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From the Archives, 1968: Silvagni stars as Blues win thrilling grand final

First Carlton went after and got Ron Barassi as coach, and it cost the club a lot of money to entice him away from Melbourne.

After that money was spent freely in getting the kind of players Barassi felt could be moulded into premiership material.

Big hopes were held that Barassi might have pulled off the premiership last season, but at the time he had just too little experience and ability among his players.

This season has been different. Young players have matured greatly, and when the chips have been down, as they were in the second semi-final and again on Saturday, “old stagers” in John Nicholls and Sergio Silvagni played as well as they ever have.

Carlton defeated Essendon 56 v 53 in the grand final.

Carlton defeated Essendon 56 v 53 in the grand final.Credit:The Age Archives

Nicholls and Silvagni were the hard core of Carlton’s 1968 triumph, and without one or the other Barassi, despite all his great coaching, would not have won the premiership.

At the start of the season Silvagni had to be talked into playing again, but on Saturday his play in the second half undoubtedly saved the day for the Blues.

Hardly anyone knew Silvagni was on the field in the first half when his contribution to a Carlton effort was only four ineffective kicks, but everybody saw a lot of him in the second half—especially the Essendon players.

His great physical strength told in the packs as the edge went off Essendon’s pace, and his 15 kicks in the last two quarters clearly demonstrated his worth in a close finish.

Even with Silvagni, and with Nicholls giving a typical display of class ruckwork, Carlton at three-quarter time appeared to be feeling the strain of a tight, grimly fought clash a shade more than Essendon.

Match Statistics published in The Age on September 30, 1968.

Match Statistics published in The Age on September 30, 1968.Credit:The Age Archives

“Death or glory”

It was then that Barassi told his tired players: “You have death or glory ahead of you over the next 30 minutes. If you hang on and fight desperately enough, it will be glory.”

The Blues just managed to do this against a courageous Essendon which whittled away at Carlton’s 11-point lead until only three points stood between the teams at the final siren.

Essendon might have got closer still, even won, if umpire Jeff Crouch had awarded a free kick to centre half-forward Alan Noonan at a critical stage late in the last quarter.

Essendon officials, including president Mr Bill Brew, were bitterly disappointed when Crouch missed what appeared to be an infringement against Noonan.

With one minute of time-on gone and Carlton leading by two points, Essendon raced the ball forward, and it seemed Noonan had the mark covered.

But suddenly Wes Lofts, who had been 40 yards away, raced in and made contact with him. Noonan was eased out of position and Lofts took the mark.

Lofts’ opponent, 17-year-old Geoff Blethyn, was standing unguarded 40 yards away, and if Noonan had been given a free kick, Carlton would have had little hope of getting out of trouble.

But Crouch ruled there was no free kick, and Essendon had lost its chance to “pinch” the premiership.

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Luck or no luck, Carlton deserved the premiership because on the day it was the better side.

As in the second semi-final, it was ruck play and a centre line advantage that started Carlton’s best moves.

Nicholls, with his bulk and size was too big and strong for the lion-hearted Don McKenzie.

Even a strained groin, suffered in the first quarter and which Nicholls carried for the rest of the game without Essendon being aware of it, could not close the gap between the two important followers.

With Nicholls a force all days, Silvagni and Peter Jones prominent in the second half, wingmen Gary Crane and Ian Robertson on top and Adrian Gallagher and Denis Munari busy as rovers, the Carlton forwards just had to receive opportunities.

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The Carlton attack looked at its most dangerous in the second quarter when Jesaulenko burst into the game in a spectacular way and Brian Kekovich took control against Geoff Pryor. But for the rest of the game the Essendon defenders did not let their side down.

It was Essendon’s inability to get the ball for-ward often enough and quickly enough because of beaten rucks, rovers and centreline players that let it down.

As far as Carlton was concerned, the win was a rewarding team effort. But the Blues never produced the attractive brand of clean, direct play Richmond produced when it won last year’s Grand

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