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2023 Toyota AFL Premiership
Carlton v Sydney Swans
Finals Week 1 •
74 11.8
Kennedy - Official Timekeeper Full Time
68 9.14
Blues Won By 6
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    LIVE from 7.50pm AEST: Final teams in for Blues-Swans clash

    Two of the competition's in-form teams go head-to-head as Carlton hosts Sydney at the MCG on Friday night

    Harry McKay is tackled by Lewis Melican during Carlton's elimination final against Sydney on September 8, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

    SUMMARY

    Entering round 15 this year, just 11 short weeks ago, the Blues and Swans sat fifth-last and fourth-last on the ladder respectively with just five wins each for the season.

    Since then, in a remarkable turnaround from both clubs, they've lost just three of 19 games combined to enter September as the two most in-form teams in the competition, albeit with both coming off losses in round 24.

    Both teams are close to full strength as well, with Patrick Cripps and Tom Papley set to return after missing the final round of the season while Blake Acres and Justin McInerney are watches on the track this week.

    Carlton v Sydney at the MCG, 7.50pm AEST

    NO LATE CHANGES

    SUBSTITUTES
    Carlton:
    Jesse Motlop
    Sydney: Robbie Fox

    Momentum can be an irresistible force in finals and both of these clubs have it in spades at the business end of the season.

    Where and when: MCG, Friday September 8, 7.50pm AEST

    WHAT HAPPENED THIS YEAR? 

    Round 11: Sydney 11.11 (77) defeated Carlton 6.15 (51) at the SCG

    Probably the lowest point of what - at the time - had been a nightmare season for Carlton, the Blues fluffed their lines in front of goal at the SCG to suffer a sixth loss in seven games, sparking a fiery encounter between two off-field club heavyweights in the rooms post-game. In a game that never reached great heights, which was no great surprise given the respective form lines, Nick Blakey and Chad Warner proved decisive as the Blues wasted some golden chances up forward against an undersized Sydney defence, with Charlie Curnow and Harry McKay managing just one major from 10 shots on goal between them.

    08:40

    THE STATS THAT MATTER

    Carlton
    The Blues should have a clear advantage at stoppage, particularly against a Swans side that has struggled in that area of the ground all season. The Blues are the League's best in winning the contested possession count and groundball gets per game, while they also lead the way in points from clearances. The Swans, on the other hand, rank second last for first possession and clearance differentials as well as hitouts and hitouts to advantage.

    Patrick Cripps fends off Josh Daicos in Carlton's clash with Collingwood in round 10, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

    Sydney
    Finals are won above the shoulders as much as below them and it's here where Sydney might have an advantage. The Swans boast 28 players with finals experience on their list compared to just eight for the Blues, with Sydney co-captain Luke Parker having played more finals games (22) than the entire Carlton side he'll face on Friday night. How the Blues handle the enormous weight of expectation of a first finals appearance in a decade will be pivotal in determining the outcome. On the flip side, the Swans have their own mental demons to overcome in their first September game since the nightmare of last year's Grand Final.

    Luke Parker in action during Sydney's clash against Essendon in round 20, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

    IT'S A BIG WEEK FOR… 

    Carlton
    Carlton's forward line will again be lead by the irrepressible Charlie Curnow, but Harry McKay needs to play a big role as well against a well organised and disciplined Sydney defence. The Giants did well to drop men back into space and limit Curnow's influence after quarter-time in their round 24 clash and the Swans will no doubt look to do the same. McKay needs to provide a regular and reliable target to keep the Swans guessing, and the Blues' midfielders need to be less Charlie focused when going forward.

    Sydney
    The Swans have had an air of unpredictability up forward since Lance Franklin retired, which should allow Tom Papley to thrive at the feet of their three tall options. The dynamic small forward has kicked a goal in all but one game this season and will be a constant threat inside 50, but it's at stoppage where he could have the biggest impact. The 27-year-old has had 16 clearances in his past three games and has an uncanny ability to produce a momentum-changing takeaway from a centre bounce just when his team needs it. Against a powerful Blues midfield, Papley's impact when pinch-hitting on the ball could be pivotal.

