Intoxicating, irresistible Carlton ride is sweeping up everyone in its path

You can tell a lot about an AFL club from how the supporters at its games respond. And anyone who has been present at Carlton's last two finals will vouch for just how special Blues' fans are finding what's going on at their club right now.

The noise when Carlton prevailed against Sydney in last week's elimination final was impressive. But the explosion when the final siren heralded the Blues' incredible two-point win over Melbourne in Friday night's semifinal was something else again.

This was a spontaneous, guttural burst of ear-splitting sound, like a collective exorcism of more than two decades of frustration, at times even complete humiliation. It was the sound of a massive fan base letting the world know that their club was indisputably back as one of the "big boys" of the competition.

Those of us old enough to remember the perennially successful Carlton of the 1970s and particularly 1980s can vouch for how different the Blues' success feels now.

Back then, with the next flag always just around the corner, the Blues were boisterous, but in a less-unhinged, more expectantly smug fashion - finals success the prelude to satisfied smirks. But after the most abject period in its history, Carlton's resurrection is being witnessed by a fan base that barely can recall those days, hence the almost primal outpouring of emotion.

That in itself is proving a major part of this increasingly intoxicating football tale, one that made the neutral among us almost feel like fate was destined to smile on Carlton on Friday night once Melbourne's Max Gawn then Kysaiah Pickett has both hit the post, missing the chance to give the Demons a two-goals-plus lead with barely five minutes left to play.

That emotion was overflowing in the Carlton rooms immediately after the game, as Carlton greats like Greg Williams and Anthony Koutoufides also became full-throated Blues barrackers, as friends and families hugged their player mates and partners.

Even some of those players were barrackers, too, like Matt Cottrell, who'd grown up following the Blues, played his part in this unforgettable win, but now, like his ecstatic family and mates surrounding him, was also marvelling at how it had actually happened.

"I don't know how to sum it up mate," Cottrell tells ESPN in the chaotic post-match din. "It still doesn't feel real. I don't know how we won. "I think probably Melbourne deserved to win, I reckon, but we just fought it out. We have done all year. Mate, I'm just super proud of the boys, it's an awesome win."

What are those boyhood memories of the Blues about for him?

"Not a lot of finals, to be honest," he laughs. "I was born in 2000, so I missed the glory days. But I just remember the super players who played for us, 'Fev' (Brendan Fevola), 'Juddy' (Chris Judd)."

Is the childish barracker passion for the Blues still there for him? "Yeah, absolutely. Every day I come in with a big smile. I love coming to work and I love the boys, mate, so it's unbelievable. The love has only grown."

And that's a big subtext in this developing story. About the deep-seated loved for this famous, storied, much discussed and debated club from different generations now all coming together in pursuit of more.

Those former champions who were used to September success, like Williams and Koutoufides. To the likes of Fevola and Judd, who had to carve out their own individual successful chapters amidst a backdrop often of despair at the club's declining fortunes. And to today's flag-carriers, like Cottrell, getting a sense of just how important a part they can play in the history of the Carlton Football Club.

'Kouta', who'd the previous evening played beautifully a role as a fisherman for his great mate Ang Christou's Northcote fish and chip shop in a hilarious "Front Bar" comedy sketch, is now playing the role of elder club statesman.

Like so many in this emotionally-charged moment, he's a little dewy-eyed. Like others, he can't help but see the similarities to another Carlton win for the ages, the one-point upset of hot favourite Essendon in the 1999 preliminary final.

It's so loud, it's so happy in the rooms, and it's difficult not to get swept up in it all. Even for a crusty old veteran of premiership-winning dressing rooms like triple Brisbane premiership player turned Carlton coach Michael Voss a few minutes later at his post-match press conference.

"The atmosphere in the changerooms is quite incredible," he smiles. "The sort of journey we've been on, you see the smiles on people's faces and just how excited everyone is ... I think we're all in a little bit of disbelief how it all sort of unfolded, but that was just a cracking game of footy."

It's hard not to think right now the football gods have decided the game needs another of these resurrection stories. And the fact anything involving a club once as famously arrogant as Carlton being described as a "fairytale" tells you enough how long it's been between drinks for the Blues.

Does Cottrell feel like someone's writing a script at the moment?

"A little bit, yeah," he smiles. "Just the way the belief's building each week and being able to knock off some really good teams."

Cottrell knows the next hurdle -- Brisbane at the Gabba -- might well be the most difficult. "They're a great offensive team, so we're going to have to bring a really good, strong defensive brand of footy," he says.

"But we've won four on the road this year, so we've been all right. And who knows? Anything can happen in a prelim, so we give ourselves a red-hot chance."

And in this super-charged atmosphere, and after the way the Blues have rewritten their 2023 story in such amazing circumstances, why shouldn't they?

You can read more of Rohan Connolly's work at FOOTYOLOGY.