In the aftermath of Carlton’s calamitous 93-point loss to Greater Western Sydney in Round 9 the AFL media predictably sharpened their pitchforks, lit their torches and descended on Ikon Park to demand the head of Brendon Bolton.
With just 16 wins in 75 games, the would-be executioners point to Bolton’s record as head coach as ample evidence for his impeachment.
But with the fixation on this one arbitrary statistic, commentators have merely created a convenient scapegoat and given a free pass to the real culprits of the Blues’ misery: the senior players.
In the Round 9 loss Carlton’s top-five possession-getters had a combined 93 games of AFL experience.
And of the top nine, only Dale Thomas had played more than 60 games, with Sam Petrevski-Seton (51 games) and Charlie Curnow (53 games) the only others to have made 50 appearances.
The fact that Bolton has done an A+ job of developing talent has been totally ignored, with great improvement seen in almost all of the Carlton young players in his time as head coach.
In 2019 alone Carlton fans have seen the emergence of Harry McKay as one of the competition’s most dominant marking forwards, the evolution of Petrevski-Seton from inconsistent small forward to proficient midfielder and Zac Fisher develop as a dependable winger-turn-goal sneak.
No. 1 draft pick Sam Walsh has had arguably the greatest start to an AFL career we have ever witnessed, while eight-game GWS recruit Will Setterfield has looked right at home returning from an ACL injury.
Charlie Curnow has led the club’s goalkicking in 2018 and appears set to become one of the AFL’s elite mid-forward hybrids at just 22 years old, while Patrick Cripps is the short-odds Brownlow favourite at the age of 24.
Bolton has done absolutely all he can with the tools at his disposal. It’s time we focus the crosshairs on Carlton’s criminally underperforming experienced players.
Big-name recruit Mitch McGovern crossed to the Blues after he was reportedly unsatisfied with Adelaide’s valuation of his talents. This season McGovern has averaged career lows in disposals and tackles while taking two marks fewer per game than he did in 2018. Having cost the Blues two second-round picks, McGovern has now had his fitness and ability called into question in 2019.
Meanwhile, fellow esteemed recruit Alex Fasolo’s Carlton career is spiralling into bust territory. Having broken his arm at an Australia Day party shortly after signing a reported $1 million contract, the ex-Pie has managed just two senior games for his new club and finds himself in a less-than-inspiring run of form for the Northern Blues.
And while the Blues’ mediocre recruits fail to fire, many of the club’s once reliable figures have provided fresh headaches for Bolton.
Having been swung forward, soon-to-be-30-year-old Ed Curnow is in the midst of his worst season statistically since 2013. With eight goals so far in 2019, his impact on the scoreboard hardly makes up for his reduced output in other areas. Gathering seven fewer possessions per game than last year, Curnow’s tackling numbers have also taken a dramatic dive to a career-low 2.6 per game, almost two less than his previous worst of 4.5.
Ex-captain Marc Murphy’s career appears to be dwindling, with a fresh rib injury ruling him out for up to a month. The one-time All Australian’s body has begun to fail him, having managed just 22 games since 2017. The 31-year-old averages more than six disposals fewer than he did in 2017 and, like his fellow leaders, has also bottomed out to a career low in tackling numbers.
In fact the average age of Carlton’s top-six tacklers this season is 21 – the eldest being Cripps – while Jones and Ed Curnow are the only Blues over the age of 24 to have laid 20 tackles.
Cripps’s 63 tackles account for a fraction under 12 per cent of Carlton’s total tackles in 2019. To put this into context, Adam Treloar leads Collingwood with 39 tackles (7.7 per cent), while Luke Dahlhaus’s 47 account for 8.1 per cent of Geelong’s tackles. Consistently competitive clubs are not tackling less; they are just seeing regular contributions from more players.
Where Carlton’s senior figures go missing, it comes as little surprise to see Collingwood’s leaders at the top of their club’s tackling numbers. Treloar, Brodie Grundy, Scott Pendlebury, Steele Sidebottom, Travis Varcoe and Taylor Adams all in the top ten.
The Blues senior players are not even close to bringing the effort or intensity required at AFL level, with too much left to Cripps and co.
At some stage the onus has to fall on these players to step up and take responsibility for the club’s performances – it’s just too easy to think that sacking the head coach is the solution to all of Carlton’s problems.
The club’s young players will soon form the spine of the first consistent Carlton outfit we have seen in close to a decade, but it remains to be seen which senior players will join them.