Carlton are a team to be reckoned with

Michael DiFabrizio Columnist

38 Have your say

    I was a sceptic, but Friday night turned me into a believer: Carlton are legitimate contenders for this year’s AFL premiership. All the fallout from the game has centred around the team in black and white.

    It was revealed Luke Ball would be out for the year, then Eddie McGuire had a go at his own supporters, then Mick Malthouse had a go at his former club, then Eddie McGuire had a go at Mick Malthouse, then, well, all that pretty much ensured a week of Collingwood headlines.

    But amid the drama, a significant story didn’t quite get the attention it deserved, and that story is Carlton’s emergence.

    Not once last year did the Blues beat one of the top four sides. Six times they lost. Admittedly two of those were nail-biting encounters with Geelong and West Coast, however their lack of a good track record against the best hardly inspired confidence in their premiership aspirations.

    Now, they have claimed a scalp. While you could mount a decent argument for Collingwood missing the top four this season, a statement was made in Friday night’s 60-point demolition.

    They have a very good midfield, an important piece of the flag puzzle. Chris Judd and Marc Murphy are both elite and can provide the same kind of one-two punch of Ablett-Bartel and Swan-Pendlebury.

    The support for the elite is also clearly there. Andrew Carrazzo, for example, did a phenomenal job taking Scott Pendlebury out of the contest on the weekend and collected plenty of the footy himself.

    Crucially, at a time when other clubs’ ruck stocks aren’t looking crash hot, Matthew Kreuzer is having a massive influence. Then there’s Bryce Gibbs, Kade Simpson, Heath Scotland, the improved Mitch Robinson… a lot of talented players rotate through the middle.

    The past few years have seen some considerable tweaking both down back and up forward and, to be fair, these areas will make or break their campaign (save for a gun or two getting injured).

    The one area I was really worried about in the preseason was injuries, particularly in the backline. But the injury list has been whittled right down and, ominously, not added to.

    You might say that a lot of players were due back early, but rarely do things actually work out that way when so many are sidelined. Now, though, the only big name still to return is Andrew Walker.

    What this means is the backline, which turned a corner last year, can continue its progress. The transformation of Chris Yarran and Lachie Henderson to defenders and the addition of Jeremy Laidler and Nick Duigan were positive moves. Now we get to see how they function with a more game time and a full preseason working together.

    So far, the results are good. On Friday night, the Blues became the first team not named Geelong to hold the Pies below 65 points since Round 21 of 2010.

    Up forward, as thisAFL.com.au article illustrates, Brett Ratten has plenty of flexibility at his disposal. Another key development has been the form of Jarrad Waite.

    A month ago I wrote, “The Blues need a tall target to fire, and Waite only registered 16 goals from his 12 games last season.” Already this season he has kicked nine.

    Combined with small forwards who are an absolute headache to contain in Eddie Betts and Jeff Garlett, it’s fair to say the Blues have a potent attack.

    In terms of going all the way, I’ll be sticking with my prediction of Hawthorn holding the cup aloft come September. But there are times where we need to admit we were wrong, and by taking a cautious outlook with the Blues, I was off the mark.

    The Blues, it must now be said, are a serious threat.

    Michael DiFabrizio
    Michael DiFabrizio

    Michael DiFabrizio is based in Mildura, Victoria. He has been an expert columnist at The Roar since 2009, leading to appearances on ABC News 24 and in the Age. Follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelDiFab.

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    The Crowd Says (38)

    • April 18th 2012 @ 9:16am
      Hbomb@hotmail.com said | April 18th 2012 @ 9:16am | ! Report

      Big question is who does Andrew walker replace

      • April 18th 2012 @ 10:25am
        Macca said | April 18th 2012 @ 10:25am | ! Report

        Kane Lucas most likely.

        • April 21st 2012 @ 10:59am
          Hazz said | April 21st 2012 @ 10:59am | ! Report

          Not likely. If anyone it will have to be a Paul Bower or a player like that. Kane Lucas is one of our unsung heroes and he is looking red hot this year.

