CARLTON was 39 points down.
The life that had been breathed back into the club's 2013 campaign by Essendon's disqualification from that season's finals series, and the offer of a free ticket into September that came with it, had been sucked from the Blues. Port Adelaide, wearing its prison bars guernsey in front of a raucous and emotional Football Park crowd, had just about put a pin in any post-season plans.
This was a time for leaders. In the final home and away game of the season, the situation was a simple one for Carlton. Win and play finals. Lose and go home. If there was any way back from this, someone had to put the team on their back.
For so often since his arrival at the club just a few years earlier, Chris Judd had been that man. Now sidelined by a calf injury and having stood down from the role of captain on the eve of the season, the focus turned to the new leader. This would be the making of Marc Murphy.
His clever gather and snap midway through the third term cut the deficit to 33 points. Not much better, but hope all the same. His composed set-shot from just inside the 50m arc only seconds into the last quarter then made it 23 points. Still a long way back, but the margin was being whittled away.
With six minutes to go in the final term and the Blues still trailing by 10 points, Murphy won the footy in the centre circle and found Jarrad Waite. His job wasn't over, though, and a lung-busting run allowed him to receive the ball back on the overlap. He ran inside 50m, took a bounce, kept his composure and slotted home. The miraculous comeback was almost complete. It would be the moment that defined Murphy's 300-game career.
"That game was unbelievable," his former Carlton teammate and lifelong friend Bryce Gibbs told AFL.com.au.
"He wanted to be the one to make the difference. He wanted to be the one to make sure we put ourselves in with an opportunity to win that game. That was the last game for the year and it was win-or-go-home. He took it upon himself, especially in that second half. Not only did he kick a few goals, but there were a few blocks and stuff he did around stoppages to get other guys out who then impacted. No one really sees that.
"He's played so many good matches over his 300-game career, but that was certainly one I remember fondly and one of the more memorable games that I've played in."
Earlier this week, as Murphy fronted the press ahead of becoming just the sixth Carlton player to reach the 300-game milestone – also announcing that this weekend's match would be his last – he reflected on the following week's elimination final against Richmond in 2013 and described it as being his favourite memory in Blues colours.
But without that thrilling one-point victory over Port Adelaide, the foundations of which were laid by Murphy kickstarting an eight-goal final term comeback, there would be no finals win in front of nearly 95,000 people against the Tigers the next week.
Murphy's performance against the Power, which included 23 disposals, five tackles, three goals and three Brownlow Medal votes, would be the performance that made it all possible. It's therefore fitting that his 300th and final game this weekend will take place at almost the exact scene of that pivotal afternoon. Against Port Adelaide, away from home, in a white Carlton jumper, in the Saturday evening twilight spot.
"That was just Murph. When the game needed someone to stand up, he was right there to do it," fellow Blues No.1 pick Matthew Kreuzer told AFL.com.au.
"His finishing skills were unbelievable. There were not too many times he would miss and the way he kicked his goals – either bananas in the pocket or being on the run – it was pretty special to watch and be a part of."
The elimination final win over Richmond the following week would be one of only six finals Murphy played in during his time with Carlton, and one of just two finals wins he would enjoy with the Blues.
But it wasn't for a lack of trying. Murphy averaged 26.2 disposals, 5.8 clearances, 4.2 tackles and kicked five goals in those six finals matches. Frequently, he was Carlton's best player when it mattered most.
His performance in the side's drought-breaking 2011 elimination final win over Essendon saw him collect 37 disposals, six clearances and a goal. He had 26 disposals and seven clearances against Richmond on the same stage two years later. Always one for the big moments, there was also his match-winner – to complete a 30-point comeback – against Fremantle in 2019.
But the aforementioned elimination final against Essendon came at the end of a campaign where Murphy had legitimately emerged as one of the game's best, toughest and most complete midfielders.
