I tell people I’m a Carlton person. This is like telling people I’m dying. It’s a conversation killer.
“My dad was a Carlton supporter”, someone volunteers eventually, avoiding eye-contact. “Hang in there, buddy,” they say, patting me on the shoulder. I mention my favourite player, Levi Casboult. The silence becomes irretrievable. It’s worse than they thought. It’s spread to my brain.
Carlton are entering the second year of a rebuild. Or ‘re-tool’, ‘re-plump’, ‘re-stump’ etc. ‘Reset’ is currently the preferred term of the Carlton media team, lest ‘rebuild’ triggers a wave of self-harm on Lygon Street. The implication, though, is clear. There will be much bleeding. There will be much pain.
There are three phases to a rebuild. (1) First, you get the draft picks, (2) then you get the signings, (3) then you reach for a premiership. That’s how it worked in Scarface. That’s how it works in the AFL.
The last time, Carlton’s rebuild stuck to the script. They brought in (1) three number one picks, (2) a superstar signing (the god Chris Judd) to support (3) a flag tilt that hit its ceiling in the second round of the finals in 2011.
With the benefit of hindsight, a clear miscalculation was made. Over-performance by a list devoid of middle-grade talent was interpreted as a premiership list lacking in tactical direction.
A shock was attempted to revive the corpse. Mick Malthouse was brought in with much fanfare and even more expense. What happens next is a blank. I’m working with a psychiatrist to retrieve repressed memories from 2012–2015. There are clues. For starters, Malthouse is now coaching football on a game show.
Carlton just got pummelled in their first pre-season game. This is meaningless. Kym LeBois and Zac Fisher are four months into their first gig. Billie Smedts and Rhys Palmer are passing through the Carlton locker room on the way to a post-football life. In the first phase of the next rebuild, it’s important to revisit a process with more questions than answers.
Are Kade Simpson and/or Dale Thomas part of the next flag tilt?
Simpson was the best supporting member of the 2011 team, a step behind the core of Murphy, Judd and Gibbs. The hardy wing became an elite line-breaking half-back. In 2017, he is undisputedly the best member of Carlton’s line-up. At 32, he’d need for two things to go well – accelerated development of the next core and health.
At best, he’s the Bob Murphy/Matthew Boyd of the next flag grab. Current estimations see him more in the Daniel Giansiracusa mold — missing out by at least a year of two.
In countless alternate realities, some will feature a Carlton/Malthouse Grand Final. Some will feature a motivated Troy Menzel. None have a healthy Dale Thomas.
Should Carlton have traded Bryce Gibbs?
In principle, Gibbs should have been traded. He doesn’t fit the age profile of the next core group. He takes midfield minutes away from Sam Docherty. He takes a fair chunk of the salary cap. His best years will service Carlton’s worst.
When an elite player gets traded, the bounty of picks and assets in return rarely match up in value. The only time it’s ever happened is, ironically, the Chris Judd trade that Carlton definitively lost. (Still, it’s called the Chris Judd trade, not the Josh Kennedy trade, knowwhatI’msayin?)
Although the second-best Blues player today, Gibbs’ value to Carlton is a supporting second-tier player in 2020. Ultimately, that was deemed to be of more value to Carlton than the reported pick 13 + 75 on offer. Gibbs is a weird fit for 2017 Carlton, but Adelaide needed to cough up more.
What about Liam Jones?
Months after Liam Jones’ acquisition, Mick Malthouse described him as an “explosive animal“. My small sausage dog, Denzel, no stranger to gastrointestinal issues, has similar value to Carlton’s list.
Who makes up the next core?
Patrick Cripps, the nuclear version of Josh P. Kennedy, walks into the core of any team in the league. He is a clearance monster on the verge of being untaggable.
Sam Docherty, my pick for next captain, will replace Simpson as the quarterback of the team. So far, they’re the only sure things, which is worrying. Sam Kerridge (23) and Jacob Weitering (19) are promising, but need another season of exposed form.
Who makes the supporting cast?
The dream scenario is for former number one picks Marc Murphy, Bryce Gibbs and Matthew Kreuzer to form the next tier, an unexpected outcome of their intended promise. Premiership sides are defined by the quality of their second tier, but it will be a task to keep the three together for cap-friendly deals.
Where are the goals coming from?
At this stage, the forward-line looks like a combination of talls Harry McKay and Charlie Curnow, medium Jack Silvagni and smalls Jarrod Pickett, Sam Petrevski-Seton and Liam Sumner.
The average experience of that forward line is 7.0 games. The sample size is too small to have any meaningful opinion. It’s devoid of a star talent like Jesse Hogan
Matthew Wright may be too old to be part of the next challenging side but Brent Harvey, 67 years old last year, inspires some confidence in an older small forward.
Are things going to get better?
Rebuilds don’t exist in a vacuum. The Blues will have to put their list management against Melbourne’s and St Kilda’s, who are already on to the next phase of signing established players.
There is much pain to come. For now, there is Patrick Cripps, Dylan Buckley’s ‘third Oasis brother’ haircut, and ridiculous Kym LeBois goals in the pocket. By the end of the year, there will be more.
Yes, things will get better.