ELLIE Blackburn has saved the Western Bulldogs season, securing her side's second-ever finals berth with a late goal against Carlton on Friday night.
The final eight is now set after the Bulldogs snatched a three-point win over the Blues, 4.7 (31) to 5.4 (34), as the sun set at Ikon Park.
In the slippery conditions thanks to a signature Melbourne-in-November downpour before the opening siren, both teams struggled to take the ball cleanly early. It was Carlton who settled faster, keeping the ball in its forward half, and slamming through three opening quarter goals via Poppy Schaap and Elise O'Dea.
Momentum swung back the way of the Dogs in the second quarter as Ellie Blackburn and Richelle Cranston kicked impressive goals of their own to even the scoreboard heading into the half time break. The Blues got out to a 10-point lead at three-quarter-time before the Bulldogs were saved by a match winning Ellie Blackburn with just two minutes remaining.
BLUES v BULLDOGS Full match coverage and stats
Several experienced Blues stepped up in their final game of the season, with captain Kerryn Peterson (20 disposals), Elise O'Dea (two goals) and Darcy Vescio (12 disposals, four marks) all having an impact, but emerging youngsters Poppy Schaap (two goals) and Amelia Velardo (11 disposals, four tackles) showed exactly why they are on an AFLW list.
The Western Bulldogs looked most dangerous when they got space out the back and ran toward goal, particularly when Sarah Hartwig was their deepest forward, while the Blues were more focused on surge footy, bringing the ball to ground in attack and generating shots from there.
Western Bulldogs’ midfielder Lizzy Georgostathis was handed a role on Carlton young gun Keeley Skepper and had some impressive wins down back in what may just be a new position for the 21-year-old. Meanwhile Lucy McEvoy spent most of the night up forward for the Blues.
Defender-turned-midfielder Eleanor Brown, fresh off kicking her first goal last week, started the game well, moving around the stoppages with pace but was ruled out of the remainder of the game in the third term with concussion and will now enter the competition's 12-day protocols.
Jess Good's defensive apprenticeship
Last week Carlton's Jess Good played almost solely in defence showing off her quick hands and ability to read the ball, and it was all in preparation for this week where she went head-to-head with the Bulldogs' Celine Moody for the bulk of the game. Moody, who has had a strong season playing out of the goalsquare, has shown her strength in the air but on Friday Good was able to match her, and follow her into the ruck as she rotated with Alice Edmonds. Good, the former basketballer, has come along in leaps and bounds in just her second season of footy.
A true captain's goal
With two minutes left on the clock and Carlton ahead by three points the Dogs needed someone to step up and put them in front, and who else but captain Ellie Blackburn to do it. As the Bulldogs tried and tried to hit the scoreboard but kept coming up short, it was Blackburn who won the ball at the top of the 50m arc, stepped an opponent and slammed through the game saving goal, securing her side's place in finals for just the second time.
For Carlton, it's season over, finishing up with two wins, two draws and six losses as focus shifts to season eight, meanwhile the Bulldogs are finals bound, with their fixture to be confirmed on Sunday evening.
CARLTON 3.2 3.2 4.7 4.7 (31)
WESTERN BULLDOGS 1.0 3.2 3.3 5.4 (34)
Carlton: O'Dea 2, Schaap 2
Western Bulldogs: Blackburn 2, Hartwig, Cranston, Woodley
Carlton: Hill, McKay, Vescio, Peterson
Western Bulldogs: Edmonds, Blackburn, Cranston, Georgostathis
Western Bulldogs: Brown (concussion)
Crowd: 1193 at Ikon Park