CARLTON survived an almighty scare against Richmond on Saturday, producing a quickfire comeback and then holding its nerve at the death on the way to a tense five-point victory at Ikon Park.
The Blues were forced to overturn a 22-point deficit against their plucky opposition to keep a stuttering season on track, resigning the Tigers to a 10th straight AFLW defeat in the process with a frantic 8.3 (51) to 7.4 (46) victory.
BLUES v TIGERS Full match coverage and stats
Unsurprisingly, Madison Prespakis was the inspiration behind the remarkable comeback win, continuing the form that helped her claim last season's AFLW best and fairest with 19 disposals and two goals in yet another dominant display.
Monique Conti (26 disposals, four tackles) had been the driving force behind Richmond's early ascendency, but not even her constant presence in every contest could help the Tigers claim a long-awaited first win in the competition's history.
Carlton had initially been stunned by Richmond's fast start, with the Tigers kicking four unanswered goals to begin the clash on their way to claiming a sizeable and surprising buffer just after quarter-time.
But rather than dwell on the deficit, the Blues were sparked into action. Prespakis was everywhere, booting two goals in a matter of minutes to kickstart the comeback, as the hosts added four straight majors of their own to claim an unlikely lead by half-time.
However, a dangerous Prespakis tackle – which saw Sarah Hosking come from the field for a concussion test before later returning – could come under scrutiny from the Match Review Officer.
With the match evenly poised at the halfway point, Darcy Vescio picked her moment to help split it wide open. The Carlton forward was everywhere in the third term, adding three goals in the quarter alone to help the Blues gain complete control of the contest.
But just when all hope of a drought-breaking win appeared lost, Richmond roared back to life. Tayla Stahl kicked her second and Courtney Wakefield added her third as the margin was whittled back to two points in an instant.
Carlton needed a steadier and Georgia Gee was the calm head to provide it. Her wonderful run and squaring kick set up Nicola Stevens at the top of the goalsquare, ensuring the Blues had breathing space again.
But still Richmond fought valiantly. Three straight shots on goal went either widely astray or were touched on the line in the game's dying stages, as the Tigers once again fell oh so close to that long-awaited first win.
There had been much made of the reunion between identical twins Jess and Sarah Hosking, who were going head-to-head in the AFLW for the first time after Sarah's switch to the Tigers last year. But they didn't have to wait long to become reacquainted, with the pair starting the first centre bounce standing side by side. Jess ultimately claimed the points, with Carlton winning the contest and her 19 disposals bettering her sister's 15 touches.
The other battle
There was another pivotal contest happening out of the centre, one that pitted two of the game's best and brightest young talents in Madison Prespakis and Monique Conti against each other. Both were superb as their teams' best players, lighting up the encounter with their skill and prolific ball-winning abilities. Prespakis finished with 19 disposals and two goals in Carlton's win, but Conti was perhaps the game's best player with 26 touches and four tackles.
Richmond had all of the momentum in the final quarter. The Tigers had kicked two straight goals and had reduced the margin to just two points, before Georgia Gee's game-changing play ensured Carlton was back on track. Gee took the advantage after the Blues had won a free-kick, moved the ball forward with two quick bounces, and kept her composure to find Nicola Stevens at the top of the goalsquare with a pinpoint kick. It was the game's defining moment in a seesawing contest.
"The heart rate was elevated for a fair portion of that match. The start didn't go to plan, then we got ourselves back into the contest with some really good style and system and effort. Then in the last quarter, the scoreboard pressure came on and in the end we just clung on. It wasn't very impressive." – Carlton coach Daniel Harford
"It's hard to sum up. The biggest part of me goes to being really proud of what we did and how we stuck to our game. We were challenged in so many ways and there were moments when Carlton got on top, but we were able to fight back and were able to give them something to deal with. I'm really proud of their effort and in the end, we just ran out of time." – Richmond coach Ryan Ferguson
CARLTON 0.2 4.2 7.3 8.3 (51)
RICHMOND 3.0 4.1 5.1 7.4 (46)
Carlton: Vescio 3, Prespakis 2, McEvoy, Harris, Stevens
Richmond: Wakefield 3, Brennan 2, Stahl 2
Carlton: Prespakis, Vescio, Egan, McEvoy, Hosking, Harrington
Richmond: Conti, Hosking, Seymour, Wakefield, Brancatisano, Brennan
Crowd: 2212 at Ikon Park
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