      • April 18th 2012 @ 11:37pm
        Bludger said | April 18th 2012 @ 11:37pm | ! Report

        Put simply, Carlton has the best midfield in the game and as we all know, everything stems out of that.

        Well done to the Carlton recruiters.

        Sweet 17 is smelling pretty right now.

        • April 19th 2012 @ 3:30pm
          Nathan of Perth said | April 19th 2012 @ 3:30pm | ! Report

          Easy to recruit well when you get three #1 picks 🙂

          • April 19th 2012 @ 3:43pm
            Macca said | April 19th 2012 @ 3:43pm | ! Report

            Richmond had some pretty high picks at the same time as the Blues and what did they do with them, Tambling, Oakley-Nicholls etc etc.

            • April 19th 2012 @ 4:24pm
              Nathan of Perth said | April 19th 2012 @ 4:24pm | ! Report

              Yes, but Carlton is a competent club, whilst Richmond (and Melbourne and some others) are shambolic jokes. Tambling, oy vey…

              Give three #1 picks to a competent club’s administration and it’s watch out time.

              • April 20th 2012 @ 3:19pm
                Macca said | April 20th 2012 @ 3:19pm | ! Report

                I lifted this from an articel I found online, it shows how well the carlton recruiters did.

                “In 2005, they persuaded Marc Murphy to turn his back on joining Brisbane as a father-son selection and get him to Princes Park as the No.1 selection. Murphy is this year’s Brownlow Medal favourite.

                While their No.4 selection in that draft is no longer at the club, by picking Josh Kennedy they would eventually have the bargaining chip to get Chris Judd from West Coast. In contrast, in the same draft Hawthorn would nominate Xavier Ellis at No.3 and Beau Dowler at No.6.

                In 2006, Carlton made the right choice by selecting Bryce Gibbs at No.1, ahead of key-forward flops Scott Gumbleton (2), Lachlan Hansen (3) and Mitch Thorp (6), though Joel Selwood (7) would not have been bad.

                At pick 17 the Blues chose Queenslander Shaun Hampson. As model Megan Gale’s current squeeze, he is starting to have as big an impact on the field as he does off it.

                In 2007 the Blues did not finish bottom but because they had endured three straight years of winning less than five games, were handed the No.1 pick yet again.

                This time used it on Matty Kreuzer, and their No.3 selection ended up with the Eagles as part of the Judd deal.

                Though the Blues began their rise out of the doldrums in 2008, they would also make their picks in that year’s draft count, choosing Chris Yarran (6) and Mitch Robinson (40), as well as Jeff Garlett as a rookie.

                Carlton’s slogan for the 2009 season was “they know we’re coming”. Well, they have arrived and are banging on the door, installed this week as premiership favourite.

                Not looking good

                MELBOURNE would love Carlton’s strike rate at the draft.

                It is still early, but the signs are not good for its recent picks. In 2008 the Demons chose Jack Watts at No.1 ahead of Nic Naitanui (2) and Michael Hurley (5), and Sam Blease (17) ahead of Luke Shuey (18), who has become another Eagles hit.

                In 2009, they took Tom Scully and Jack Trengove at one and two, ahead of Dustin Martin (3) and Jordan Gysberts (11), and Luke Tapscott (18) ahead of Nathan Fyfe (20) and Ryan Bastinac (21).

              • Roar Guru

                April 20th 2012 @ 3:26pm
                The Cattery said | April 20th 2012 @ 3:26pm | ! Report

                Fyfe went at no. 20??? ouch!!

                it just goes to show that there is no substitute for good ol’ fashioned scouting.

              • April 20th 2012 @ 3:43pm
                Macca said | April 20th 2012 @ 3:43pm | ! Report

                Exactly cattery it is easy to sit back and say look at all the top draft picks the y had, but when it comes down to it you still have to use them.

