The Blues have mastered the honourable loss

Jay Croucher Columnist

By Jay Croucher, Jay Croucher is a Roar Expert

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    The following true sentence encapsulates the madness of this AFL season: there is much that GWS could learn from Carlton.

    If you combined GWS’s talent with Carlton’s consistency and endeavour, the Giants would not only be the best football team on earth, they would be the best basketball team too. They would crush Golden State. Their sporting dominance would not be restricted by the arbitrary confines of the code that happens to house them.

    For much of the season, the Giants have played like they can’t really be bothered for three quarters, and then they have backed themselves in to be talented enough to pull a game from the fire in the final 30 minutes. Disgustingly, most of the time they have been proven right.

    They are the most frightening team in the AFL and the most reprehensible. When they start to truly care, it will likely all be over.

    Until then, though, we should appreciate the teams that do care, the ones that can only dream of having GWS’s talent, but do all that is humanly possible to bridge the cap.

    After Richmond stunningly removed themselves from the discussion on Saturday night, right now, remarkably, there are only two teams who you can trust to show up every single week. Sydney, who might win the premiership, and Carlton, who will not.

    2017 has been the perfect season for the Blues. They are not a contender, and for any non-contender, wins are only style points. They want to develop their youth, have their games be watchable, and lose. Mission accomplished.

    Carlton are shockingly watchable, and even more shockingly competent. They are almost aggressively competent. They pressure and absorb pressure, spread hard from contests, use the ball selflessly, make the high percentage plays, and maintain their shape. They never give up, wonderfully and defiantly ignorant of their constant, raging mortality.

    Bryce Gibbs and Marc Murphy are playing inspired, and Kade Simpson and Sam Docherty offer composure in the areas of the ground where young teams need it most. Dale Thomas is Lazarus, and Liam Jones is Jesus Christ Reincarnate.

    Bryce Gibbs Carlton Blues AFL 2016

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    Last year the youth was hazy, this year it is clear. Patrick Cripps, Jacob Weitering, Caleb Marchbank, Jack Silvagni, David Cunningham, Sam Petrevski-Seton, Charlie Curnow… this is a future, not merely the hope of one.

    Players are being reborn. Levi Casboult used to be a monster, now he is a MONSTER. Matthew Kreuzer is playing the best football of his life. Even Sam Kerridge is having 35-disposal games. And again, Liam Jones is the saviour.

    The Alastair Clarkson coaching tree is in magnificent bloom. Brendon Bolton is the coach of the year. This team is unrecognisable from the debacles in blue that preceded it. They play with purpose, and a conviction that isn’t content with pats on the back. They are not a cute young team. They are coming.

    They have a number of scalps already. They schooled the Swans, strangled the big rivals, Collingwood and Essendon, in unpleasant conditions, pulled an upset against Gold Coast, and punished the Giants for thinking they were playing the Carlton of old.

    Carlton ran out of steam on the weekend, with two on the bench against a Melbourne team that had much more to play for and are a couple years advanced in its development. Still, if the ball at the edge of the goal square had sat for Dale Thomas instead of Michael Hibberd at the death, the result likely would have been different.

    Those breaks will come for Carlton. And when they do, the evidence suggests that Bolton’s men will capitalise on them. And then, the Blues can stop being the team that clutches onto the leg of their opponents, hanging onto them for dear life and refusing to let go. Instead, they will be able to simply sprint clear of them.

    Until that time, they’ll have their honourable losses, from which the upshot tends to have a lot more ‘honour’ than ‘loss’.

    Jay Croucher
    Jay Croucher

    From MSG in New York to the MCG in Melbourne, Jay has spent his adult life travelling the world, indulging in sport and approaching it from the angle of history and pop culture. Follow him on Twitter @CroucherJD

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    The Crowd Says (154)

    • July 10th 2017 @ 8:23am
      true blue said | July 10th 2017 @ 8:23am | ! Report

      Great article. I look forward to the day when we can bury the opposition when he hit the lead. We still go into our shells when we get in front. I am loving what I am seeing, and I am enjoying the rebuild. I always believe that the premiership coach should be coach of the year, but Bolton is a beauty.

      • July 10th 2017 @ 7:35pm
        Don Freo said | July 10th 2017 @ 7:35pm | ! Report

        Apart from the fact that Freo and Melbourne have more players that have played less than 50 games…over half their team…and they are doing better.

