Can the Blues’ small men win the flag?

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Nick Duigan and Chris Judd head to the rooms (Photo: Darrian Traynor/AFL Media)

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Before Friday night I knew Carlton had improved – and that Collingwood will not win the premiership – but I still didn’t see the Blues’ humiliation of the Pies coming.

At times on Friday the older Carlton fans must have thought they were dreaming.

A couple of the newer ones couldn’t believe their eyes either and wandered out onto the MCG during play, to be arrested, but also to confirm it was really happening: that their team was about to complete a ten goal drubbing of its most hated foe and in so doing finally confirm itself as a genuine premiership contender.

The Blues’ performance brought back memories of the club’s famous mosquito squadron that swarmed around with deadly impact in the late ’70′s and early ’80′s. It was like watching Rod Ashman, Trevor Keogh, Wayne Harmes, Ken Sheldon, Phil Maylin and Alec Marcou again, but with better haircuts (Ed Curnow being the exception).

The term ‘rover’ is no longer used but Carlton’s onballers, as they’re called today, have inherited the art of roving from their illustrious predecessors. Betts twice roved the ball off the pack for goals, and Murphy swooped on the pill in the goalsquare for two more.

Carlton’s enduring love for the small men is beginning to pay off again. Granted three number one draft picks (thanks to years of mediocrity) and seeking a big money recruit they went for the midfielders Judd, Murphy and Gibbs.

These three have been dominant the last couple of years and have been responsible for the team’s steady rise.

Until now though they’ve had a bit of the Harlem Globetrotters about them: endowed with exquisite skills but never being in the real contest. Last year they lost all six games against the best four teams.

The main reason for that was their lack of key position players. The club’s leading goalkicker was the relatively wispy Andrew Walker. And the scarcity of big backmen meant a weakness in defence.

This year they still lack some big men but things have changed. Their hardness at the ball, and the numbers in the contest have reminded us of what Collingwood used to do.

And what a group of little fighters they are. The least talented ones, Robinson and Armfield, are their hardest runners and the toughest in the clinches.

Carrazzo can’t kick far but he can nullify a champion like Pendlebury, get twenty-nine mainly contested possessions of his own and kick a goal without ruffling that impossibly neat hair of his.

On the fringes are the silky smooth Gibbs and Simpson, and the slow but crafty Scotland. And everyone seems to be able to kick a goal. The Irishman Tuohy kicked a goal from a set shot (a rarity these days) fifty metres out, and Yarran the defender wandered down to drill one too.

Of course the taller men were dominant as well. Their last number one draft pick, the boyish Kreuzer, dismantled Jolly in the ruck, Henderson held the powerful Cloke, and Waite was superb on the lead, and with his hands.

For a while in the second quarter Collingwood got back into the game – within nine points of their possession dominant opponents – on rebounds. Buckley put extra men in defence, frustrating the Blues as they failed to capitalise on numerous entries into the forward half.

But in reality Collingwood were gone. Swan was the only gun firing, shrugging off each tackle as he always does but having no one to deliver it to.

Pendlebury and Thomas were smoking too – like a couple of Heinkels limping home from a bombing raid, at the mercy of the Spitfires.

Carlton should not get too carried away as Collingwood were absolutely awful. Part of that was a result of the enormous defensive effort by the Blues but clearly the Pies didn’t look like they wanted it. They have plenty of improvement in them.

They are magnificent to watch but can Carlton’s small brigade defeat the more powerful contenders like Geelong and Hawthorn, or even West Coast, to win the premiership?

To do so I think they need a Scarlett type down back, or a Cloke clone up forward and unfortunately they won’t be eligible for a number one draft pick for some time.

Whatever their true credentials are, Carlton have made the premiership race a more compelling one.

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