Friends, I have a confession. I am sick and tired of mainstream media pundits twisting the knife they have all inserted into the spine of the Carlton Football Club.
It is a symptom of the general march into reflexive, vapid and often unfounded negativity of Australia’s football media. Lose on the weekend? Then you are in the gun. I mean just look at the commentary surrounding Melbourne this week. The club could be 3-1 with wins against Geelong, Brisbane away and North Melbourne. They are doing a lot right. They got one thing wrong – spectacularly wrong – against Hawthorn (forward half play), and all of a sudden they are junk.
It’s maddening. The reflex to look for the negative, the crisis, among football writers and journalists is like a disease spreading unchecked through a fifth century Saxon village. Not that the football media, with its homogeneity and brutishness, resembles a Saxon village.
And then they have the cheek to complain about lack of access. Again, maddening.
Carlton is another example. On any objective measure Carlton was to be one of the worst handful of teams in the league this season. Those predictions have come to pass – an 0-4 start, just five quarters won, and the lowest percentage in the league. Mind, the Blues have faced the third most difficult schedule to start the year, and have lost significant experience at the top of their list compared to the 2017 season.
But suddenly Carlton’s rebuild is faltering. It’s taking too long. It has not been done well. They’ve gone too hard, or too soft, or whatever it is Chris Judd’s ghost writer was trying to convey in his column in The Age. We have to change the entire AFL talent ecosystem because previous Carlton administrators flambéed the club’s list in a way no one has done in modern times. Again, it’s maddening.
I have a take for you: Enough with this Carlton bullshit. They are fine, are on the only path available to the club, and will come out of this at some point with a competent AFL list.
The same folks that raked the club over the coals for the parlous state of its list are now complaining that its list isn’t much chop. These same people also said the Blues could sneak into the finals after a solid start to last season. They are making it up as they go, overreacting to the week to week machinations of the league. Enough with this Carlton bullshit.
Me and the Carlton Football Club have history, albeit in the way a mosquito might have business with a person. I have been critical of the pace of the initial stages of the Blues’ rebuild, because the scale of the task at hand required a proportionate response. It has taken a while, but after the 2017 off season, and the first few rounds of 2018, it seems as though Carlton has truly figured out where it is at.
The Blues have had the fourth, fourth, fifth and third least experienced sides in the league in their four 2018 games to date. With captain Marc Murphy out of the side for the next three weeks, the Blues are essentially down their three best individuals from the 2017 season: Bryce Gibbs, Sam Docherty and Murphy himself. Patrick Cripps doesn’t qualify for that list because of injury, but he is in that group.
Carlton’s build has so far focussed on preparing the key position posts. This is founded on the conventional wisdom that it takes taller players longer to develop than midfielders. They have young, prospective key position players at both ends; for all intents and purposes the Blues will now shift to building a midfield.
Their 2017 offseason was instructive. Carlton traded in a 21 year old Matthew Kennedy, 22 year old Darcy Lang, and used free agency and the lesser drafts to backfill depth spots with Aaron Mullett, Cam O’Shea and Matt Shaw. Their two top ten picks were used on midfield prospects Paddy Dow and Lochie O’Brien. The strategy was clear.
And we see the impact on the field. The keys have been turned over to the younglings in a significant way. They are young, overexposed, and not ready for the spotlight. Ed Curnow, a former tagger, is the leading ball winner for the Blues through four games – almost by default. Again, it is the only way.
Pundits forget just how challenging the Blues’ 2015 playing list position had become. A year prior it was the second oldest and second most experienced in the league. Its young talent stocks were thin. Of the 26 (twenty six, 2-6) Blues who were 24 or younger at the start of the 2015 season, just five (five, people!) remain: Liam Jones, Docherty, Nick Graham, Ciaran Byrne and Cripps. Contrast that to St Kilda: 21 of its 32 players aged 24 or younger in 2015 are still at the club.
In other words, this is not your typical rebuild, and so we cannot expect it to follow a typical path. Patience, the utmost kind, is required, for it will take a long time for Carlton to build its playing stocks back up to a merely average level, let alone a finals contending level.
In the background to Carlton’s particular situation, the whole list management game has changed at a league wide level. No more is the draft pick the currency which powers the league. Free agency – the regular and delisted kind – is now firmly entrenched, and makes salary cap management a sharp list management tool.
The Blues, along with the Gold Coast Suns and to a lesser extent the Brisbane Lions, are rebuilding their lists in an unprecedented, complex environment.
Carlton fans: don’t give in to the negative hype. While your club may have taken too long to get this rebuild moving, there is little doubt now that the severity of the situation is acknowledged and the right actions are being taken.
Where the Blues may change course is on the field. Last year, Carlton played a possession-heavy, score-limiting brand of football. It meant the club didn’t get obliterated as frequently as one may expect for a young, rebuilding team. This year, coach Brendon Bolton and his coaching staff have attempted to instil some attacking instincts; it has come at the expense of that defensive identity. The loss of Docherty, and the aging of Kane Simpson, has not helped, but there must be balance. Carlton conceded seven scores of 100 points in 2017 – they’ve done it four out of four times in 2018.
Ultimately, though, the on field results do not matter a great deal this season. Or next. Or perhaps the one after. Progress, and process, matters. So long as Carlton continues to commit to its current path, and stays the course, the better days will follow. Carlton is fine. Enough with your bullshit takes.