Curnow drives Carlton to first finals spot in a decade

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Charlie Curnow decided he’d had enough. For the first quarter and a half of football, Gold Coast were all over the Blues, a side they have cast a mysterious spell over. They were 40 points up.

Enter the Carlton spearhead. Curnow kicked four goals and set up another to drag the Blues back into a match that looked gone. In the final stanza, he slammed through his fifth major, then put another on a platter for Harry McKay.

Match-winner: Charlie Curnow.Credit: AFL Photos / Getty Images

His final goal put the Blues in front. And if that wasn’t enough – as the Blues desperately tried to hold on in the final moments – Curnow was in the opposition goal square, where he took the final, match-saving mark that ensured Carlton would play finals for the first time in a decade.

It was an extraordinary individual performance, even by this extraordinary footballer’s standards. The fact that Curnow has one hand on the Coleman Medal was irrelevant. He put the Blues on his back and all but carried them over the line himself.

Carlton 13.13 (91) defeated Gold Coast 13.9 (87).

The Suns had fought gallantly, led by former skipper David Swallow, who played up forward, found space and kicked a career-high four goals. But Curnow’s exploits aside, their propensity for self-sabotage was on show again. You would have thought the Suns had something to play for. Like finals. More likely, for a few, it was their careers.

The tendency to shoot themselves in the foot was shown late in the second quarter, when Alex Sexton and Jack Lukosius gave up a 100-metre penalty between them that led to a Jack Martin goal, just as Curnow was getting into gear. It was immature, silly football.

The Blues celebrate after the narrow win, which put them in the finals for the first time in a decade.Credit: AFL Photos / Getty Images

The Blues, for their part, had to show some of that maturity they themselves lacked towards the end of last year, when they gave up three games straight to blow their finals spot. Early on, they were nowhere near it, allowing the Suns to run riot.

The home side had six goals in the first quarter, and should have had the gate shut long before Curnow exploded and tore them to shreds. But shots were sprayed, tackles missed, and the self-doubts set in. By half-time that 40-point lead was back to two.

They could have been steamrolled from there, but the rest of the match was a grind, and around the contest the Suns had the edge. Matt Rowell and Touk Miller were massive around the stoppages, and Bailey Humphrey gave them additional spark.

Humphrey was critical in a frenzied last quarter, intercepting a loose handball that saw Miller storm into goal, then making another critical kick that resulted in Swallow’s fourth goal. That had the Suns back on top by 13 points.

Time for Curnow, again. Jesse Motlop, who played a stunning game, found him in front of Charlie Ballard. Curnow wheeled on to his right and sunk the shot, which sailed into the crowd from the 50-metre mark.

His kick to McKay, returning from a long-term injury, didn’t let the big forward break stride as he charged into goal. It was a remarkable, see-sawing contest, but it was decided by one man with the power to set the entire course of September.

GOLD COAST 6.5 7.7 9.7 13.9 (87)
CARLTON 1.2 7.5 8.12 13.13 (91)
GOALS – Gold Coast: Swallow 4 Sexton 2 Ainsworth 2 Rosas Lukosius Miller Chol Ellis. Carlton: Curnow 5 Motlop 2 Martin 2 Owies 2 Cottrell McKay.
BEST – Gold Coast: Ainsworth Swallow Rowell Flanders Lukosius Miller. Carlton: Curnow Hewett Dow Weitering Acres Hewett Docherty.
Injuries – Gold Coast: Nil. Carlton: Nil.
Umpires: Fisher Howorth Wallace Adair.
Crowd: 19,253 at Heritage Bank Stadium.

C Curnow (C) 9
J Weitering (C) 8
G Hewett (C) 7
B Ainsworth (GC) 7
D Swallow (GC) 7

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