                Imagine if the blues had of taken dowler instead of kennedy in 2005 then Gumbelton instead of Gibbs. They would not have been able to trade Dowler for Judd, meaning they would of probably had to have given up pick 1 & 3 meaning no Kreuzer or Gibbs and had Gumbelton constantly on the injury list.

                Every also got into them after they took Yarran before Rich, but that isn’t looking too bad now.

    • April 18th 2012 @ 9:19am
      Tony said | April 18th 2012 @ 9:19am | ! Report

      Hi Micheal,

      Mate I’m Blue through and through

      Liked your article of course and as

      the year unfolds I hope your right………. ” GO BLUE’S” !!!!!!!!!!

      • April 18th 2012 @ 1:13pm
        thesportsguy said | April 18th 2012 @ 1:13pm | ! Report

        i am a blues supporter myself and am very optimistic about our top 4 chances this year, BUT and this is a huge BUT, we need to develop more consistency.

        we should beat essendon this round, we cannot let momentum slip and lose 4 points. if we carry a 4-0 record to fremantle, our confidence will be at a high it hasnt been for years!

        consider the draw for carlton after the freo game.

        – GWS
        -st kilda (who we play very well)
        -adelaide (in vic)
        -melbourne
        -port
        – geelong

        carlton MUST win against bombers, take momentum and confidence to beat freo (unlikey i fear) and play the following 5 rounds against teams they should beat.

        by the time they arrive in round 11, their record could and should be at least 10-1.

        If they digress to previous years and cant beat the bombers, they will probably end up with a record like 8-3 (loss of confidence and they could drop one against the saints) going into a horrible stretch of games where they play geelong, WCE away, hawks, and collingwood.

        a start of 8-3 could easily balloon out to 8-7.

        i think the real test is their week in week out consistency. Beat the bombers and the teams you should win against then il be a believer. round 11 for me should read 10-1 or i dont believe we have fully arrived.

        • April 18th 2012 @ 1:21pm
          Macca said | April 18th 2012 @ 1:21pm | ! Report

          I think the consistency has improved and will imrove simply because of the players outside the team putting pressure on those inside.

          The 5 week stretch you highlighted (there is a bye in there) will be the test but their record against Geeelong isn’t too bad and after Fridayu they might want to play the Pies every week!

          • April 18th 2012 @ 2:14pm
            thesportsguy said | April 18th 2012 @ 2:14pm | ! Report

            macca, the bye is round 13. how sweet would it be going into the bye with a record of 9-3? with the only losses being freo and west coast away, and geelong. of course undefeated is better , but im being realistic here.

            then playing hawks, pies, NM, doggies and richmond before another tough game against sydney (where maybe we drop it against hawks, pies) going 4-2 in that stretch, and finishing off the season with 4 teams who we have already beaten this year or should dominate against (brisbane, essendon, GC, st kilda)

            i think the point im trying to make is, if we win the games we should win, thats a true mark of a contender. it would give us a record of near 17-5. the exact record of west coast last year who finished 4th.

            last year i was so peeved when we drew against bombers, lost to the doggies (we really shouldnt have) and st kilda in the last round, a team we traditionally play very well and a team we’d beaten earlier that year. they, i felt, were losses that shouldnt have occured.

            those 3 extra winnable games and we would have grabbed a top 4 place, thereby probably still meeting west coast in the semifinals, except in VICTORIA. a team we barely lost to in WA, by 3 points.

            those losses, which i term bad losses (against doggies, saints and bombers) had a HUGE effect to the final series.

            we probably cost ourselves a home final win. this year, if we improve in that area, we take a giant stride towards a top 4 finish.

            • April 18th 2012 @ 2:18pm
              Macca said | April 18th 2012 @ 2:18pm | ! Report

              Yeah it would be great but let’s just get the win against the bombers this week hey!

