Matthew Kreuzer’s lionhearted performance symbolised the fierce workrate that took Carlton to their improbable AFL win over Geelong.
The ruckman joined key forward Levi Casboult as shock selections for Sunday’s match at Etihad Stadium.
Kreuzer returned much quicker than expected from knee surgery and Casboult also made a speedy comeback from what was diagnosed initially as a leg fracture.
Whatever risk there was in bringing back those two players so quickly was magnified when Carlton lost captain Marc Murphy and Liam Sumner to ankle injuries in the first quarter.
But the Blues never let up and, apart from a few minutes early in the second term, led throughout the match.
Kreuzer laid 11 tackles – an astonishing statistic for any player, let alone a ruckman.
“There’s one thing about big blokes when they play well, others follow. And Kreuzer is the spirit of Carlton,” said coach Brendon Bolton.
“You can hear it from our members when he gets near the ball.
“That’s the external but he’s also the spirit within our group.
“When big blokes play well and tackle like that, others follow.”
Bolton praised Kreuzer and Casboult for their diligence while recovering from the injuries, noting the ruckman spent “hours and hours” icing his knee after the surgery.
Bryce Gibbs was best afield and Andrejs Everitt kicked four goals.
Sam Docherty and Sam Rowe were also outstanding in defence, while Bolton noted Dale Thomas and Kade Simpson also inspired their teammates by bravely going back with the flight of the ball.
“It’s a particularly gutsy win, considering,” Bolton said, referring to the two first-quarter injuries.
“It more needs to reflect on our players and their bond and care for each other.”