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Blues battlers to the end

Date

Martin Blake

St Kilda's Farren Ray and Carlton's Kade Simpson contest the footy.

St Kilda's Farren Ray and Carlton's Kade Simpson contest the footy. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

ST KILDA 4.1 8.4 10.6 16.10 (106) CARLTON 4.5 7.7 10.15 12.19 (91)
GOALS St Kilda: Milera 3, Wilkes 2, Armitage 2, Gram 2, Steven 2, Saad, Goddard, McEvoy, Stanley, Milne. Carlton: Waite 5, McLean, Betts, Garlett, Mitchell, Robinson, Duigan, Bell.
BEST St Kilda: Armitage, Gram, Steven, Siposs, Milera, Geary. Carlton: McLean, Waite, Gibbs, Walker, Kreuzer, Robinson.
INJURIES Carlton: Yarran (hamstring), Judd (hamstring), Tuohy (back) replaced in selected side by Curnow, Carrazzo (illness) replaced in selected side by Ellard.
REPORTS Milne (St Kilda) and Walker (Carlton) reported for wrestling before the opening bounce.
UMPIRES S Jeffery, D Margetts, J Bannister.
CROWD 31,393 at Etihad Stadium.

ONE last time, Brett Ratten stepped up for Carlton.

He did not need to coach at all, having been sacked during the week. But he looked at the final game as the final stages of a marathon. So he was going to finish.

The scuffle .... Carlton's Andrew Walker is forced to put on a new jumper after his niggle with Stephen Milne.

The scuffle .... Carlton's Andrew Walker is forced to put on a new jumper after his niggle with Stephen Milne. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

The supporters, many of them so feral towards him over the years, found voice. They stood and cheered him at the breaks, and Ratten heard it, too.

But what happened was a reflection of Carlton's year, and Ratten's year. The Blues lost two players, captain Chris Judd and Chris Yarran, before half-time, critical blows. Still they kept battling St Kilda in what was an unusually testy and spiteful game, a throwback to the 1980s without the king hits.

But at some point, you felt, St Kilda's numerical advantage would tell. It did, but not until the final 15 minutes. Halfway through the last quarter the Blues were within sight of a famous victory, 15 points up after Brock McLean pinched the ball from a throw-in and ran into goal.

Brett Ratten coaching Carlton for the last time. Click for more photos

Carlton v St Kilda

St Kilda spoilt the party for outgoing Carlton coach Brett Ratten. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

McLean had raked the ball out of congested situations all day in another chapter of his own fantastic story, logging a career-high 39 disposals. ''We were confident we were going to run over the top of them,'' he would say later. ''But they just kept coming.''

The Saints kicked the last five goals of the game. Carlton's midfielders were in quicksand, having been denied the modern necessity of the rotation to the bench, and when the Blues went forward, they missed too many shots.

Four of the men who will take Scott Watters' team forward - David Armitage (from 50 metres), Rhys Stanley (from 55 metres), Ahmed Saad (from a Carlton turnover) and Jack Steven (on the run, as is his wont) found goals when they were needed. Stephen Milne soccered the other, his only major of a testy day in which he spent two hours wrestling with his opponent, Andrew Walker.

Carlton coach Brett Ratten with Eddie Betts after the game.

Carlton coach Brett Ratten with Eddie Betts after the game. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

It was a game Carlton might well have won. With McLean motoring in midfield and Jarrad Waite (five goals) brilliant up forward, the Blues arguably had the better individual players on the day.

But St Kilda was a fraction more even, completing its 12th win of a season that might have included September action had the Saints managed to win a few more close games. Jason Gram (26 disposals and two bombed goals), Armitage (25 disposals) and Steven (18 disposals, two goals) stepped up.

Afterward, Watters and his players were disappointed that for the first time since 2007, St Kilda will miss the finals. But he said the club had started a foundation, and promised a ''ruthless'' pre-season campaign. ''In many ways, how people want to measure this year doesn't really bother me,'' he said. ''It's more about what we do with this year, now.''

Ratten did not even enter the field after the game to wave to the supporters. ''I'm just a passing piece of history at our football club now, and I really appreciate what they were trying to do,'' he said. ''But at the end of the day, I didn't want to make it about me because it's not.

''We lost the game of football. We're here to get the four points, and we missed that opportunity. I really appreciate the applause before the game, [at] quarter-time, three-quarter time, but at the end of the day, the siren was probably the curtain drawn on my coaching at Carlton.''

Carlton arranged a private box for Ratten's wife, Jo, and his family yesterday. Friend Fraser Brown was among the guests at the president's lunch, wanting to see Ratten's final game as coach. Afterwards, Carlton gave Ratten the option of of skipping the post-match media conference. He did nothing of the sort.

Someone asked if he was bitter. ''Where does that get you? It's a good lesson for all of us. You actually have to take responsibility for your own actions or how it goes. I've got things to work on as a coach, and how I do things and I'll be working extremely hard to get those right.

''I've got two young boys and at one point, if they're good enough or lucky enough to be part of the Carlton Football Club I would love them to be there.''

Ratten's much-trumpeted dignity in the face of his sacking came from his parents, he said. ''We didn't have a lot of financial wealth or anything like that but the lessons they taught me, money can't buy.''

Ratten said he would write individual letters to his players soon. When they gathered straight after the game, his theme was the raising of expectations.

''They need to lift that. When it gets tough and you're running those pre-season hills or pushing the weights, not just individually but collectively we have to start pushing the expectation bar up even higher on each other. I think they have a great opportunity. But if there's going to be any success, it has to go to a new level.''

SPITEFUL START

An uncommonly spiteful afternoon with a goalsquare confrontation that recalled Alastair Lynch and Darryl Wakelin's 2004 grand final stous. All eyes at the opening bounce were on Andrew Walker and Stephen Milne going hammer and tongs.

ECHOES OF FEV

It's been three years since a big man in a No. 25 Carlton jumper stood inside the 50-metre arc with arms raised and guns blazing in celebration of a goal. On a day for reminiscing, Luke Mitchell got Blues fans cheering when he recovered a spilt mark and rolled through a goal with his first kick in AFL football. It drew him within 574 goals of Brendan Fevola.

NO FUN IN THE SUN

Footballers looking west weren't smiling. A dropped sitter by Beau Wilkes was the first of several fumbles by players who lost the ball in the sun. - PETER HANLON

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