    • Roar Pro

      July 10th 2017 @ 8:30am
      The Doc said | July 10th 2017 @ 8:30am | ! Report

      great read Jay. havent seen much of us this year but listened to last quarter on MMM from london this morning. Honourable losses are great for us. Continue the rebuild and hopefully get a top 3 draft pick. cant get too carried away until we start winning consistently but the defensive structures and pressure/effort are great and keep that up we will always be a chance.
      Cannot remember a season where we have had so many rising star nominations. Hoping charlie curnow gets another one this weekend.

    • July 10th 2017 @ 8:46am
      Kaniel Outis said | July 10th 2017 @ 8:46am | ! Report

      Yet another fine performance from the ” hope selling sad old tragics”. These “duds and cast offs”, like Liam Jones and Plowman must have me deluded, because they are looking talented. Jones has been reborn. His honorific should be phoenix. “The twenty first century St Kilda” could be going places. Anyone would believe that this “sad” club are a real chance of knocking off the Bulldogs next week. That would be the biggest act of “hope selling chicanery” this season.

      I am loving the way this club is playing. I have always liked honest hard football. Football doesn’t have to be pretty to be enjoyable. Keep it up and the wins will come.

    • July 10th 2017 @ 9:08am
      Roger said | July 10th 2017 @ 9:08am | ! Report

      I sense Carlton’s “honourable” losses stems from the teams efforts to shut the game down. You become most vulnerable in AFL when you attack. Carlton’s lack of attacking intent keeps the game close by design. The second they become more offensive minded is when the real issues and challenges begin.

      I think they are still yet to score 100 this year, and focus on keeping the ball in there control mainly in the backline. They play mainly dour, uninspired footy and are still currently a poor mans Fremantle of recent times.

      They have been competitive this year which they deserve credit for, but the difference between being competitive and dominant is absolutely enormous.

      • July 10th 2017 @ 9:35am
        Macca said | July 10th 2017 @ 9:35am | ! Report

        ” They play mainly dour, uninspired footy” Did you watch the game yesterday?

        • July 10th 2017 @ 12:13pm
          Roger said | July 10th 2017 @ 12:13pm | ! Report

          No I did not, however one game of football is not indicative of the season as a whole.

          – Carlton average the highest number of kicks and lowest amount of handballs in the league – Slowing down the game, retaining possession and ultimately not moving the ball with run and carry.

          – Carlton average the 2nd highest marks per game. Its slow football. Stop, start, kick to kick.

          – Carlton average 10.7 goals a game. The lowest in the league.

          – Carlton average equal lowest inside 50’s in the league.

          Carlton handle the ball with caution, kick it around and possess the ball. Refuse to link up through handball due to the risk it poses, and struggle to get into attacking zones.

          They have as the title of the article suggests, found a strategy to remain competitive and mastered the honourable loss. But they are also playing slow, dour football which is blatantly clear through the numbers.

          They are having a decent year, but the challenges ahead are significant.

          • July 10th 2017 @ 1:49pm
            Macca said | July 10th 2017 @ 1:49pm | ! Report

            Ok Roger I will give you that one game isn’t indicative so did you watch the Adelaide game last week? Or how about the Suns game, the GWS game, the North Melbourne game, the Swans game?

            Actually which games have you watched the blues in?

            As for you stats, you say the blues don’t move the ball with run and carry yet they rank 11th in the league for bounces and have the likely All Australian rebounding defender in Docherty who is one of the best in the league for metres gained.

            You say the blues play “kick to kick” and yet are 4th in the league for contested marks.

            You say the blues average only 10.7 goals per game but since the round 5 loss to Port Adelaide the blues have only scored less than that mark twice (once in wet conditions against Freo in Perth ) – they are trending upwards.

            • July 10th 2017 @ 3:21pm
              Roger said | July 10th 2017 @ 3:21pm | ! Report

              I have watched plenty of Carlton this year. Missing 1 Sunday afternoon game does not remove the right to comment on there performance.

              The rank 11th in bounces? That further reinforces my point. They aren’t even in the top half of the league in long individual runs, even considering the lack of handball receives and link up play. Docherty has been superb regardless, no arguments there.

              Yes, kicking the ball in excessive amount of times will naturally lead to an increase in not only marks but subsequently contested marks. I do think having Casboult leading the league in CM and contributing over 20% of Carlton’s CM makes this stat a bit of an outlier but impressive contested marking nonetheless.

              Over the past 5 weeks Carlton have averaged 10.8 goals per week. They are not trending upwards in this regard.

              Carlton have managed to make themselves a frustrating side to play against, and there structures and tactics keep games, as I have said, dour. Everything says this is the case. Considering the state of the list this is to be commended, but I think its worth noting the challenges the club faces actually becoming a legitimate top 8-10 team.

