The final round of the AFL proved to be the heart-stopper that fans were expecting, with the formation of the top eight not being decided until the final match of the round.
The Inner Sanctum takes you through Round 23, complete from A-Z. The defining highs, lows and controversies surrounding Round 23 of the 2022 AFL Premiership season.
A is For A Chad move: Chad Warner had the Swans fans out of their seats early with a massive 70-metre bomb in the first quarter to give the Swans the lead at the break, another moment for the growing highlight reel of the young Swans midfielder.
B is For Bullet dodged?: Fremantle have worked rather hard for its top four status in 2022. When GWS raced to a five-goal lead within the first 30 minutes of its clash in Manuka, it looked like it was all for naught, but Fremantle is made of strong stuff. It regrouped to record a 20-point win. It still needed Carlton to help it out by beating Collingwood, but the top four dream was not dead… yet.
C is For Clarko factor: The day after the signing of Alastair Clarkson, the Roos supporters turned out to watch their side for the last time in 2022. The crowd had a buzz to it and was much larger than what was expected, getting close to 15,000. The Kangaroos were in the game early, but the young side ran out of legs to finish the season with a big loss. But you could already sense that the Alastair Clarkson news provided such excitement to the club. Bring on 2023.
D is For Dee-struction: From the moment Kysaiah Pickett kicked a goal within the first 20 seconds, you just knew Melbourne had arrived. With four goals each to Pickett and Bayley Fritsch, and three to Ben Brown, the Dees held onto a strong lead all night, as the Lions struggled to close the margin.
E is For Enigmatic forward: Alex Sexton has managed just four games this year. His lack of defensive pressure has seen other players go past him. However, if Round 23 is anything to go by, there is plenty of upside to Sexton, if not at Gold Coast, then surely another club. He booted 6.2 from his 14 kicks and took six marks in the Suns’ easy victory.
F is For Fritsch don’t miss: He may not be collecting the Coleman medal this season, but Bayley Fritsch can put his name beside a different record. The young Dee is the only player this season to kick a goal in all 22 games. Fritsch’s four goals against Brisbane brought his tally to 50 goals, making him the Dees’ leading goal kicker in 2022.
G is For Graytest: Robbie Gray walked away from the AFL on one of the highest notes possible. With a performance of two goals, 12 possessions, and a 56-point win, Gray said farewell after 271 matches.
H is For Hold my beer: Friday night’s match saw Jake Lever kick his first goal in 1,931 days. Come Saturday and Fremantle defender Alex Pearce said “anything you can do, I can do better”. He slotted his club’s seventh goal in the third term, his first major since August 23, 2015. That’s 2,554 days ago, or rather a long overdue celebration.
I is For Injury free (almost): All Geelong was hoping for was to get through injury-free when it faced West Coast, but things were not looking good early on, with Jake Kolodjashnij going off with a concussion and Cameron Guthrie soon after hurting his shoulder. The Cats will be hoping both are just minor concerns ahead of their finals campaign starting in two weeks.
J is For Jamie comes in clutch: It was just five weeks ago when Collingwood forward Jamie Elliott put the dagger through the heart of Essendon supporters everywhere, kicking a goal after the siren. Flash forward to Sunday and once again Elliott shattered the hearts of Carlton fans, kicking two goals in the final quarter including the sealer which put Collingwood in front by a point with just two minutes left in the game.
K is For Kick it like Johnson: Collingwood forward Ash Johnson set the MCG alight with a snap from the boundary towards the end of the second quarter from 25 metres out from goal. The goal marked back-to-back goals for the Magpies after a goal from Jack Ginnivan from just inside the 50-metre arc. Johnson added another goal to his tally, finishing with two goals for the match.
L is For Last hurrah: Two Saint retirees left everything on the park to go out with a win. Dean Kent was subbed on and got four tackles in limited game time, while Dan Hannebery with 30 disposals and 585 metres gained, ensured he would finish his career on a positive note.
M is For Milestone man: With little to play for against the Eagles, much of the day was about Patrick Dangerfield. Playing his 300th game, the Cats midfielder started well, before playing much of the second half up forward. He wasn’t quite able to snag a goal, but still enjoyed the victory and the celebration of what has been a fine career to date.
