The third quarter had been a dour arm-wrestle, the Bombers delivering the only two goals – the second after the siren when Jake Stringer converted a set shot. Young Blue Sam Walsh was particularly busy but Carlton wasted a 12-6 advantage in inside 50s.
When Stringer again delivered inside the opening two minutes of the final term, and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti – without a kick to three quarter-time – followed up, the Bombers had momentum.
The Blues pushed an extra man up to the stoppages and it helped, as Jack Martin – quiet to this point – converted from 50m. When Levi Casboult booted his third for the evening, scores were again tied. A rushed behind and a David Cuningham miss gave the Blues a two-point lead but there was more drama.
Eddie Betts conceded a 50m penalty for encroaching on the mark, allowing Adam Saad to drill a long ball inside 50m. Jacob Townsend marked and had the chance to be the Bombers’ hero with nine seconds left but his set shot from 50m resulted only in a behind, the Blues holding on.
Missing injured skipper Dyson Heppell, Merrett, Dylan Shiel, Darcy Parish and Andy McGrath were all busy for the Bombers but Orazio Fantasia, returning from a quad strain, had little impact.
Co-captain Sam Docherty, with 31 disposals, was a general in defence for the Blues while Mitch McGovern was influential inside 50 and up the ground alongside Casboult. Cuningham, in his best game, provided drive while Marc Murphy lifted in the final term. Patrick Cripps, with Kyle Langford as a shadow, battled hard.
A quiet achiever
Casboult was back in the thick of things in the second term – this time for a good reason. While most players are keen for the crowds to return, that may not be the case for the forward-ruckman. Former Blue Dale Thomas says Casboult has benefited from the empty stadiums because he has not had to deal with the consistent heckling of his kicking for goal. That he successfully curled through a set shot across his body from the boundary in the second term added to Thomas’ theory, for that goal added to his unblemished record – to that point – of six set shots this season. However, an out on the full in the third term meant Thomas’ theory was quickly challenged.
The fresh and familiar
It was a night of contrasts for the Blues. Evergreen Kade Simpson, 36, notched his 329th senior match, edging “Big Nick” into third spot for most games played at the club, leaving him behind only Bruce Doull (356) and Craig Bradley (375). Simpson was his typically composed self, particularly in the final term. In contrast, Sam Philp, a Northern Knights product renowned for his pace – he was the quickest over 20m at last year’s national combine – took to the field for the first time. Taken with pick No.20 in last year’s national draft, Philp had a nervous fumble early but settled.
CARLTON 3.0 5.3 5.8 7.10 (52)
ESSENDON 2.1 4.1 6.2 8.3 (51)
Carlton: Cuningham, Casboult, Gibbons, Walsh, Docherty, Murphy
Essendon: Parish, McGrath, Merrett, Shiel, Ridley, Saad
Carlton: Casboult (3), McGovern (2), Betts, Martin
Essendon: Parish (2), Stringer (2), McDonald-Tipungwuti, Smith, Townsend, McKernan
Jon Pierik is cricket writer for The Age. He also covers AFL and has won awards for his cricket and basketball writing.