              • July 10th 2017 @ 3:37pm
                Macca said | July 10th 2017 @ 3:37pm | ! Report

                Roger – “The rank 11th in bounces? That further reinforces my point” Only if you don’t really understand what you are trying to say.

                “Yes, kicking the ball in excessive amount of times will naturally lead to an increase in not only marks but subsequently contested marks” You only take contested marks if you kick to a contest, kicking to a contest isn’t a “kick to kick” style. And Casboult does rank number 1 but Charlie Curnow is at 15.

                “Over the past 5 weeks Carlton have averaged 10.8 goals per week” 10.8 is still up on the annual average is it not? Since round 5 they have averaged 11.3 – trending up.

                “I have watched plenty of Carlton this year” Which games?

              • July 10th 2017 @ 4:18pm
                Roger said | July 10th 2017 @ 4:18pm | ! Report

                To be fair I think you are struggling to grasp what I am saying.

                I am not going to go back and forth over number of bounces. Carlton aren’t elite in this area, in fact they are half a dozen of being in the bottom quartile.

                If you look at the other top 5 contested marking sides you will see a dramatic drop off in total marks. Clearly Carlton are taking more short uncontested marks.

                Once again, I am not going to argue about 5 goals over 10 weeks of footy. Even if they maintained 11.3 for the year, they would be clear 16th and .1 of a goal above bottom.

                I have missed Round 2, 4, 9, 16 and a couple of first halves.

                If you want to think Carlton are an attacking side which take the game on and are side on a clear trajectory to a long-term top 4 side in the immediate future I am not going to disagree with you. Just absolutely nothing in the current numbers, or the eye test, indicates this to be the case at the moment. Your optimism is admirable.

              • July 11th 2017 @ 8:51am
                Macca said | July 11th 2017 @ 8:51am | ! Report

                I never said “Carlton are an attacking side which take the game on and are side on a clear trajectory to a long-term top 4 side in the immediate future” just that they are not dour, Sunday’s game is an example of that, the North Melbourne game is another example, I was at both the St Kilda and Adelaide games and they definitely weren’t dour affairs.

              • July 11th 2017 @ 2:25pm
                Roger said | July 11th 2017 @ 2:25pm | ! Report

                If its the word “dour” you have an issue then, then maybe lets just say they are remaining competitive without earning any style points. Which is ok at this point I guess, just see the transition from this stodgy, defensive minded game to something more fluent as a massive hurdle.

                I think maybe your admiration and excitement when watching Carlton is blinding you to what is truly on display, and as a neutral, it is not an attractive and long-term sustainable brand of football.

              • July 11th 2017 @ 2:48pm
                Macca said | July 11th 2017 @ 2:48pm | ! Report

                Roger – it isn’t the word itself it is the meaning.

                “just see the transition from this stodgy, defensive minded game to something more fluent” the thing is they aren’t playing “stodgy” football and they can and have transitioned to something more fluent numerous times this year.

                Look at the North Melbourne game, in the middle 2 quarters of that game they kicked 10.4 to North’s 4.4, against Sydney they kicked 10.3 to 5.6 in the second half and no one could claim the last 2 weeks football were “stodgy”.

                So yes the blues put an emphasis on defence which is partly due to where they are in their development, partly to do with their man power up forward and partly due to the way the game is played in the modern times but they have repeatedly shown a willingness to attack when the opportunity presents and have shown an ability to score quickly. The transition won’t be as hard as you think.

              • July 11th 2017 @ 4:28pm
                Roger said | July 11th 2017 @ 4:28pm | ! Report

                You just cherry picked 2 halves of football that contradict the numbers of 15 rounds of football.

                I think your mind is already made up.

              • July 11th 2017 @ 5:35pm
                Macca said | July 11th 2017 @ 5:35pm | ! Report

                No Roger – I highlighted 2 halves of footy, along with the last 2 weeks and I have previously mentioned the St Kilda game – I could point to plenty of other periods ing games as well.

                The blues don’t play stodgy football – they control the tempo, the play slow when it suits and they play fast when they can.

      • July 10th 2017 @ 10:47am
        ken oath said | July 10th 2017 @ 10:47am | ! Report

        Get your hand off it Roger

      • July 10th 2017 @ 11:56am
        Wayne said | July 10th 2017 @ 11:56am | ! Report

        Roger, you use the term uninspired to describe carltons football this season. In so doing you have exposed the fact that you clearly have not watched them closely. Don’t bother clogging up comment threads with uninformed opinions.

