AFL Round 6 – Carlton v Melbourne: Arrested Dee-velopment

By Chris Weaver

Here’s a fun fact – since beating Port Adelaide in July 2011, Melbourne has won only one of its 30 games against non-expansion sides.

The Demons have become the AFL’s most predictable side. Wins against Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney currently retain little value, while only a narrow upset defeat of Essendon briefly removed the ennui surrounding the club.

Six years ago, Carlton and Melbourne met on a dank Sunday afternoon at the MCG. That cold August twilight was at the time cynically called ‘the Kreuzer Cup’. Demons fans accused their opponents of dark practice, as Travis Johnstone strolled his way to 42 possessions in his last Melbourne game. It is sometimes forgotten that Melbourne in turn allowed Heath Scotland to collect 41 disposals across half-back.

‘Tanking’ has become one of football’s most invidious terms, a dishonourable euphemism. Both clubs instituted questionable tactics during this period, stockpiling young talent through a period of ‘bottoming out’ (another loaded term).

Carlton and Melbourne monopolised the apex of the National Draft at this time. Five years in succession, the number one pick went to either of these clubs. Only one of those players is appearing today though, due to injury (Bryce Gibbs, Jack Watts and Matthew Kreuzer) or acrimony (Tom Scully). Yet the best remains, with Marc Murphy arguably the only one to have acceded to elite AFL status.

There is little hope for my Demons. Mark Jamar and Aaron Davey are absent, joining the stellar Mitch Clark on the sidelines. Our forward line rests on the surprisingly agile giant, Max Gawn, and the versatile Jeremy Howe.

Melbourne coach Mark Neeld springs some surprises first up. Lynden Dunn tags Chris Judd, in a reprisal of a role first performed in 2008 under Dean Bailey’s watch. Rohan Bail meantime gets the job on Murphy, although fans with longer memories will hope he gets to oppose personal nemesis Mitch Robinson.

In defence, James Frawley goes to Shaun Hampson rather than Jarrad Waite, giving our granite-jawed full-back prime position to hear the ironic cheers of Carlton fans.

Poor Hampson. He is an easy target for many in the outer. If dating Megan Gale isn’t enough to earn derision, his gangly movements are sure to attract heckling. Hampson’s marking today is safe; his kicking less so. He drops the ball from such a height to suggest he learnt the skill while standing on a step-ladder.

The first ten minutes are played between the half-back lines, neither side attacking crisply. Gawn and Howe push up the ground, leaving our forward line open for the counter-attack. It’s a low percentage plan, requiring precise execution. Sadly our best chances go begging – Grimes with a free-kick which sails out on the full in the first minute, before Bail slips over trying to turn away from his opponent and handpasses to Zach Tuohy.

Grimes doesn’t last long and is the game’s major casualty. A crunching tackle by Jeff Garlett and former Demon Brock McLean brings him to ground, shattering his collarbone. The challenge is fair, but eerily reminiscent of that by Essendon’s Sam Lonergan which injured Carlton’s skipper Andrew Carrazzo last year. Carrazzo happens to be absent today too, but his presence is not required.

McLean keeps winning the footy in close, despite the best efforts of Nathan Jones. Both are junkyard footballers and honest toilers. I personally miss McLean, who – although slow – reads the game well. He was traded for the pick which brought us Jordan Gysberts, who in turn begat Cameron Pedersen and a rookie upgrade for Michael Evans. Pedersen isn’t playing today, despite his much needed versatility. Truly, it is a story of diminishing returns.

Carlton’s control is undoubted, despite the game’s sloppy standard. Only a ten minute period in the second term tests the Blues’ nerves. Dunn goals, before the stocky Luke Tapscott provokes Andrew Walker into a fight off the ball. Walker is reported, Tapscott goals from the resultant free-kick and we are beneficiaries of that juiciest of gifts – the double goal.

Tapscott is today’s pantomime villain. He speaks loudly and carries a big stick, terrorising Carlton defenders into hurried disposal. Our finishing though is awful, as misses from Nathan Jones, Bail and Viney from a set-shot dead in front let the Blues off. The revenge is swift, half-forward Dennis Armfield goaling on the next Carlton foray. The Blues maintain a 27-point lead at half-time.

Melbourne’s resistance is both futile and fleeting. Murphy snaps a skilful goal shortly after the resumption and then trades goals with Armfield to kill the contest.

Tapscott in turn tries to murder Simpson, earning his own report. He grabs his black cloak, monocle and cane, and disappears from the stage. He might have gone searching for Jack Trengove, whose development has stalled – six possessions is all we get from the co-captain, isolated in a forward pocket and unable to out-mark Michael Jamison.

Tall defender Colin Garland unleashes a perfectly-timed bomb to score our first goal of the final stanza, but the game has long gone cold. Jeff Garlett and Eddie Betts capitalise, each kicking four majors. Betts scores the game’s final goal with a tired torpedo after the siren, while Garlett runs so many rings around our small defenders that at one point I swear I hear the bell for the final lap.

Individual winners are few for Melbourne. Dunn smothered the noticeably slowed Judd, while Nathan and Matt Jones tried valiantly in the middle. Our lack of run and endeavour off half-back is juxtaposed neatly though with that of Scotland and Robinson, who rebound tirelessly for Carlton.

The absences have robbed the game of some much-needed polish, despite not affecting the result.

I doubt either side thought it would be this difficult back in 2007.

Carlton 5.1 8.4 12.10 18.13 (121)
Melbourne 0.3 3.7 5.9 8.12 (60)

Malarkey Medal:
3. Marc Murphy (Carlton) 2. Eddie Betts (Carlton) 1. Heath Scotland (Carlton)

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