Now Duigan can dine out on his four goals

Richmond’s Alex Rance is shattered as Carlton’s Nick Duigan celebrates his fourth goal on Sunday. Photo: Sebastian CostanzoNick Duigan’s four goals in Sunday’s stirring elimination final win over Richmond put him in select company for a couple of reasons, one quirky, one more significant.

It will now forever be part of football folklore that Duigan’s call-up for the Blues came so late that he’d already chowed down on a salad sandwich and was about to head up to the grandstand to watch the game.

He’s not the first player to head into a major final on the back of a meal. Fortunately, Duigan’s was a little lighter and healthier than when Geelong’s Peter Johnston had to come into the Cats’ side for the 1981 preliminary final against Collingwood after Garry Sidebottom infamously missed the team bus to Waverley.

That day Johnston had already devoured half a chicken, a large serve of chips and a strawberry thickshake before he got the call-up, as well as having by his own admission smoked half a packet of cigarettes on the way to the game.

Little wonder he played only 20 minutes off the bench and didn’t get a touch in Geelong’s loss. Duigan’s late inclusion against the Tigers, however, proved a masterstroke, elevating him to another more illustrious group, that of finals surprise packets, players who have unexpectedly turned September games on their head.

If Duigan’s selection was unexpected, so was Brock McLean injuring himself in the final moments of Carlton’s pre-game warm-up.

Duigan, who has spent the bulk of his 41 games with the Blues in defence, joked on Monday that the last time he’d kicked four goals in a game was back at school, the focus of his role against the Tigers mainly to quell the drive of Brett Deledio.

He’d kicked only six goals previously for Carlton, three of them coming midway through last year when he performed a similar defensive forward role against Collingwood. And one man who might have identified with the cameo is former Footscray and Adelaide defender Shane Ellen.

The Crows’ running defender had kicked just three goals in 37 games with the Bulldogs and Crows when, with spearhead Tony Modra out injured, Ellen lined up in attack in no less a game than the 1997 grand final against St Kilda.

He kicked two goals early in the biggest game of his career to keep Adelaide afloat. But after being shifted back to defence, managed another three running down the ground as the Crows ran over the top of the tiring Saints.

The year before, with warm favourite North Melbourne in all sorts of trouble against Sydney on grand final day, it wasn’t inspiring skipper Wayne Carey who first pulled the Roos off the canvas, but the far more peripheral small forward Glenn Freeborn.

With the Swans four goals to the good late in the second quarter, Freeborn booted his first goal. By half-time he had three and North had hit the front, never to lose the lead on the way to its third flag.

Brisbane had many September stars during its hat-trick of flags from 2001-03, but one of its brightest, ruckman Clark Keating, made such a habit of it that he eventually became known as ”Mr September”, playing just nine and eight games respectively during the regular season in the last two of those premierships, but getting himself both fit and firing at the perfect moment.

And the Blues themselves have been on the wrong end of not one but two finals surprise packets in the one game back in 2010, when, in a repeat of this Saturday’s match-up, Sydney snuck over the line in a thriller with regular backman Paul Bevan kicking three goals, and forward Trent Dennis-Lane, in only his seventh AFL game, kicking four.

It’s been an interesting year for Duigan, who was a captaincy candidate pre-season, but who after playing in round one against Richmond, couldn’t earn a spot in the senior 22 again until the second-last game against Essendon.

”It hasn’t gone exactly the way that I wanted it to have, but I’ve just been working hard and trying to make sure I gave myself the best opportunity to play if I was called upon,” he said on Monday.

And so successful was this pinch-hitting exercise that Mick Malthouse must be tempted to leave Duigan there on Saturday night. Surely, though, given how well things panned out on Sunday, only after Duigan makes sure he’s tucked into another pre-game ”sanger”.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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