N is For No excuses in 2023: The Suns polished off the Roos, as expected, to finish with 10 wins for the season. They have shown much improvement in the past two seasons, to the point where there is now no excuse for the club in 2023 – finals are what they should demand and expect. They are still quite young but are exciting to watch and natural development should see them challenging for a finals spot next season.
O is For Over and out: Carlton’s season ended in heartbreaking fashion after a one-point loss to Collingwood which saw it miss the finals despite going 8-2 halfway into the season. The Blues were up by as much as 25 points at one point in the third quarter. Carlton’s third quarter was dominant, kicking eight goals to one, including two goals from emerging star Jesse Motlop. The Blues were plus 22 in contested possessions for the third quarter as well as having seven more inside 50s than the Magpies. Unfortunately for Michael Voss and his side, they couldn’t weather the storm of yet another Collingwood comeback.
P is For Positive outlook on a dull evening: Adelaide was embarrassed in Showdown 52 when Port Adelaide stretched its lead to 56 points by the final siren. Despite this, the Crows showed a glimmer of positivity, especially through the middle. Reilly O’Brien recorded 50 hit-outs and the Crows also won the centre clearance count.
Q is For Queasy feeling in pits of stomachs: The Western Bulldogs did what they had to do. Their 23-point win over Hawthorn meant that the equation was simple for Carlton at the MCG. Win and eighth place is Carlton’s. Lose and the Dogs fight on another day. It was a nervous performance by the Bulldogs. It is to the credit of the leaders, especially that they were able to regroup and win the match by enough that Carlton had to do the same.
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R is For Richmond’s young guns: There is a changing of the guard at Tigerland and the game on Saturday night was a demonstration of what they are capable of. Noah Cumberland helped his team to a strong start with a pair of goals in the opening few minutes. Maurice Rioli Jr was quieter this game (11 disposals and a goal) but has shown more than a little bit of promise throughout the last few games. Tyler Sonsie helped himself to one goal and three behinds along with 19 disposals to round out the young tigers.
S is For Showdown medal: Connor Rozee was awarded the Showdown Medal for a stellar performance. The 22-year-old recorded 34 disposals, a goal, and eight tackles, helping Port Adelaide through their woes of Showdown 51, in a dominating performance.
T is For Turn the page on 2022: The Eagles have had a year to forget in 2022. COVID, supplementary players, injuries – they were just never able to get going. Their second half of the season, whilst not resulting in many wins, has been much improved, and they can be happy with blooding a number of youngsters. Still, the Eagles will be keen to forget about much of 2022 and move on to hopefully an improved 2023.
U is For Underrated… maybe no longer: Had you taken a poll at the start of the season, most casual supporters wouldn’t have recognised Sam Taylor if he’d stood up in their soup. Fast forward five months and he’s not so sparsely known. He has become one of the competition’s best intercept markers and is well in the running for an All-Australian berth. He completed his season against Fremantle with nine intercept marks and 12 marks.
V is For Very, very special junior: There has been quite a bit of hype about father/son recruit Sam Darcy. In his third AFL game, the 19-year-old kicked his first goal in the second quarter and followed that up with his second five minutes later. Having played his first two matches in defence, Darcy showed that he has an attacking string to his bow as well, but even more importantly he has shown composure not often seen in one so raw.
W is For Will it be enough?: With their respective teams fighting to cement their spots in the top four, all eyes were on Clayton Oliver and Lachie Neale. The Brownlow contenders collected team-high disposals, but with Brisbane’s dismal performance, it seems unlikely that Neale will poll votes in this round.
X is For X-Factor saves the day: With a desperate and hungry Saints outfit pushing hard to cause an upset, it fell to Will Hayward to seal the Swans’ victory. The plucky forward’s third goal of the day not only sealed the win but securing the Swans’ spot in the top four.
Y is For Youth, Youth, and More Youth: Hawthorn unveiled debutants number seven and eight in the season closer against the Western Bulldogs. Neither Ned Long nor Jack Saunders suggested that they would be anything other than comfortable at AFL level. Long finished with 11 disposals and seven marks, whilst Saunders had seven touches and registered his first goal and pressured well in the forward half.
Z Is For Zero dry eyes in the house: Essendon great Michael Hurley said goodbye to the Essendon faithful after its game against Richmond on Saturday night. Announcing his retirement during the week, Hurley even got a final goal, kicking one in the final few minutes of the contest. The Tigers completed the fanfare, also mobbing Hurley after he kicked the goal alongside his own teammates.
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