            • April 18th 2012 @ 3:22pm
              Nathan of Perth said | April 18th 2012 @ 3:22pm | ! Report

              “those 3 extra winnable games and we would have grabbed a top 4 place, thereby probably still meeting west coast in the semifinals, except in VICTORIA. a team we barely lost to in WA, by 3 points.”

              Just a reminder, but we did play a game in Victoria as well. Carlton got smushed in Victoria.

              Actually, there was an interesting comment I saw a Blue’s supporter make that if Subi and Etihad reversed their dimensions, Blues and Eagles would be Top 2, because we play each other’s principal grounds so well.

        • April 21st 2012 @ 11:02am
          Hazz said | April 21st 2012 @ 11:02am | ! Report

          If you really are a blue you should be excited and full of confidence. BLUES FOR THE FLAG!

    • April 18th 2012 @ 9:33am
      GrantS said | April 18th 2012 @ 9:33am | ! Report

      Being a Bomber’s supporter I hate to say this but, I think you are right !

      Carlton do not seem to have a weak position in their whole team. Strong back line, strong midfield, strong ruck and strong forward line. Pretty hard to say they will not be contenders but to me it’s the speed and ingenuity of three of their small indigenous players which sets their team apart from the rest. Betts, Garlett and Yarran have started out in phenomenal fashion and torn their opponents apart.

      Have we ever heard this story before? Of course we have! Almost every year there is a team singled out as probable premiers. Last year it was Collingwood and look how that turned out.

      To be genuine contenders Carlton have to keep all of their players playing well and hope they don’t have too many injuries. That’s a big ask in what is a long and hard season.

      If they thrash Essendon, which the numbers suggest they should, then that will be one more factor in their favour but if they don”t? Well that’s another story.

      • Roar Guru

        April 18th 2012 @ 12:03pm
        The_Wookie said | April 18th 2012 @ 12:03pm | ! Report

        The problem for the opposition is that even with players injured there is good backup for the Blues running around in the VFL, and they are currently fit as well.

        Warnock is now fit and cant break into the team, Hampson remains under-rated by most and he is rucking almost as well as Kreuzer while kicking more goals and taking more contested marks than anyone at carlton except Waite. Walker isnt even in the side yet. Lose a key position player? Thornton is running around the ressies at the moment. Lose a running midfield? Ellard is running around the reserves.

        All have played good senior footy.

    • Roar Guru

      April 18th 2012 @ 10:02am
      The Cattery said | April 18th 2012 @ 10:02am | ! Report

      As much as I hate to admit it, Carlton looking very good. Very strong midfield, good mix of talls and smalls in the forward line, great run out of defence, good spread (that Irish boy is amazing, as precise a kick as you will find anywhere!), there’s a chance that their defence might occasionally be found out against a tall opposition forward line, but they’d have to get their hands on the footy first.

    • April 18th 2012 @ 10:33am
      Macca said | April 18th 2012 @ 10:33am | ! Report

      Michael I hate to say I told you so but I did!

      GrantS – Youa re right speed is they key but it is not just those three, Armfield & Simpson are both very quick and even Hampson is one of the quickest over 100m in the club.

      The Cattery – You are right about Touhy, good precise and long kick plus hard as nails. I would also say that ball use is another area which the blues have improved especially in the back half, they have replaced blokes prone to turnovers with the likes of Touhy & Laidler who use it well preventing at least a couple of goals a game. Bower is the only real worry for me down ther now.

      I still think it will more likely be next year that the blues have a real shot a the premiership but top 4 this year is looking pretty good and who knows from there.

      I would also say with the likes of Warnock, Ellard, Russell, McLean, Joseph, Thornton and Watson running around in the 2’s the have depth to cover injuries, although clearly not to a real A grader but who does?

      • Roar Guru

        April 18th 2012 @ 10:45am
        The Cattery said | April 18th 2012 @ 10:45am | ! Report

        Interesting last night or the night before, can’t remember when, AFL360 were presenting figures to show that contested footy on its own is no longer king, that all the top clubs have the highest stats in uncontested footy, in other words, the quick spread and precise kicking has become as important as winning the footy.