      • July 10th 2017 @ 1:37pm
        ken oath said | July 10th 2017 @ 1:37pm | ! Report

        And your team Roger is….

      • July 10th 2017 @ 1:44pm
        Redbacks fan said | July 10th 2017 @ 1:44pm | ! Report

        That’s an interesting point. Melbourne, under Paul Roos, employed an ultra defensive style in 2014 with an aim to be more competitive in games, similar to what Carlton have done this year. It has taken 4 years to transition that into a game style that will see them play finals.

        The reason why I am so pessimistic about Carlton’s short-to-mid term future is the lack of talent on the list born between 1990 and 1996 – Cripps (1995), Jaksch, Byrne, Graham, Plowman (94), Boekhorst, Buckley, Docherty, Kerridge, Sumner (93), Gorringe, Lamb, Smedts (92), Jones, Phillips (91), Casboult (90). Of that list, Cripps and Docherty will be high quality players, Plowman should be a decent role player and Jones is a bit of an unknown. Although personally I like Kerridge and Lamb – the club seems to disagree – none of the rest those players look capable of contributing meaningfully to a top eight side.

        I doubt that Carlton will be playing finals in the next two years (I expect even the most optimistic Carlton supporters will agree with that). That means that 2020 will be the year when Carlton will be hoping to play finals. At that point though Cripps, Docherty, Plowman and maybe 2 or three others from the above list of players (every team bar GWS has some a few plodders) will be the only players on the list capable of contributing to a finals quality side between the age of 24 and 30. That age demographic suggest Carlton will still be a couple of years away from playing finals which makes 2022 a more realistic aim for finals football. In order to contend for premiership at that point, Carlton will need to be exceptional with their recruiting and development of young players, as they will need to replace half of their current best 22.

        • July 10th 2017 @ 2:00pm
          Macca said | July 10th 2017 @ 2:00pm | ! Report

          Redbacks Fan – what happens if the blues get Josh Kelly, Dustin Martin or Nat Fyfe at the end of this year to your finals expectations?

          And if by 2020 the blues only have Cripps, Docherty, Plowman and 2 or 3 others (so somewhere around 25-30% of the team) but the blues have Kreuzer, Gibbs and Murphy over 30 and about a dozen high quality players under 24 how is that a bad thing?

          And if you look at the side that has been running out this year you will see the blues have already recruited the bulk of that 2020 side.

          • July 10th 2017 @ 2:27pm
            Redbacks fan said | July 10th 2017 @ 2:27pm | ! Report

            It is not necessarily a bad thing, but generally sides with more than half of their best 22 under 24 don’t play finals which is why I think 2022 is a more realistic aim for Carlton to make finals. By that time though Kreuzer, Gibbs and Murphy, along with about a third of their current best 22 will be gone. Like any bottom 10 side, they would probably also need some of the fringe players to be squeezed out in order to improve to finals quality. That effectively means half of their current best side will be gone before they play finals.

            Free agency could be the thing that makes Carlton finals competitive ahead of time. On that front though, they are no better or worse place than 17 other sides. I see depth as being a greater issue for Carlton going forward than top end so I think that they would be better served picking up a number of low profile free agents (similar to Melbourne with Vince, Lewis and Hibberd) than going after a Martin, Kelly of Fyfe.

            On your last point, I don’t know the young players well enough to make any meaningful comment on them other than that if you look at the success rate of draft picks in the respective ranges turning into quality players, it seems unlikely than Carlton have 11 players currently in their VFL side that could go on to become finals quality player by 2022.

            • July 10th 2017 @ 2:47pm
              Macca said | July 10th 2017 @ 2:47pm | ! Report

              “it seems unlikely than Carlton have 11 players currently in their VFL side that could go on to become finals quality player by 2022.” Why would we need 11 players in the VFL, the blues are playing their young kids in the AFL.

              If you look at the side from the weekend the blues had 7 players either 19 or 20 playing, throw in Plowman, Cripps & Docherty you are at 10, throw in Marchbank & Williamson who are injured and we get to 12 if we add on just 2 of you “2-3 others” who will be between 24 & 30 you are up to 14 add on Gibbs, Murphy and Kreuzer you have 17.

              Now if we look to the VFL and took just one of McKay or Kerr and one of Byrne, Polson or Pickett we are up to 19, meaning the blues have to get just 3 more from the next 3 draft and trade periods – hardly a difficult task.

