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Is Cartlon really the team that never lets you down?

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29th August, 2020

Carlton’s theme song clearly states, “They’re the team that never lets you down”. To an extent that is true – can a team that has promised so little for 20 years ever really let you down?

Over this period Carlton has transformed. It is no longer successful enough to be disliked by all, only some. The stereotypical Carlton arrogance of the 1990s cannot be sustained with any conviction in the new world of mediocrity, salary caps and draft picks.

Carlton has had many rebuilds in the last two decades. Dennis Pagan returned to his old club just before its draft picks were taken away, and he traded what few draft picks remained for mature players who were not quite good enough. It ended with a predictable three-figure loss to Brisbane.

Former club champion Brett Ratten lifted Carlton to the finals on the back of some early draft picks and Chris Judd. Carlton even won a final during in 2011. Brendan Fevola was there too. He was occasionally brilliant and often frustrating. Carlton somehow knew Ratten, now doing great things at St Kilda, was not the man to lead it to its next premiership. It also knew Mick Malthouse was.

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Malthouse coached a winning final in a year Carlton finished ninth but miraculously was allowed to play finals due to Essendon’s issues in 2013. It never felt sustainable. The downward spiral was far more dramatic than most could have predicted but was in keeping with Carlton’s ability to surprise on the downside.

Brendon Bolton helped turned around Carlton’s list. He left the club in a much better position than when he became the coach, even if the wins and losses suggested otherwise.


And now we have David Teague’s Carlton, which is, bizarrely, a fun team to support. It has beaten good teams this year, like Geelong, could have beaten Port Adelaide and was beating West Coast in Perth in the second half. It plays with more style than most teams. It is organised, tough and skilful. It feels weird to see a Carlton team like this.

Patrick Cripps of the Blues smiles after victory

(Photo by Graham Denholm/AFL Photos via Getty Images )

Carlton has quality in every department. Jacob Weitering, a No. 1 draft pick justifying being a No. 1 pick, and Liam Jones, who plays better for Carlton than his previous club, are two excellent key defenders. Sam Docherty is about as good a small defender as there is in the AFL. Sam Petrevski-Seton oozes class in possession.

The midfield boasts Patrick Cripps, who even neutral fans admire as one of the best players in the competition. Sam Walsh has every quality you could ask for in a 20-year-old footballer and looks like a future leader. Some say he will not be the best player in his draft group. Whoever is better than him will be very good. Will Setterfield has improved significantly. Mark Pittonet and Tom De Koning are solid rucks. Ed Curnow and Marc Murphy are admirable leaders.

Up front Harry McKay, Jack Martin, Zac Fisher and Levi Casboult are difficult to match up on. When Mitch McGovern and Charlie Curnow are fit there will be good players missing out at selection.

If Carlton beats Collingwood this week it will be in a strong position to make the finals. For many clubs this is not a big deal. For Carlton fans, who are tired of building character, this is a rather big deal. Collingwood at full strength would be strong favourites, but weakened with many good players out, the Magpies are vulnerable.


Carlton fans are too emotional to judge their chances of success but neutrals are saying Carlton can win.

Carlton is 11th on the ladder. It has conceded and scored exactly 756 points. It has won six and lost six. You could say it is perfectly average on those numbers. This, sadly, is a vast improvement. If Carlton loses to Collingwood, its long-term trajectory probably will not change, whatever that trajectory is. Maybe towards greatness. The last 20 years would suggest probably towards another rebuild.

Regardless, Carlton is promising hope to its fans for the first time in a long time. Can the Blues finally prove the lyrics to its theme song right?