MATCH REPORT: Carlton v St Kilda | Round 6, AFL 2023

Matt Tiffen
April 24, 2023
A sold-out Marvel Stadium on Sunday bore witness to perhaps our most impressive and telling victory of the year. Carlton, the team that every media outlet hypes as ‘the real deal,’ the side who has two Coleman medalists, a Brownlow medalist, All-Australian blazers galore, two number one draft picks and ninety thousand members, came up against the Saints and found out that statistics and awards can only get you so far. System, pressure and belief are our go-to mantra’s this season and slowly but surely, we are showing ourselves, and everyone else, that this might not be a fluke. The baby shark Hunter Clark threw the ball on his boot from a crowded pack to give us the first major of the afternoon. After seven minutes of gametime, Membery had six disposals and two shots on goal. Despite missing a sitter from twenty meters out, he was everywhere. It was good to see him back out on the field after so long out with injury. Skunks output waned as the match went on, but he came out unscathed and got match-minutes under his belt which is all we could hope for. After a career-worst performance last week and lots of external media scrutiny, Gresh attacked play with a point to prove and had three tackles and ten touches in the first quarter. He was a little sloppy at times, even kicking a ball nearly off his kneecap when he was in acres of space, but we know what we get with Gresh and he responded really well. Speaking of acres, or Acres, Blake was good and beat his possession tally P.B by six (36 overall). He’s no longer a Saint, but we got rid of him when he wanted to stay so it’s always nice to see old flames doing well. Mason Wood slotted a snap on his left, with what might be the safest left foot snap in the business, but the umpire outrage Sainters around the country were feeling was reaching boiling point. Every time the Blues went forward, the umps picked out a free kick to Harry, Charlie and Jack. Defenders already have the hardest job in the business and it wasn’t made any easier by Carlton’s 24th, 25th, 26th and 27th players.
The blues scored 2 of their 3 first quarter goals from soft as butter free kicks and this was a trend that would continue. Second quarter started with Cripps winning a one-on-one against Nas and kicking a point. Crippa is 0.7 on the scoreboard this year which was good news for us because he had a couple pings at the big sticks that went astray. Our skills were real sloppy going inside fifty and it was face in hands kinda stuff for a few minutes there, but after being a culprit of this, Butler nailed a much needed major, roving a Phillipou dropped hanger. Curnow then got another free kick in front of goal and the free kick count was 14-4 in favour of the Blues. Butler dribbled home his second of the term shortly after and the worst haircut in the AFL was proving to be a handful for Carlton’s defense. Charlie Curnow then kicked another goal from a free kick and Saints fans heads were exploding simultaneously.
Carlton was leading contested possessions and clearances and scoring from a lot of their forward fifty entries, an area of the game we usually dominate, so no doubt the boys got a Ross Lyon rev up at the halftime break. Jack Steele looked really underdone, and at one point had two kicks in a row smothered from the man on the mark. He found his groove a little bit more in the second half but overall went at around 50% efficiency and let’s hope and pray the cobwebs have been taken care of. No doubt the strangest moment of the match came in the third quarter, courtesy of a Cal Wilkie set shot. He had his quietest game for the year, but somehow snuck forward and ended up with the pill in his hands. In true fullback style he almost put it out on the full, but it’s the thought that counts. Gresham was able to dob only his second goal of the past month, and would have felt a wave of relief at doing so. When Cerra kicked a goal at the two-minute mark it would be the last time Carlton were in front for the game; from here on it was time for Saints footy. Mitchy Owens got a shoelace to a ball on the goal line for his first of the day, Mason was taking goal saving marks in defense and even Cordy got in on the festivities. Our pressure was amplified, contested possessions were in our favour, clearances were going our way it was beautiful to watch. What was even more beautiful was Gresham’s boot out of midair that went fifty meters to a teammate’s chest and then onto Butler’s chest for his third goal. There was only one possible way the fourth quarter could start, and it did, with a Carlton free kick in their forward fifty only twelve seconds after the siren. There was a play that really summed the team up well this year, as Carlton was running out of defensive fifty, all guns blazing, crowd cheering them on, all of a sudden they had to stop and retreat. There was no way forward for them. Our structure and our system froze them on the spot and it was magnificent. What was not magnificent though was Dougs getting done on a fifty-meter penalty for ‘failing to come back three meters’ even though he took five steps back. The best goal of the game came in the last term, after the boys capitalized on a turnover, Mitchito had a running shot from sixty meters out that sailed home and the celebrations from players and fans alike were aplenty. From the seventeen-minute mark of the last quarter, no team scored another goal. Carlton had no fast movement, and their fans were getting angry and vocal – but what Carlton fans need to understand is that they were facing The Boss. Ain’t no one playing fast footy against The Boss.
My personal favourite moment from the game came through Liam Stocker, who sprinted back into the flight of the ball, never once looking at what was coming, put his body on the line and got absolutely cleaned up in the process. That is undeniably symbolic of the direction this club is going and the message from the coaches.According to the stats, and the player ratings, and the fantasy points etc. etc. Carlton had the top seven players on the ground. The Saints highest possession getter was Sincs with 27, but looking at our other disposal leaders, it’s such a unique and varied spread of positions. Wood, Ross, Hill and Byrnes rounded out our top five. This is a good example of how you don’t need stars to win you games, you need a team on the same page, playing for each other and believing in each other. Each player is playing their role and as long as everyone else does the same thing, we will win more than we lose. Crouch and Steele didn’t dominate, which is great, as you don’t want to be reliant on your top players every week, and big Ro had a good game but also wasn’t dominate. I’d like to see Owens removed from the ruck ASAP though, and not because he isn’t doing a good job, but what’s that saying about sending a Ferrari through a plough field? Protect the boy at all costs.
Ross is getting lauded from pillar to post and deservedly so, he is a key reason for our success, but let’s not forget those who are underneath him. Lyon said he gave the gameplan to the assistants, told them to come up with it, and he’ll come in and fine tune it with them. We have absolute legends in our coaches’ box and they’re knowledge for the game is on full display. Corey Enright down back is immense, Lenny and Harvs are inspirational to the players; it is all just gelling so nicely at the moment. It’s a good time to be a St Kilda supporter. I got slammed a couple weeks ago for being too positive, so at what point are we allowed to rejoice in our success? We are starved of it, so when it comes, us Saints are prone to excitement – there is nothing wrong with this. We are now 5-1 and coming up against Port Adelaide in what is a freakish coincidence, as last year the exact same proposition awaited. But this year feels different, doesn’t it? We’re also not playing with a bar of soap in Cairns this time around. And unlike last year, we’re not playing Port on the same night as a Robbie Williams concert, so I don’t have to watch the game on my phone while singing Angels.
Go Saints. Votes – 3 – Owens 2 – Sincs 1 – Butler