It was the final many predicted and apparently just as many wanted. It was a great event off the field, but on the field it was a battle. It was a war between two combatants that aren’t exactly the best of friends despite their close proximity. It was Carlton vs North Melbourne, and it did not disappoint.
North Melbourne were looking to complete their comeback from their, by their lofty standards, embarrassing exit in the Quarter Finals in 2014’s competition; while Carlton were looking to be the first team to win back to back Seniors ASFA Cups after failing to do so when presented with the opportunity in 2013. Ironically, it was North Melbourne that stopped them from achieving that feat 2 years.
North looked set to once again be the Grinch that ruined Carlton’s Christmas as they took an early lead in the 6th minute to the surprise of many fans in attendance. They were centimeters away from doubling their advantage in the 13th minute from a free kick with Carlton’s goalkeeper producing a spectacular diving save at full stretch to reach the ball at his bottom corner. North also hit the crossbar on a separate occasion as they searched for an elusive second goal.
Carlton’s outfield players took full advantage of their keeper’s heroics when defender Mohammed Mohammed scored from close range in the 25th minute.
The scores remained at 1-1 as both sides played their heart out as they played to defend against each other’s offensive threats rather than taking speculative risks with the stakes being as high as they were.
The match went to extra time and in the second period of it with less than 10 minutes to go, a Carlton player was in on goal when he was brought down by a North defender. There was controversy and dispute over the location of the foul with the referee originally deeming it outside the box but the linesman nearest to the play convinced him that it was inside the box so the referee overturned his original decision and awarded a penalty to Carlton and presented them with a platinum opportunity to take the lead with time running out.
Deng stepped up to take the penalty as the entire arena stood up in waiting, some filled with anxiety, others excitement, and for a few, horror. The mutual feeling was one of anticipation as the fate of Carlton laid in the hands of the taker and the fate of North Melbourne laid in the hands of the keeper. Some couldn’t look, most couldn’t look away. The fans of each side stood on the sideline awaiting the shot of the penalty like it was the shot of a start gun, the fans of Carlton hoping to celebrate victory, while the fans of North Melbourne hoped to celebrate survival. Deng was about to either become a legend or a villain. The keeper stood near the penalty spot for unexpectedly long, as if he were trying to delay the inevitable. Deng looked at his team then looked at the keeper. The keeper made himself big. Deng saw the bigger picture. He saw the glory that awaited. He stepped up, took but a few strides and put his boot to ball. The keeper dived, but the wrong way. The ball hits the back of the net. The ground erupts. The screams of Carlton echo around JJ Holland Park. Deng kicks himself into the record books. Carlton go back to back, North Melbourne go home empty handed.