    Tom Papley in action during the match between Fremantle and Sydney at Optus Stadium in round 19, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

    PREDICTION

    Carlton by 17 points. Despite their slip-up against the Giants, where they had essentially nothing to play for, the Blues have shown over the past two months that their best football can beat anyone in the competition. If they can handle the occasion, the Blues should have too many weapons for a Swans side that has shown flashes of brilliance all season but has a worrying tendency to fade in and out of games, particularly in the fourth quarter. Unless the Swans can sustain their best for the entire match, the Blues should get it done.

    05:48

    Blues train rolls on with nailbiting win over Swans

    Another classic contest continues a sensational start to the finals series

    Sam Docherty celebrates a goal during the elimination final between Carlton and Sydney at the MCG on September 8, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

    CARLTON can start daring to dream. After waiting a decade to return to the month that matters most, the Blues will now play at least twice this September after ending Sydney's season in a thrilling elimination final at the MCG on Friday night. 

    Michael Voss' men led from start to finish, but could never clinically put the Swans away, before holding on to win their first final since 2013, booking a semi-final with Melbourne after closing out the 11.8 (74) to 9.14 (68) win in front of a crowd of 92,026 made up almost entirely of those wearing navy blue. 

    BLUES v SWANS Full match coverage and stats

    Long-suffering Blues supporters were forced to endure a long second half on a night where things looked amazing, nervous and everything in between. But in the end the Blues are still alive and now one win away from reaching a preliminary final for the first time since 2000.

    08:44

    After kicking just two goals in the opening half, Sydney kicked seven goals to four after half-time, with a goal from Hayden McLean in the final minute ensuring the game went down to the death before Nic Newman took a contested mark just before the final siren to end Sydney's final charge towards goal. 

    When Carlton reached the mid-season bye with only four wins on the board after being beaten by Essendon on King's Birthday Eve, Voss' second season at Princes Park looked destined for an August finish. But after winning 10 of 11 since then, the Blues will be one of six sides still in it by the end of the weekend.

    03:56

    Sam Walsh rolled up his sleeves and was immense in the middle, amassing a game-high 29 disposals, 17 contested possessions, nine inside 50s, six clearances and six tackles to fire alongside Blake Acres, George Hewett and Adam Cerra, who helped Carlton win the crucial midfield battle in a game of warfare.

    The thrilling single-digit win has come at a cost with 2021 Coleman medallist Harry McKay ruled out of next weekend's do-or-die game against the Demons due to concussion, while Jack Martin will face MRO scrutiny.

    Sam Docherty waited more than a decade to play in his first final and needed only 90 seconds to make an early impact on Friday night when he nailed the first goal of the game, sending the Blues faithful into a frenzy.

    Charlie Curnow made it two from two inside three minutes when he dribbled a goal at the Punt Road end to crank the volume. Harry McKay dished off both goals in a perfect start.

    00:30

    It took the best part of 10 minutes for Sydney to settle after a shaky start. Errol Gulden made Newman pay for turning over a kick-in when the All-Australian wingman slotted the Swans' first from just inside 50, but Sydney didn't take its chances early – or late when it mattered most.

    Callum Mills, Sam Wicks and Joel Amartey all missed opportunities, before McKay somehow hit the post from three metres out after collecting the ball on the run out the back.

    Fortunately, Matt Cottrell got some reward for effort deep in time-on to give the Blues a nine-point lead at quarter-time after Chad Warner missed a shot after the siren. 

    The ARC intervened early in the second quarter after Matt Owies nearly wasted another opportunity from an unmissable angle when he ran into an open goal, started to handball towards Curnow but then kicked a ball that hit the goal umpire, however, the ball had cleared the line to confirm Carlton's fourth. 

