Footy’s almost back, and I’ll be putting forth four burning questions for each of the AFL’s 18 clubs ahead of the June 11 restart.
It’s Carlton going under the spotlight today. With the equal longest active grand final appearance drought, this dark chapter in an otherwise glittering club history must surely be coming to an end soon.
David Teague’s first official game as Blues senior coach started perilously but, after a second-half comeback, went down as a perfectly respectable four-goal loss to the all-conquering Tigers.
Here are four burning questions for Carlton before Round 2 finally gets underway.
If you’re a glass half-full kind of person, you can say new recruit Jack Martin single-handedly equalled the score of Richmond’s hapless 2019 grand final opponents.
If you’re the opposite, you’ll point out the Blues were 46 points in arrears at halftime and only fought back after their opponents took their foot off the pedal.
One half from that season opener back in March will be used as exhibit A in Carlton showing who they really are in 2020 – and you’d hope it’s the second.
A nine-goal-to-five second half is no mean feat against the Tigers on their home (plus away and finals) deck, and there was plenty to like from ex-Sun Martin (17 disposals, four goals), the ever-reliable Patrick Cripps (31 disposals and 17 contested possessions) and returning co-captain Sam Docherty (26 disposals, nine intercept possessions).
But they also let themselves down with some iffy ball use and terrible efficiency inside 50 – just 21 scoring shots from 54 entries – although, in fairness, they were without key talls Charlie Curnow and Harry McKay. Ex-Saint Jack Newnes also didn’t have a club debut to remember.
Like everyone, we’re going to need a bigger sample size before making any kind of call, but the Blues are probably one of the clubs we know the very least about right now.
This one is a heart breaker. The long AFL absence has only been enough to cover half of Kreuzer’s layoff with a fractured foot, with the future of the out-of-contract 31-year-old very much in the air.
But, from a strictly football point of view, it might be the experience injector some prospects need.
The seemingly uneventful acquisition of Marc Pittonet from Hawthorn could prove to be a lifesaver here. If I’m David Teague, I don’t want Harry McKay doing anything but patrolling the forward 50 – especially with Curnow out – and I really question how long Levi Casboult should be getting games ahead of someone like Tom de Koning.
I very much like Teague’s abandonment of Brendon Bolton’s youth policy – tossing kids into the fire and hoping they’ll learn from getting obliterated every week – but it’s time to let young De Koning and Pittonet (who’s only 23 himself) battle it out for ruck duties. If you must play Casboult, put him up forward to keep some attention away from McKay.
Believe it or not, the Blues were the eighth most experienced side in Round 1 – in both average age and games played. Kade Simpson and Marc Murphy bloat those figures somewhat, but it’s crazy to think they were just three months younger and nine games less experienced than their double-premiership opponents ‘last’ Thursday night.
But, like I said above, Teague has struck the balance between being competitive and blooding youngsters far better than Bolton did and the vastly increased self belief will do the side a world of good.
After all, it was putting wins on the board that got him the job in the first place. I see little wrong with the club’s age range in their best 22.
The million-dollar question. Most coaches get something of a carte blanche in their first season but Teague won’t – and shouldn’t – get the same extendable leash.
A stack of honourable losses and honest but unsuccessful efforts will be enough for Brett Ratten, Matthew Nicks and Justin Longmuir. But when you’ve replaced a coach who’d amassed a mountain of honourable losses off the back of a ripping stint as the caretaker, you don’t get to go back to square one.
Carlton’s age and experience across the list puts them firmly in a bracket containing clubs who should all have a flag in mind at the end of the season: West Coast, Geelong, Collingwood, Richmond and GWS – the latter of whom they were more experienced than in Round 1.
I don’t expect the Blues to become sudden top-four contenders in 2020, but it’s the other clubs in that bracket – North Melbourne and Port Adelaide – who they should be finishing alongside.
You won plaudits for a 6-5 finish to 2019? Let’s see you emulate that (or close to it) across a full season and finish in that ninth-to-13th bracket. Blues fans – especially the ones who called for Bolton’s head – should be demanding nothing less.