The bells are tolling for the Old Dark Navy Blues, but it’s a dolorous dirge sounding the death knell for finals in 2021, as Carlton failed to keep their end up in their Round 12 loss to the badly battered Eagles.
This wasn’t meant to end like this. The West Coast juggernaut was supposed to splutter against the Blues and die against Richmond next week, yet the Teague train turned in another honourable loss and the coach put it down to basic skill errors. Is he serious?
Carlton will be excoriated in the media this week, especially with Collingwood getting up for a win, so though the bye presents solace to a tired Blues side, it also puts a target on their backs as they slide down the ladder.
What is wrong with the Blues?
Leadership vacuum is a harsh characterisation, but who is leading this side out of their decade long finals drought?
Sam Docherty was the captain for a year while out with injury in 2019 and kept the job since, so he’s not the issue as his qualities as a leader are evident.
Patrick Cripps has learnt to bear the captaincy in the crucible of being the worst team in the AFL, made co-captain after the club’s two-win season that happened to be his best.
It isn’t the leadership group of Marc Murphy, Ed Curnow, Liam Jones, Jacob Weitering and Sam Walsh, but the gulf in experience of the playing list – 11 players on Sunday with over 100 games – which cries out for guidance every time the team gets into a winning position and gets challenged.
Yet all over the ground, there are individuals producing footy for the highlight reels without the kind of cohesion that wins these kinds of games. The Blues simply don’t have the kind of team synergy that motivates a Richmond or Geelong or West Coast to wriggle out of close games with the win: the kind of teamwork instigated and modelled by the leaders of the club.
There are several culprits when it comes to asking the question of Carlton’s list and how it can be reshaped in order to make it successful. Surely the Paddy Dow experiment can be put to bed, and probably Zac Fisher and Lochie O’Brien as well, yet Teague has to persist with them if there is to be some sort of trade value.
Lost in all the presidential palaver coming out of the Holden Centre, the Blues president Mark LoGiudice has announced that he will step down at the end of the year, but unlike Eddie McGuire he will see out the year even if he’s leaving 12 months shy of the expected end of his term.
There are always rival factions at Carlton. La Cosa Nostra is Italian for ‘It’s our thing’ and boy do the famous Old Dark Blues have theirs. High profile Blues figures continuously criticise the current board and the footy department from top to bottom. John Worsfold’s appointment recently as a coaching consultant as David Teague appeared to be leading Carlton to another losing season was roundly criticised, but the losses have kept mounting as have the voices of dissent.
As for the playing group, I have to wonder what players think when they read about their new teammates getting million-dollar contracts while they play for less than the league average. Jack Martin’s millions for less than 13 touches a game? Paddy Cripps signed an extension mid-season for Lance Franklin money. Zac Williams and Adam Saad also came in on big money and have so far under-delivered, while Mitch McGovern has so far been ordinary, playing only around 60 per cent of games in two and half seasons.
The injury factor
The Carlton injury list got two names longer during this game, but the bye should see Harry McKay and Nic Newman return without missing games. Missing three listed players for the season in David Cuningham, Caleb Marchbank and Sam Philp has hurt, yet the club just went to the mid-season rookie draft for a pair of replacements.
Michael Gibbons, Mitch McGovern and Oscar McDonald will return over the next month, but the prognosis for Charlie Curnow has vacillated from soon to not at all and that is the real key to the side unlocking another offensive weapon in order to kick winning scores.
Where is the cavalry?
There is a player who many will have forgotten who in early 2019 was being talked about as top draft pick, but an ACL injury ended his draft year audition and he slid to Carlton at pick 17.
Among little fanfare, Brodie Kemp made his VFL debut in the number 17 jumper (perhaps a motivation taken from his draft night slide), collecting 18 touches and eight marks in a crushing loss to Box Hill. He may well be the missing element in defence or even become a defensive midfielder, such is his potential.
Sam Petrevski-Seton is also stuck in VFL lockdown, having been banished in Round 9, so his 11-tackle performance will be viewed favourably as he’s really too good to leave out for too long.
Play the kids?
As much as they already are playing the kids, there is scope for more blooding of youth. Sam Ramsay is finding the ball at VFL level, while Josh Honey is finding the goals. Corey Durdin should return to the reserves after a snappy start to the season and showed last year he could handle senior footy at SANFL level.
Mid-season rookie draft
Carlton had a good draft hand at the mid-season rookie draft, picking 210-centimetre ruck development project Alex Mirkov from their VFL squad and Footscray VFL backman Jordan Boyd, electing not to use the third selection.
To be blunt, Mirkov isn’t going to enhance the Blues’ senior team in any way this year. Harry McKay and Tom De Koning as the two key forwards with Marc Pittonet in the ruck is the dream team for Carlton. However, the big volleyball convert has come on in leaps and bounds, so be excited to see a huge human.
Jordan Boyd has played Footscray’s entire VFL season and not lost in five games. He’s not going to fix anything, but he’s not going to contribute to their demise either and that is evidenced in his cool kicking to targets under pressure. Make no mistake, he’s not a super impressive midfielder or anything, but he can kick and hit a target, which is solid gold right now for David Teague.
The Blues aren’t done yet, but short of a repeat of Richmond in 2014, they can’t run this table, especially not with COVID threatening to turn the season on its head. The only good news is that they only face Port and Geelong from among their remaining opponents, but if they drop those games they have to win all the others and earn a good percentage. I could dine out on these cooked Baggers, but as an erstwhile PM once said, “I want to do you slowly”.