He won the AFL Coaches' Association Player of the Year award, claimed his first of two John Nicholls Medals as the club's best and fairest, and was rewarded with an All-Australian blazer for the first and only time.
"I think that season does go under the radar a little bit. Yes, it was a few years ago now. But if you look back and look at those years Murph had, he's the best midfielder in the competition for a few years," Kreuzer said.
"It wasn't just him winning the ball, it was him kicking goals and really hurting opposition teams that way. There would've been times and games during those years where, without him, we certainly wouldn't have been in the finals mix. He carried us through."
Gibbs agrees: "You can win a Brownlow, that's fantastic. But the AFL Coaches' Association award is the one that sticks to my mind. That's voted on by the coaches who plan against you every week. When he won that award in 2011, that just shows you that he was at the top of his game in a lot of facets. To be recognised by the game's coaches, he was one of the guns of the competition for a few years."
Murphy, Gibbs and Kreuzer all arrived at Carlton in unique circumstances. Across three seasons, the trio were the No.1 picks in each successive year and spent their careers guiding each other through moments both challenging and enjoyable.
While Gibbs and Kreuzer called time on their AFL careers at the end of last season, coincidentally doing so on the same day, Murphy – who was drafted the first of the three in 2005 – lasted one more year. His close friends and ex-teammates believe his longevity, his loyalty and his determination are all reflected in the milestone he will reach on Saturday evening.
"We certainly did lean on each other through some harder times, when things aren't quite going your way personally and you're dealing with the expectations that come with being a high pick and that sort of thing," Gibbs said.
"We had some things that we'd all been through together and we could help each other through it. I couldn't have picked two better blokes to share that with. We obviously played a lot of footy together and Kreuz had a lot of injuries through that time as well.
"To help each other through those times, we're always going to have that connection for the rest of our lives. Three straight No.1 picks ending up at the same club, I don't think that's going to happen too often. I'm very lucky to share my experience with those two."
Murphy played in just six wins during his first 38 games for the club, with its on-field woes bringing heightened scrutiny to Ikon Park in a period where Carlton went through an aggressive list rebuild.
Gibbs and Kreuzer followed Murphy through the doors, also as No.1 picks, while Brownlow Medal winner and premiership captain Judd arrived from West Coast. It was a time of increased pressure, especially for a young captain.
But throughout it all, Murphy has endured. In 12 of his 16 seasons at Ikon Park, he has been voted into the leadership group. In six of those years, he was elected skipper. For fellow youngsters trying to find their way in the game, they couldn't have asked for a better or more deserving leader.
"We were all pretty young at that time. The club was obviously going through a transition period, but it was really good for all three of us to have each other there to bounce off," Kreuzer said.
"Murph, being the more senior player, he copped the bigger brunt. Me and Gibbsy got in behind him. But the way that he went about things from an early age, he really got the most out of himself. He helped me a lot too, just by being someone I looked up to in the early days.
"He was a great footballer, but he's actually a really genuine person as well. He's caring and always there for his mates. We've shared some really good times along the way and we're going to continue to share a lot more into the next part of our lives. He's a great human. What you see with Murph is what you get."
Murphy's story, which will finish on Saturday after 300 games, will not include that elusive premiership. But according to those who know him best, it doesn't have to for him to still go down as one of the greats of the club.
Only five players in Carlton's storied 157-year history have reached 300 games wearing the navy blue. Craig Bradley (375), Bruce Doull (356), Kade Simpson (342), John Nicholls (328) and Stephen Silvagni (312). On Saturday afternoon, Murphy will make it six.
"It's a huge legacy that he'll leave," Gibbs said.
"'Legend' and these words can sometimes get thrown around flippantly, but he will genuinely go down as a Carlton great and a Carlton legend. To captain the club, play 300 games and for the amount of work he would do off the field in the community … he always had time for everyone at the school clinics, at the sponsor functions, whatever it may be. He would always give himself and his time.
"He will be one of the legends of the Carlton Football Club as the years go on."