        Win the footy, keep it, win it back as quickly as possible if you lose it.

        • April 18th 2012 @ 10:56am
          Titus said | April 18th 2012 @ 10:56am | ! Report

          It sounds more like Football every day, now if you could somehow get them to play one touch football I could get into it.

          • Roar Guru

            April 18th 2012 @ 11:12am
            The Cattery said | April 18th 2012 @ 11:12am | ! Report

            ha, ha – unfortunately that’s impossible (maybe the next evolution of the game)

            • April 19th 2012 @ 4:26pm
              Nathan of Perth said | April 19th 2012 @ 4:26pm | ! Report

              Mind you, some of the absolute cracker goals that have been kicked this year have been one-touch volleys. Some real “how the hell did he do that with an oval ball?” moments.

        • April 18th 2012 @ 10:57am
          Macca said | April 18th 2012 @ 10:57am | ! Report

          Yeah it’s about having the right mix, if you have to higher percentage of contested ball your forwards aren’t getting good service, if the uncontested is too high you aren’t winning the ball to begin with. I don’t really think this has changed in the history of football.

          The blues now have Judd and Murphy who individually have a great mix and it is one of the reasons I rate them much higher than Swan, their disposals hurt much more, but also have a good mix of the likes of Curnow, Carrazzo and Robinson inside with Simpson, Gibbs, Yarran outside (not that those 3 don’t win the hard ball)

          • Roar Guru

            April 18th 2012 @ 11:11am
            The Cattery said | April 18th 2012 @ 11:11am | ! Report

            You might be right that it hasn’t changed, what has changed is the plethora of statistics, and the game goes through trends where seemingly a certain type of stat is more important than another.

            But for me personally, it was surprising to see to what extent the top teams are dominating uncontested possessions, where a few years back, I would have thought that only teams who were taking the easy option (i.e. going backwards), were getting lots of uncontested possessions.

            But this is the thing that has changed, and we saw it with Hawthorn against Collingwood, and I guess with Carlton as well, those precise kicks are not going backwards, they are high risk kicks, often long kicks, hitting targets in smallish gaps where players are gut running to get to those smallish gaps – that’s the big change I’m noticing early in the season.

            To combine that sort of precision kicking with a capability to win your own footy – that’s definitely the holy grail that most teams aspire to (and most will fail miserably).

            Hawthorn, Carlton and Eagles are there, Geelong and Collingwood have been there, North, Freo, Adelaide and maybe Swans trying to get there, maybe the Saints, the rest are pretty far off it.

            • April 18th 2012 @ 11:22am
              Macca said | April 18th 2012 @ 11:22am | ! Report

              I reckon you are baout right on your list of teams there, which still has 10 sides trying to get into 8 spots and it does exclude Essendon & Richmond who would like to think they are a chance.

        • April 18th 2012 @ 11:17am
          BigAl said | April 18th 2012 @ 11:17am | ! Report

          Jack Dyer’s old truism – ‘. . . first thing ya godda do is get the ball !…’

          • Roar Guru

            April 18th 2012 @ 12:55pm
            The Cattery said | April 18th 2012 @ 12:55pm | ! Report

            …then boot it long yung fella!

    • Roar Guru

      April 18th 2012 @ 12:05pm
      The_Wookie said | April 18th 2012 @ 12:05pm | ! Report

      No one talks about our preseason any more *sigh*

      • Columnist

        April 18th 2012 @ 12:33pm
        Michael DiFabrizio said | April 18th 2012 @ 12:33pm | ! Report

        Fun fact: Carlton’s percentage in the preseason (74) was the same as Geelong’s last year.

      • Roar Guru

        April 18th 2012 @ 12:55pm
        The Cattery said | April 18th 2012 @ 12:55pm | ! Report

        As the Coodabeens have been saying last couple of weeks: every team got precisely what they wanted out of the pre-season!!

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