ST KILDA faced a nervous wait to find out if it secured a maiden finals berth after dispensing of Carlton by 20 points on Sunday afternoon, but the Saints ultimately missed out by a mere percentage after Sydney got over the line against Fremantle later in the day.
The Saints needed both Collingwood and Sydney to lose to be certain of snatching eighth spot, but the Swans saluted to deny the Saints their finals dream.
BLUES v SAINTS Full match coverage and stats
St Kilda's win was also soured by a late injury to star forward Jesse Wardlaw, who would have missed the first week of finals if the Saints had made it.
The Blues looked up for the challenge, but once St Kilda got going in the second term they were tough to stop, ultimately running out 7.4 (46) to 3.8 (26) winners at Ikon Park.
Georgia Patrikios was dominant on the wing for St Kilda, amassing 25 disposals as she worked tirelessly up and down the ground, while Jaimee Lambert was an important defensive layer in the midfield with 10 tackles.
The Saints were focused on getting huge numbers around the ball when Carlton was in its attacking half, bringing every player within 40m of the ball and opening up expansive grass in their own forward half.
By creating such congestion and chaos, they forced poor, panicked ball use from the Blues. As it has been known to do this year, Carlton lost its composure and method throughout periods of the game.
Sucked into rushing their disposal when it wasn't necessary, the Blues played into St Kilda's hands who were focused on pressuring the ball carrier and moving quickly off turnover.
St Kilda maintained its defensive structure all day, often resulting in an outnumber when the Blues went forward, and it was something the home side simply never adapted to.
That wayward ball use was also a problem for Carlton in front of goal, who despite spending extended periods in its forward 50 was unable to make it count on the scoreboard.
Meanwhile St Kilda was deadly across the middle quarters, slamming home five goals from seven shots.
While Abbie McKay was the dominant midfielder on the ground with 12 clearances – the next most being Patrikios and Lambert with four each – that strength at the contest unfortunately wasn't translated into scoreboard pressure.
Key defender Harriet Cordner (12 disposals, four marks) reprised a recent role up forward for the duration of the game, working hard to create opportunities at goal but often a sole navy hand in a sea of Saints.
A late blow
Late in the final quarter, when the game was won for the Saints, the club suffered a major blow when Jesse Wardlaw was felled and would have been ruled out of the first week of finals. As both Wardlaw and Carlton young gun Keeley Sherar competed for a ground ball deep in St Kilda's attack, Wardlaw came off second best and took some time to get to her feet and leave the ground. With Wardlaw's role so crucial to the side's success, losing her for the first week of finals would have been a major loss.
Everything on the line
In its fifth AFLW season, St Kilda had never qualified for a finals series. Coming into Sunday's game, its fate wasn't totally in its hands, with other results to play a part. But what the Saints could control, however, was their own result against the Blues. Win, and they were still in with a chance for their first ever post-season. Not only did the Saints take the four points, but they gained an important five per cent in ladder calculations that came close to being the difference between finals and an immediate off-season.
CARLTON 1.1 2.3 2.8 3.8 (36)
ST KILDA 1.0 3.1 6.2 7.4 (46)
Carlton: Austin, Goss, Moody
St Kilda: Exon 2, Xenos 2, Anderson, Boyd, Friend
Carlton: Moody, McKay, Hill, Skepper
St Kilda: Smith, Plane, Patrikios, Xenos, Vesely
Carlton: Fitzpatrick (knee)
St Kilda: Wardlaw (head knock)
Crowd: 2,649 at Ikon Park