              • July 10th 2017 @ 3:17pm
                Redbacks fan said | July 10th 2017 @ 3:17pm | ! Report

                When you say it like that it doesn’t sound hard but from a unbiased perspective I can’t see it playing out that easily. If 4 of the 7 under 19 players from the weekend make the grade (it is highly unlikely than all 7 will) and one out of the more speculative group including Kerr etc. That means you will need to find 7 players by 2020 and another 3 when Murphy Gibbs and Kreuzer retire.

                I have no doubt that you know Carlton’s young players better than I do. I am just looking at it from a numbers perspective.

              • July 10th 2017 @ 3:27pm
                Macca said | July 10th 2017 @ 3:27pm | ! Report

                “If 4 of the 7 under 19 players from the weekend make the grade (it is highly unlikely than all 7 will)” Looking at the 7 you have Weitering, Curnow, SPS, Jack Silvagni, Fisher, Cuningham and Harrison MacReadie – which of them do you see not making the grade?

                Of the more “speculative group” I think it is more likely that 3 of them will make it rather than 2 given McKay was a top 10 pick, Byrne impressed in his games last year before being injured, Kerr has been getting big wraps from Josh Fraser and the other 2 have both played at AFL level this year.

                And even if we do have to find 7 players over 3 drafts it still isn’t a massive task, especially given we have found more than that in the last 2 and we have another Silvagni in the 2018 draft who is supposed to be better than Jack.

              • July 10th 2017 @ 4:00pm
                Redbacks fan said | July 10th 2017 @ 4:00pm | ! Report

                I don’t want to get into which players I think will make it or not because I really don’t know them well enough for my opinion to be worth anything. I will say though that I am very confident that Weitering will make a good full back if given the chance. I also like the look of SPS but it is too early to know just how good he will be.

                It will be a good effort from list management if Carlton can become a contender anytime in the next 5 years given where they started from so credit to them if they do. I am glad that as a supporter, you are able to find positives during a down time. Hopefully for your sake that you are about to find positives all throughout what I expect to be a long period of non contending.

              • July 10th 2017 @ 4:12pm
                Macca said | July 10th 2017 @ 4:12pm | ! Report

                “I don’t want to get into which players I think will make it or not because I really don’t know them well enough for my opinion to be worth anything” That’s just it though, you are looking at it from a basis of probability that a player drafted at X will have a success rate of Y – but if you actually look at the players the blues have playing you will see the chances of success are much greater – Williamson got taken with a pick in the 60’s and had cemented his spot before getting injured in the Gold Coast game and has already signed a contract extension.

              • July 11th 2017 @ 11:20am
                paul cotton said | July 11th 2017 @ 11:20am | ! Report

                I am a demon supporter. I went to the game last Sunday and I reckon the blues played sensational football. They weren’t unlucky to lose. just couldn’t finish off the demons. Their ball movement was brilliant and their marking strength was dominant. I know Melbourne’s youth is our future and our recruiting means when the older dudes like jones/lewis/vince leave there is a lot of quality depth still. I thin both demons and blues have fantastic young coaches. I saw a lot of high quality young carlton players however I don’t know their list as well as the demons so I wonder who they are losing in the next few years. they certainly have some very impressive young players

              • July 11th 2017 @ 11:54am
                Macca said | July 11th 2017 @ 11:54am | ! Report

                Paul – on who the blues will lose – Simpson is 33 but should play in 2018 but maybe not 2019, Murphy is about to turn 30 and Thomas has just turned 30 but between them and Gibbs at 28 and 3 months there is just players like Armfield, A Silvagni, Rowe, White & Palmer, only White played this week but he is only in due to injuries to Williamson and Marchbank.

    • July 10th 2017 @ 9:15am
      Macca said | July 10th 2017 @ 9:15am | ! Report

      Good read Jay but who is “Nick Cunningham”

      I went down to the game last week and one of the big things I took out of it (other than Charlie Curnow is going to be an absolute star) was the anger the blues players showed after the siren, the mind set is changing, they are no longer happy to get close, they are starting to expect to win – when these young blokes get the size and stamina to last the full 4 quarters those close losses will turn to wins pretty quick.

    • July 10th 2017 @ 9:57am
      Macca said | July 10th 2017 @ 9:57am | ! Report

      It is worth noting that last year Matthew Wright won the blues goal kicking with 22, with 7 games to go in 2017 Casboult sits on 23, Wright on 20 and Jack Silvagni on 15 all looking like bettering the 2016 mark (Charlie Curnow with 5 of his 10 in the last 4 weeks could make a late charge to get there as well)/

      While this is still well below the elite level it is yet another small step forward.

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