Sometimes as a football club, games come along that you just have to win. Have to win. Carlton had one of those against West Coast on Sunday at the SCG. And they lost. And they lost without really giving a whimper.
The Blues gave up the first three goals, ceding control of the game to the Eagles. They never really got it back, despite flirting with the lead here and there. With the game and their season on the line, they kicked only one goal in the last quarter. It came in the first minute.
Can anyone put their hand on their heart and say they saw ferocity and desperation from the players, commensurate with the situation? In fact, how often do we really see it from them. If you ask Siri to define uncompromising, she won’t have the Carlton playing group as her answer.
Carlton are not the only team to disappoint this season. North has been Mark Neeld bad, but that was almost expected. St Kilda have redefined pathetic at various stages. Collingwood have had a lot of words written.
But the Blues are just so sad. So sad. It’s been going so long. This will be the 21st consecutive season they don’t finish in the top four. Their most memorable finals win of this century came when they didn’t even make the finals by their own hand, but had to rely on the AFL kicking Essendon out.
All of the heat is on David Teague right now. It’s nothing new for the senior coach to bear the brunt of criticism when things are flailing on the field. But the chicken and the egg of Carlton’s situation is drafting and development over a decade or more.
The internal machinations of developing teenagers into AFL footballers is one of the true mysteries and intangibles for the public. All we can assess is where and when they were drafted, and what we see produced on the weekend.
And Carlton have had so many list management busts, both from the draft table and bringing in “talent” from other clubs, that if you were to write them down by hand you’d run out of ink.
Brodie Kemp (pick 17), Sam Philp (20), Liam Stocker (19), Lochie O’Brien (10), Tom De Koning (30) have all been taken in the 2017 draft and beyond, and barely been seen. Sam Petrevski-Seton (6) and Zac Fisher (27) were taken in the 2016 draft, and can be considered at the crossroads of their careers.
Sam Walsh is the only straight-up win from that period, and he came at pick one as a fully formed footballer. Even the Blues couldn’t stuff him up.
The 2015 draft was a good one for Carlton, maximising the critical mass of high end picks which saw three in the top 12 – Jacob Weitering (1), Harry McKay (10) and Charlie Curnow (12). The first two are elite key position players, and the latter is as high quality at talent as there is in the league. Hopefully we get to see him display it when his injuries are overcome.
The prior five drafts (2010-14) were terrible as well. Blaine Boekhorst, Dillon Viojo-Rainbow, Cameron Giles, Troy Menzel, Tom Temay, Josh Boostma, Matthew Watson and Patrick McCarthy were all taken in the top 35. Patrick Cripps is the only remote success story from those drafts.
If you think the drafting is a shocking collection of failure, it’s almost sunshine and lollipops compared to the players they’ve brought in from other AFL lists.
Have a look at these for a staggering collection of ordinary players or those that provided very little in the way of quality output or inspiration – Andrew Collins, Jeremy Laidler, Dale Thomas, Andrejs Everitt, Matthew Dick, Kristian Jaksch, Mark Whiley, Jason Tutt, Daniel Gorringe, Sam Kerridge, Jed Lamb, Andrew Phillips, Liam Sumner, Rhys Palmer, Jarrod Pickett, Billie Smedts, Darcy Lang, Jarrod Garlett, Aaron Mullett, Matthew Lobbe, Alex Fasolo. Matthew Kennedy isn’t going to make it. Talk about sad.
There have been some relative success stories too, like Sam Docherty and Liam Jones, eventually. Caleb Marchbank is still on the list and has injuries, but can add value. Nic Newman can play. Will Setterfield is just okay, as is Jack Newnes.
Mitch McGovern is stunningly overpaid for what he produces, and has played only 31 games in his third year at the club. He’s Exhibit A of everything that is wrong at Carlton – chasing the wrong players, and then paying them too much, for too long.
The most recent batch of trades and free agents could go either way. It’s been fun to see Eddie Betts back at Carlton, it must be said. Marc Pittonet is the latest in a long line of ruckman that are very competent AFL players when they get the chance to hold the number one position after doing an apprenticeship elsewhere.
Jack Martin is a flashy and brittle player, exquisitely talented, but does he have the heart? Zac Williams, similarly, is highly skilled but has never lived up to his potential. These two have missed a combined 57 games in the last four years. Do you really want to build a club around them?
Adam Saad, like many running halfbacks, is great when the going is good, but how is he when the chips are down? McGovern, Martin, Williams, Saad – these are what most of us call flaky players. It’s what Carlton call half their salary cap.
You’ve got to have the clay before you can shape it. Therefore you have to feel for David Teague when you realise the slime that he’s been given to play with.
That said, his team lacks defensive integrity, fails to implement a structure that prevents runs of goals against, isn’t resilient, and doesn’t play with commitment and hunger for every minute of every game. That’s on the coach.
I was one of those foolish souls that had the Blues making the eight this year.
Despite all of the above, you can see times where it clicks for them and fall into the trap of thinking that maybe this will be the year where they do it for four quarters and across a season.
I still have some hope that it could.
But losses like those to West Coast really do dent the confidence. Is this club going to stand for something? Because too many times they’ve fallen for anything.