    00:57

    By the time rain started to fall late in the second quarter, the Blues were on course for victory when Martin kicked Carlton's third goal of the quarter, although Amartey gave the Swans a feint pulse just before the main break, kicking Sydney's only goal of the second term. It was always going to be a long way back for a side that has come from a long way back in 2023. 

    Carlton almost laid a knockout punch early in the second half when McKay plucked a strong contested mark 15 metres out, but he sprayed the set shot.

    02:21

    Just when the game could have been beyond Sydney's reach, Gulden caressed a shot from the pocket on the run that silenced the crowd and kept the Swans in with a glimmer of hope.

    When Logan McDonald kicked two in a minute the margin was reduced to 11 points and last year's Grand Finalists had all the momentum. 

    00:25

    The Carlton faithful were starting to sweat despite the cold conditions and the biting wind, when Martin stepped up. Then Cerra threaded the eye of the needle from the pocket – two kicks that calmed some nervous moments after the main break.

    Patrick Cripps was beaten by Mills but didn't waste his moment to have an impact in the third quarter, converting a rare chance after waiting until game No.181 to play his first final. Yet despite the Blues' dominance, they only led by 15 points at the final break, leaving the door ajar for a remarkable recovery. 

    00:45

    With the superior finals experience, Sydney refused to recede into the off-season, and Carlton's lack of big game exposure was on display, most clearly in the last quarter when Brodie Kemp and Tom De Koning made a meal of a moment deep in defence, allowing Luke Parker to reduce the margin to single digits. 

    Gulden almost made it a one-kick game with 10 minutes to play but the ARC stepped in for a third time, and for a third time it went Carlton's way after Acres was judged to have got a fingertip on the Sherrin, before the West Australian kicked Carlton's last goal to seal the deal.

    00:36

    Like Carlton, Sydney's spot in September was a miraculous in the first place, given the Swans had only six wins after round 17. They flew home in the closing months of the home and away season, but for the second straight year their season ends on the MCG. 

    Big blow for Blues with Harry out of Dees clash
    Harry McKay won't be available for selection for the semi-final after suffering a concussion late in the third quarter. Tom McCartin backed into McKay in a marking contest, the key forward crashing to the ground in obvious distress before being helped off the ground in the arms of two trainers. McKay's chin appeared to make contact with McCartin's head. The Blues confirmed post-game that the key forward has entered the League's concussion protocols.

    01:46

    Is Martin in MRO strife?
    Carlton livewire Jack Martin is set to face scrutiny from Match Review Officer Michael Christian after he collected Sydney defender Nick Blakey high with a swinging arm 10 minutes into the game. Blakey spent time on the ground after Martin made contact with the Swan’s jaw, then went down to the rooms for a SKAT5 test which he subsequently passed, returning to the field after more than 15 minutes out of the game.

    00:42

    Acres stands up
    Blake Acres raced the clock to be fit in time for Friday night and stepped up in his most important game yet since crossing from Fremantle last October. The wingman was only cleared to play on Thursday after being subbed out of round 24 with a collarbone/shoulder injury. Acres finished with 26 disposals, 11 contested possessions, seven inside 50s and a goal.

    00:42

    CARLTON    3.2    7.5     10.6     11.8    (74)
    SYDNEY      1.5     2.6      7.9      9.14    (68)

    GOALS
    Carlton: 
      Cottrell 2, Martin 2, Owies, Docherty, Curnow, Cuningham, Cripps, Cerra, Acres
    Sydney:  McDonald 2, Gulden 2, Parker 2, Hayward, Amartey, Hayward

    BEST
    Carlton: Walsh, Acres, Cerra, Cottrell, Saad, Hewett, Newman
    Sydney: Gulden, McLean, McCartin, Mills, Parker, Blakey, Lloyd

    INJURIES
    Carlton:  Newman (nose), McKay (TBC)
    Sydney:
      Heeney (nose)

    SUBSTITUTES
    Carlton:  Jesse Motlop (replaced Harry McKay at three-quarter time)
    Sydney:  
    Robbie Fox (replaced Joel Amartey in the fourth quarter)

    Crowd: 92,026 at the MCG

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