lachie Cowan at the three-quarter time break.
RICHMOND 1.4 2.4 7.8 8.10 (58)
CARLTON 3.1 4.6 6.9 810 (58)
Richmond: Lynch 3, Rioli jnr 2, Martin, Riewoldt, Bolton
Carlton: C. Curnow 3, Fisher, Silvagni, McKay, Owies, Docherty
Richmond: Rioli, Taranto, Bolton, Lynch, Graham
Carlton: Hewett, Young, McKay, Saad, Cripps
Richmond: Graham (shin/calf), Rioli jnr (cut head)
Richmond: Jack Ross (replaced Marlion Pickett in the third quarter)
Carlton: Lochie O'Brien (replaced Lachie Cowan at three-quarter time)
Crowd: 88,084 at the MCG