Blake Acres kicks the winning goal during Carlton's semi-final against Melbourne on September 15, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

WEITERING to Hollands to Docherty to Acres. Carlton fans won't ever forget it.

It was a passage that sent the Blues into a preliminary final for the first time since 2000. It was the passage that sent Melbourne home, out of the finals with back-to-back losses for the second straight year.

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Finals enhance reputations. They emphasise moments. The littlest kick, smother, mark and touch carries enormous significance. They turn mere mortals into heroes and transform heroes into superheroes. Carlton has a new set at Ikon Park.

Friday night's come-from-behind two-point win over Melbourne was the most pulsating final the MCG has seen in years – the roar when Blake Acres' kick tumbled through for a goal to put them one point up with a minute left to play was grandstand-shaking and would have been heard kilometres away.

It came after a frenetic final quarter that summed up Melbourne's finals campaign. After kicking themselves out of the qualifying final loss to Collingwood, the Demons had chances to bury the Blues midway through the last quarter on Friday night. 

Max Gawn marked five metres out but his banana kick hit the post. Bayley Fritsch's shot wasn't there. Kozzy Pickett's rolling snap also hit the post. Gawn touched Clayton Oliver's shot on the goal line. It was enough to keep the Blues, spurred on by a dominant force in the 96,000-strong crowd, believing.


They subbed on youngster Ollie Hollands and he was immediately involved on a wing, and he played a part in the Blues' desperate passage to clinch victory. 

It started on the MCC Members wing with less than 90 seconds to play as the Blues trailed by five points when Jacob Weitering marked a short scrappy kick from Jack Viney. The resolute full-back immediately looked inboard and found an energised Hollands, who marked and passed to Sam Docherty on the half-forward point of the centre square. 

When young Demons defender Judd McVee overshot his spoil attempt, Docherty slid inside him in acres of space, with that man in mind. He took a bounce and sent the ball to the top of the goalsquare where Blake Acres marked, landed, and kicked the ball through.

After last week's goal-line heroics from Acres, when he had two just-in-time moments to spoil certain goals and also kicked the sealer against the Swans, the former Saint and Docker was ready for another moment. He so far is the moments player of the finals series. A year ago playing for Fremantle on the MCG in a semi-final, Acres landed at Carlton as a low-profile recruit. He has become a hero in a fortnight.


Carlton had them everywhere. Some of the lesser-known faces stood up – Tom De Koning to kick two first-quarter goals and get the Blues moving; Matthew Kennedy to kick two of his own and be on Jake Lever's mind; Jesse Motlop's classy finishes from the pocket when under pressure; Nic Newman continuing his fantastic season.

And then one of their best produced one of his best. Sam Walsh put in a semi-final to remember: a 34-disposal, eight-tackle, two-goal epic that showed his relentless running, courageous competitiveness and inner drive to be suited to September. His checkside goal on the run in the second term, complete with the touch of the tongue celebration, will live on for the Blues. 

But there is now more to come. They hit the road and head to the Gabba next weekend to face the Lions, more ready than ever for the challenge ahead.