Carlton veteran Dale Thomas will call time on a decorated AFL career at the end of the season.
A month into the home-and-away season and the ladder is not pretty reading, but it’s a familiar sight for Carlton fans.
The Blues are Winless after four games for the fourth time since 1989, and for the seventh season running they’ve had only one win or less in the first month of a year. The white-hot glare of the football world is again fixed firmly on Princes Park.
While internally the word will be to remain calm and that all are in it together, there are a lot of elements behind what is at Carlton at the moment. The players are supposedly fitter, the coaches have had time to learn and rectify what went so horribly pear-shaped last year and the fans were under the impression that things will start to be better now. Yet we sit here a month into the year and the Blues are the only winless club in the competition while the sides that were predicted to finish around them this year have three wins each.
The natives are getting restless, so in the spirit of the impending Jewish holiday of Passover, which begins on Friday night, we ask four big questions that need to be asked yet are to this point largely unanswered.
1. What’s actually happening up there?
On paper it reads as one of the most exciting young forward lines in the game. Charlie Curnow, Mitch McGovern and Harry McKay roaming the forward 50 would be enough to get any supporter excited. Scoring has been hard to come by in recent years for this club – it’s been 58 games since they scored 100 points in a match. Last year it was the defence that had the issues early; now it appears the cohesion and organisation of the forward line are nowhere to be seen.
While the feeling is that the club will persist with the three talls they’ve invested in, they don’t need Levi Casboult and definitely don’t need four tall forwards. Mitch, Charlie and Harry are the key pillars and need to sort themselves out.
But who are the other ingredients in the forward mix? Michael Gibbons made a name for himself as a midfielder in the VFL and has struggled to adapt and make an impact as a small forward at AFL level thus far. Alex Fasolo was recruited to provide some grunt, seniority and goals and has failed to make an impact, and Cameron Polson has found himself in and out of the team in the early parts of the season. So never mind the delivery to these guys being below standard at the moment; the right mix needs to be found and quickly to fix Carlton’s scoring problems.
2. Is the list as good as we think it’s going to be?
We all want to think that all the ingredients are there. The young spine is into its fourth year of senior footy while the midfield group is steadily growing into their second and third years. But let’s have a look at the type of players, particularly the midfielders, we have drafted in in recent years. Sam Walsh is a star despite not kicking the ball well at the moment. Paddy Dow will grow into an explosive brute. Matt Kennedy and Will Setterfield round out the center circle as the big bodies along with superstar captain Patrick Cripps.
While early development and signs suggest that some of the young talent on our list will go on to have fruitful AFL careers, the plethora of smaller-type players might prove more headaches. Can the likes of Sam Petrevski-Seton, Zac Fisher, Lochie O’Brien, Cameron Polson, David Cunningham et cetera develop quickly enough and have their bodies stand up to a full season of AFL football and perform? Are these players limited in their abilities due to their lighter frame?
I’m not suggesting that any one of these guys are not going to make it as footballers at the top level. Some have had a brighter start than others because development isn’t linear, but it is a question that needs to be asked to Stephen Silvagni and the entire recruiting team. We all of a sudden have a plethora of slightly framed midfielders who, like it or not, will always be a little bit limited due to their lighter frames, and have we by any chance missed a trick by not going after more big bodies and more rounded and ready-made players?
3. Is Brendon Bolton the man to take us all the way?
It’s the question on everyone’s lips. Is our coach the right man for the job? It’s a results-based industry, and 15 wins from 70 games at a win rate of 21 per cent cannot be deemed anywhere near successful in any competitive competition. When you break it down further, to three wins in the last 36 matches, it makes the stats look even worse, but all signs and words point to the club staying the course with Brendon. They’re backing their man to the core.
But is he the right man for the job? He has been fantastic in the years where he has rebuilt the list, and only now does he truly have the playing roster he wants and believes can be the next great Carlton team. While patience is a virtue, no doubt he would know himself that time is running out. But has what we’ve seen so far been enough to suggest that Brendon Bolton has a game style that is capable of winning not only finals but high-stakes games against quality opposition? Or even any opposition?
At the moment it is a matter of cattle. The young players are not ready just yet, and too much is being left to too few. You can use the argument that the loss of one significant player (Sam Docherty) was a big part of the downfall. While it’s a terrible excuse, I can understand that it would’ve killed off most of the best-laid plans for 2019. As the football gods have done so many times before, they’ve proven in this situation that they simply don’t exist.
Carlton had a whole season last year without Sam Docherty, and it was putrid. If he isn’t able to put in some plans to replace him and become competitive, then maybe he isn’t the right man for the job. Wins have to come and soon, otherwise those rumblings and the heat on those blowtorches will only get cranked up further.
4. What comes next?
So what’s next Carlton? What’s next for this club? What is next for this team over the next 18 weeks? What can supporters use to draw inspiration and what can the AFL look and see from Carlton for the remainder of season 2019? The list is littered with young talent, but all this young talent is starting to have ample amounts of experience at AFL level and should be impacting games for prolonged periods and making their mark on the competition.
Do we keep backing in the current system and game plan and be confident that it will click? Or do we throw caution to the wind and get back to the basics of playing footy with run and dare?
This club is reliant on a group of players going to the next level this year, particularly those entering their fourth year in the system. Jacob Weitering and Harry McKay have started off exceptionally well. David Cunningham needs to get back on the park and Jack Silvagni, Matthew Kennedy and Charlie Curnow all need to find a way to get into this team and impact the game every week. That is where the growth needs to come from.
It’s an important time again for this football club. Whether the club will publicly talk about it or not, they are once again the current laughing stock of the competition. What happens now is up to the players but also the coaching staff. There are necessary changes that need to be made and should be made for the benefit of the team and the clubs position.
What presents in the next few weeks is a string of games that a few weeks ago would have been deemed winnable for this group. They still are – it will be tough, but they are there to be won. While we all want to be confident that things will turn around and that the monkey will come off their back so they get running, the aura of optimism is running lower with every mounting loss.
But football is a funny game and things can change quickly – it just has to start somewhere. It has to come from a united playing group and a coaching staff that has developed a simple game plan they trust the players to execute. Right now the club is hurting and the members and supporters are getting cranky and restless. While the knee jerk reaction is the lynchpin of our game, the club is adamant that they will stay the course and the tide will turn and they will back their man in.
The club is committed to building sustained success. To get there, as they fully would have thought and expected, there are many bumps along the road. This is another one, probably at a time they didn’t expect it, thus creating the unrest that things would be better developed at this stage.
The questions are there to be asked and there are many, many more. Believe me. We await the answers, not just in words but in actions.