Not a great look for the Eagles skipper…
The blockbuster games in the AFL this weekend belong to teams such as Collingwood, Richmond, Hawthorn and Geelong.
However, the biggest repercussions from any game this weekend will be when Carlton play Melbourne at Marvel Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Melbourne were expected to compete for a premiership last year, for the first time after spending more than a decade in footy’s wilderness. But it all came crashing down around them as they finished 17th, and if it wasn’t for an insipid Gold Coast team, they would have won another wooden spoon.
Carlton saw the back of yet another coach halfway through the 2019 season with Brendon Bolton given his marching orders. There was a big turnaround through the second half of the year under David Teague, which saw them win six of their last 11 games and ultimately land Teague the coaching job.
Both clubs’ supporter bases come into this season confident that their fortunes will change. Melbourne supporters reflect on the 2018 season where they won two finals before losing to eventual premiers West Coast in the preliminary final, while Carlton fans think back to the second half of last year and expect similar results.
In Round 1, both clubs were set very big tasks. Melbourne had to fly to Western Australia to play the near-on-impossible-to-beat West Coast, while Carlton had to play the reigning premiers Richmond in their annual first match of the season blockbuster.
Melbourne battled manfully against West Coast, but their poor start (27 points down at quarter time) proved costly as that was exactly what the winning score ended up being for the Eagles. Melbourne did miss chances in that first quarter, kicking four straight behinds, which probably flattered the Eagles’ winning margin to an extent.
Carlton were completely blown away by Richmond in the first quarter, and frankly, were embarrassing. Richmond kicked the first five goals of the game and led by 31 points at the first break, which was a bridge too far to come back from for the Blues, even though they outscored the Tigers comfortably in the last quarter to only lose by four goals.
This is the big test for both clubs. Both were beaten by teams they were expected to lose to in Round 1, but now they get a winnable game in the reopening round of the season.
Melbourne supporters and the general public think Melbourne has more talent and that they should just win, while Carlton supporters are beginning to think the times are changing at the Blues and there are no more excuses or honourable losses left to use.
Melbourne have a star-studded midfield, which includes the likes of Clayton Oliver, Angus Brayshaw and Jack Viney, while the Blues are still very much a one-man band in the centre of the ground with superstar Patrick Cripps leading the way.
The midfield battle, like in every game, will be a deciding factor in the result. Melbourne were poor on the spread last year and will be hoping to address that issue, while Carlton will need more than just Patrick Cripps to beat the Demons’ midfield.
Ed Curnow is an honest battler and will give his all at each contest, but where is the x-factor coming from? For the Blues fans expecting improved results, guys like Sam Petrevski-Seton and Zac Fisher will need to rise to the occasion throughout the season, and they won’t get a better chance than to do it with the whole of Australia watching in the reopening round of the season.
For the Demons, their forward line is going to be the big talking point. Tom McDonald was poor last year and needs to improve and the lack of a viable second key forward option is one that they needed to have attended to over the summer.
Sam Weideman is coming into his fifth season and after only averaging a goal a game last year, he must improve for the Melbourne forward line to be more dangerous. Mitch Brown was recruited as a delisted free agent after getting axed from the Bombers. At his age, he is a quick fix – and a poor one at that.
Carlton’s defence is probably the strongest part of their team with the likes of Jacob Weitering, Caleb Marchbank, Sam Docherty and Kade Simpson. They won’t make it easy for a Melbourne forward line trying to prove a point.
For the loser, the media criticism will come thick and fast, and neither club can let it be a one-sided affair.
For Melbourne, a win is a must. Demons fans, along with the AFL public, believe in Melbourne suddenly. We saw what they could do in 2018 when they are on a roll and seeing the deprived-of-success Melbourne fans enjoy success was something that had to put a smile on the face of the general AFL lover.
Simon Goodwin has a contract that ends in 2022, but it won’t take much for the media to start sniffing blood. Melbourne face Essendon, Geelong and Sydney at the SCG in their next three matches after this, so a loss here could see them 0-4 and staring down the barrel of another wasted season.
For the Blues, they must not get blown out of the water. The general public feel like Melbourne are better than Carlton and therefore the backlash of a loss won’t be so bad, but if they put in a terrible effort, the heat will come onto the playing group, who have vouched to make a charge for the finals in 2020.
With no crowd there and everyone watching around Australia at home, there is nowhere to hide for these once-great footy clubs who are trying to become relevant again.
And for the loser, an empty Marvel Stadium will feel like the loneliest place in the world.