Semi-final SOS and a potential Grundy return? Blues, Dees mull changes

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Carlton vice-captain Sam Walsh has backed Jack Silvagni to seamlessly slot back into the Blues’ senior side for Friday night’s semi-final, as Melbourne consider a recall for Brodie Grundy.

The Blues and Demons will both be missing key players to suspension in their semi-final clash unless they can have the bans overturned at the tribunal. Match review officer Michael Christian offered in-form Blue Jack Martin a two-game suspension for striking Sydney’s Nick Blakey in Carlton’s drought-busting elimination final triumph, a sanction the Blues announced they would challenge.

Jack Silvagni could line up for the Blues in the semi-final against Melbourne.Credit: Getty Images

The MRO categorised Martin’s act as careless conduct, high impact and high contact. He made contact with Blakey’s head with his right hand as the Swan handballed. The running defender was forced to leave the field and have a concussion test after the incident.

Meanwhile, young Melbourne key forward Jacob van Rooyen was rubbed out for one match, with the Demons still to decide whether to challenge the charge. If van Rooyen does miss, Melbourne star Christian Petracca warned against tampering with what was working in the ruck to solve their attacking problems encouraged the coaches to resist the urge to throw Max Gawn forward.

The Demons struggled to kick a score against Collingwood in the qualifying final on Thursday, managing only seven goals from 67 inside-50s.

Grundy is the most likely inclusion, however, the pairing of the two rucks has not worked well for the Demons this year when they have been asked to operate also as key targets. Josh Schache could also be considered.

Demons recruit Brodie Grundy could be in line for a recall for the Demons semi-final against Carlton Credit: Getty Images

Key forward Ben Brown, who has managed just 11 goals from his seven games this season and has not been in the senior team since round 19, missed the match simulation against Carlton on Friday.

“Gawn, he has been marking the ball really, really well, pretty much the whole year to be honest and that’s his one wood, his contested marking. If he goes down forward, if we bring in another tall that would help us. But what he is doing in the midfield as a ruck is pretty special at the moment and his game on the weekend in the ruck was pretty incredible,” Petracca said.

“So I don’t want to fix something down there and the ruck stuff I thought we were pretty good in the clearances and around the ground stoppages, so personally I would keep Max as sole ruckman.

“I don’t really care who gets picked as long as the best 22 out there are fit to play. We want to compete, Brodie has been an amazing person. These last three or four weeks it’s been difficult for him, as it would be for anyone coming to a new team, but his character has been amazing.”

Battle for spots

Carlton key forward Harry McKay is certain to miss the Demons clash due to the concussion he suffered against the Swans, so the Blues could be forced to make at least two changes.

Silvagni was unavailable for selection for the first week of finals after suffering a knee sprain in his VFL return from the same injury at AFL level in round 19, but Walsh said he was tracking well in his recovery.

“I think he had a session yesterday [Saturday], which is usually a game load, and if you pull up well from that, I think you’re in a position to train for the rest of the week and put your hand up for selection,” Walsh told reporters.

“We’ve seen what he’s been able to do, before he had his knee injury – he was in a really good space, being able to impact up the ground and in the ruck, which is a tough role to do so. I think he’ll be definitely one who will put his hand up.”

Carlton recalled Marc Pittonet to play alongside fellow ruckman Tom De Koning in the Sydney win, after McKay provided ruck relief in round 24, so they could opt to go small or tall in the 2021 Coleman medallist’s absence. Matt Kennedy, Paddy Dow, Ollie Hollands and Zac Fisher are among the other leading options to come in, but none is an exact replica of either McKay or Martin.

“Tom De Koning had some important moments late in the game, playing as a forward, so I think we’ve still got the capacity to go taller or smaller, depending on what the coaches want to do,” Walsh said.

“‘Vossy’ [coach Michael Voss] spoke in the presser, or even to us last week, [saying] it’s a squad that wins finals – not just the team of 22, so I think that’ll shine out this week, if we can get the guys to step up.

“Marto’s been in great form – he’s been one of the guys in the air and on the ground, and you can just rely on him – so hopefully, we can get the result we want out of that, and I think we’ve just got to take it how it comes.

“There’s a bit to play out the next two, three days and I think there’ll be a handful, if not more, guys putting their hand up for that role. So, I’m sure training will have that intensity about it, which we need.”

Max Gawn against Carlton in round 22 Credit: getty

Melbourne will also need to bring in a replacement for Angus Brayshaw after he was knocked out against the Pies; he will miss with concussion. James Harmes came off with “hamstring awareness” during the match simulation against Carlton on Friday. He has not been ruled out of selection this week but was restricted in Melbourne’s training session on Sunday at Gosch’s Paddock.

James Jordon, who has played 17 games this year and most recently played in the round 22 loss to the Blues, is among those in contention for a recall along with Charlie Spargo and Taj Woewodin.

‘A close battle’

Walsh and the Blues revelled in their first finals win in a decade in the aftermath of Friday night’s result, but are not in the mood for reflection, believing there is more they can achieve.

That means pretty quickly turning their attention to a rematch with Melbourne, who they outlasted by four points last month after a Petracca shot was called a behind.

Sam Walsh is preparing for another tough clash with Melboure.Credit: Getty Images

“They’re obviously a super strong side,” Walsh said of the Demons.

“Watching that game [against Collingwood on Thursday night], their ability in the contest [is impressive] and they obviously had a lot of inside-50s.

“We had a close battle with them last time around, and expect the same again. I think the biggest thing is not worrying too much about the opposition because we know if we bring the footy that we’re capable of playing, it’s hard to beat.”

Petracca felt the Demons’ problem was not only one of the forward personnel but the delivery into the forward line and the high inside-50 count was slightly misleading.

“I feel like the last three or four weeks we probably had a similar forward line and it’s worked really well so us mids need to get better at actually delivering the ball inside 50 better rather than blazing away and putting it on their heads.”

He added: “We won the inside-50 count, but I don’t think that was a true reflection on the game, you have probably got to look at quality over quantity and some of our efficiency stuff going in wasn’t great.

“Collingwood did pretty much dominate for two or three quarters, so I guess from that point of view I am more of a glass half-full guy, it was positive in a way that we were able to only lose by seven points and not play the right way I guess.”

MCG prepares for big turnout

Tickets for both semi-finals will go on sale on Monday.

The AFL confirmed the arrangements on Sunday, saying MCC members would get first crack at tickets for the first semi-final from 9am.

Melbourne and Carlton members will be able to purchase tickets via Ticketek from 10am on a first-in, first-served basis, and AFL members will have their opportunity from noon. Any tickets left over for the general public will be available for sale from 3pm.

The same timelines are in place for Port Adelaide and GWS members seeking tickets to the second semi-final.

The scheduling, confirmed by the AFL on Sunday, means the winner of the second semi-final will potentially get just a six-day break before a Friday night preliminary final at the MCG against Collingwood, or the league might decide to schedule that match at twilight on Saturday.

The Brisbane Lions secured a preliminary final at the Gabba by defeating Port Adelaide in Saturday night’s qualifying final.

If the AFL scheduled the Brisbane preliminary final on the Friday and Collingwood’s match on the Saturday, the Magpies – if they win – would have one less day to prepare for the grand final despite the fact they were the team that finished on top of the ladder.

The first two finals in week one both drew crowds of more than 92,000, and the MCG is now preparing for a similar turnout this Friday night between the Blues and the Demons.

Adelaide Oval will also be a full house as Ken Hinkley’s Port Adelaide attempts to avoid a straight sets exit against a rampaging Giants.

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