Carlton: The Ultimate Enigma

23 June 2010

Written by: Evan Harding

You never know what you’re going to get with the Blues.

One week you’ll witness a Carlton team full of confidence and belief in each other’s ability. They’ll play attacking football through the centre corridor and look like one of the most dangerous sides in the competition. That is the kind of football that saw them beat sides such as Geelong and St.Kilda earlier this season.

Then, on another given day, they will be carless when in possession and waste vital opportunities. They’ll resort to over-possessing the ball in defence and focusing on the man, not the ball. That is the kind that saw them lose games as favourites against North Melbourne and Fremantle in the last two weeks.

After 13 games the Blues sit seventh on the ladder with seven wins and six losses. You would assume that for such a young side it’s a respectable first half of the season. But this is a team that finished in the finals last year and if they fail to find some consistency in the second half of the season, they could possibly go backwards and miss the eight altogether.

So why do the Blues perform well when they are the underdog but flop against teams they should beat? It’s the question that has everyone scratching their heads.

Do they prefer to be the hunter rather than the hunted? Probably yes. Do they get ahead of themselves against the lower-ranked teams? Quite possibly.

One thing that is for certain is that the difference between their best and their worst is far too great. And it’s a problem that will only be fixed by playing more games together.

But at the moment, the negatives certainly do outweigh the positives.

Unfortunately their biggest blow of the season was something out of their control. Matthew Kreuzer ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament against the Dockers last Saturday night, which will see him miss the remainder of this season and a fair chunk of the next. Without the number one draft pick’s influence in the ruck and up forward, the Blues kiss their 2010 premiership aspirations goodbye.

Versatile utility Jarrad Waite accepted a two-game suspension for a reckless and pointless hit on Fremantle’s Paul Duffield off the ball. It is the third time in eight games that he has been reported this season and the second time he has been suspended. Waite is a wonderfully-talented footballer, but his undisciplined nature must be giving coach Brett Ratten a massive headache.

Skipper Chris Judd was lucky to escape suspension for an elbow to the face of his opposite number in Matthew Pavlich. The match review panel labelled the Brownlow medallist’s hit as insufficient force, despite the fact that Pavlich required five stitches underneath his right eye.

Judd’s mini-outburst was brought about by constant harassment from Adam McPhee and other Fremantle midfielders. But while the elbow was certainly an unnecessary act, you can’t help but feel the captain’s frustration.

If you watch the Geelong midfielders around stoppages, they support and protect Gary Ablett by blocking annoying taggers so that he has the best possible opportunity to get the ball. Now watch the Carlton midfielders around stoppages. There is no sign of those team-orientated tactics anywhere; each player is purely focusing on himself and his respective opponent. There is barely any consideration for Judd.

Eddie Betts has taken his game to another level, kicking 28 goals this year to lead Carlton’s goal kicking from Setanta O’hAilpan. Although an innovative and classy player, Betts is 173cm and 78kg. A team can’t rely on a man of his size to be its main target up forward.

O’hAilpan is an enigma himself and Lachie Henderson is still very much a work in process. If one of them, or both, can become a focal point up forward and get to as many contests as possible, then Carlton’s efficiency inside 50 and in front of the scoreboard will improve.

The mid-season break couldn’t have come any quicker for the Blues. Many players, including Judd, are tired in need of a reprieve. They will rest, recuperate, reflect and reassess where they are and what they would like to achieve by season’s end.

In reality, Carlton isn’t ready to match it with the big boys just yet. But with a little bit of patience and some more time for this young team to gel together as a unit, we might see the Blues up in lights in the near future.