To bastardise F. Scott Fitzgerald, the sentimental person thinks things will last, the Carlton supporter has a desperate confidence that they won’t. Since coughing up a loss to Adelaide at the end of July, Carlton’s season has had the anxious inertia of a house succumbing to a landslide.

To be among the Carlton faithful last Saturday night was to see grown men cry – first tears of joy, before squirting a few out with genuine sadness. It was to remember that in Melbourne, football remains a vital part of life, albeit one where grief is often softened by the saying “there’s always next week”.

Not now. Now, there is only this week. And hoo boy, what a week – one where six of the nine games have finals implications.

For no less than eight teams (nine if you’re willing to entertain St Kilda blowing Sydney’s doors off by 100 points) it is a round of great significance – the double chance, or an elimination final; making the finals or missing them altogether. Win, and any of Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane could finish as high as second. Lose, and any could fall as low as sixth.

It is one of the wildest final round rides anyone can remember – one capable of tingeing thrill with nausea. As Harry Dean Stanton says in Paris, Texas: “I’m not afraid of heights. I’m afraid of fallin’.”

Two games in particular stand out.

Brisbane v Melbourne

The consequences are alike for Melbourne and Brisbane who open round 23 at the Gabba on Friday night. Win and the double chance is yours. Lose, and you might face Tom Lynch and a resurgent Richmond in an elimination final.

The reigning premiers have struggled to maintain momentum through the back half of the year, following each win with a loss since July. Prior to that, they smoked Brisbane by more than 10 goals at the MCG on a Thursday night in June.

The Lions at the Gabba are a very different proposition. Having won four of their past five, Brisbane go in as slight favourites, although another rare quiet night from Lachie Neale against the league’s best midfield will make things considerably more difficult.

Carlton v Collingwood

On Sunday, Carlton plays Collingwood, who up until last weekend took to winning like an Irish poet to rhyme. It is the first game of consequence between the two sides since 1988’s qualifying final. Back then the hate each club had for the other was the very spring of thought and action. It was something they took pleasure in.

Collingwood’s Oliver Henry competes for the ball with Adam Saad and Lachie Plowman of Carlton the last time the two sides met.
Collingwood’s Oliver Henry competes for the ball with Adam Saad and Lachie Plowman of Carlton the last time the two sides met. Photograph: Dylan Burns/AFL Photos/Getty Images

The sides have lacked the concurrent relevance to sustain a contemporary hatred, but come Sunday afternoon, antipathy will be restored.

Carlton win, they play finals. Lose, and it’s better than an even money bet that the final minute of last Saturday night will stalk them all summer like a Senecan ghost. That guy with the empty eyes muttering “15 seconds” over and over? Yeah, he’s a Carlton supporter.

The asterisk here is that despite Michael Voss dubbing the game an elimination final, the Blues could lose and still hold onto eighth spot if the Western Bulldogs drop their game against Hawthorn. And considering Marcus Bontempelli’s adductor muscles and their record against the Hawks in Tasmania, is an outcome only the most pessimistic Blue would dismiss out of hand.

While the consequences may appear to be not as great for Collingwood (although a win would give them the double chance) the Magpies have retained a hair-trigger sense of grievance over the Blues. One, that if Collingwood’s past two months serve as a guide, will be tested for most of the afternoon.

A loss could also see Collingwood face a resurgent Richmond in an elimination final. In a list of adjectives likely to be ascribed to that scenario, “hopeful” would fall somewhere well below “terrified”.

And then there’s Essendon…

Richmond closes its home-and-away season on Saturday night against Essendon – a game that perhaps holds more interest than it did a few days ago, after the Bombers spent the first part of this week imploding like the crypto market, following a 14-goal loss to a middling Port Adelaide.

Ben Rutten departs from the Hangar in Melbourne on Tuesday.
Ben Rutten departs from the Hangar in Melbourne on Tuesday. Photograph: Diego Fedele/AAP

Indignant Bomber supporters wanted the boss to go down. And the day after the defeat Essendon, president Paul Brasher obliged.

But the fall-out is not expected to end there. Not by a long shot. At the time of writing, Ben Rutten remains as Essendon coach, however it’s hard to see how CEO Xavier Campbell keeps meeting the dog he kicked yesterday on his way into Tullamarine.

Campbell himself, appears to lack any other bluff to run other than to go after Alastair Clarkson with an offer that could be calculated in GDPs. However, unless it is accompanied by an honest commitment to an external review of the entire club, Clarkson’s second act could well be a three-ringed circus.

Mind you, a circus is a fitting interlocking story arc to what has to this point been a perfectly entertaining season. We can only hope what follows from here is half as thrilling.