There was a time way back in the 90’s when clashes between these two clubs were something to really savour. Some of the best home & away games I’ve ever seen were between these sides around that period. Foremost in my memory is the titanic struggle in Perth, late in our last Premiership year of 1995, when both sides threw everything at each other and the Blues emerged triumphant by a solitary point. I still think that game was pivotal to the belief needed to claim the flag that year.
But that all seems a very long time ago now. West Coast have since managed to scale the heights one more time, and one of the key components of that 2006 triumph now skippers the Blues as they attempt to recreate some glory of their own.
On the subject of that transplanted Eagle, John Worsfold has recently opined that losing Judd may actually prove beneficial in the long run; that the players gained through that trade would be essential to a side rebuilding after the Party Years had run the club off the rails.
An interesting theory that one, but it seemed to have some hope of reinforcement, as the Eagles travelled east on the back of a rare Melbourne win, to meet a Carlton side which had copped a fair smacking against a freshly unsociable Hawthorn team. To add to Blue nerves, the side was missing several personnel through injury, and we haven’t been famous for our depth in recent times.
These fears were soon allayed, as West Coast started flatter than the Nullarbor Plain they’d over flown to make it to Docklands. Typical of their early efforts was the moment when Henderson was able to knock Schofield off the ball as though he was a nine-stone weakling, or another when Swift marked a short kick in, only to wander off as though dazed, to be nabbed by an eager Robinson. One wondered what Woosha’s blood pressure was like.
The Blues continued their recent inclination to tackle fiercely in the forward half and go deep to the goal square whenever possible, allowing several goals to be kicked from only metres out. Sadly, when they shot from beyond close range they were wasteful. A late loss of concentration saw Le Cras kick a nice set shot from deep in the left pocket, and then a mongrelled centre clearance find its way to Josh Kennedy for his 2nd of the quarter. Kennedy’s goals provided a touch of regret for Blues fans, and Ratten would have been dirty to only lead by 16 at the first break, 5-5 to 3-1.
Judd had young Scot Selwood for company at game’s commencement, but his two goals were sufficient to earn the attentions of older brother Adam thereafter. The Eagles tried several tags during this game, but none of them proved very sticky.
Term 2 commenced with Marc Murphy looking to play on from a mark, and Kennedy instinctively looking to close him down. The umpire was technically correct that he’d not blown play on, but the Eagle player was terribly unlucky to pay 50 metres for the ump’s tardiness.
It is becoming a pet beef of mine that the attempts of AFL middle management to seek consistency, via black and white interpretations of a game that is mostly grey, has the effect of placing the umpires between the proverbial rock and a hard place. They are now often required to ignore the spirit of play, or receive punishment for failing to adhere to some quisling directive.
In this instance, was 50 metres really commensurate to the crime? If penalty is required, wouldn’t the old 15 metres suffice? If it was still available as an option, then the umpire could be credited as an adult, and allowed to exercise discretion as to the penalty suitable.
Anyway, with that off my chest, we return to a 2nd quarter where the Eagles showed some signs of revival, whilst Carlton remained profligate in front of goal. The margin narrowed to 12 points, and West Coast had a sustained period in attack. But a sudden Blue fast break ended with a Betts goal, which was quickly followed by Setanta plucking a mark off his shoelaces and kicking his 3rd. Despite a Le Cras reply, the Eagles ended the half on a dismal note, as young Selwood flew recklessly in defence and gifted Robinson his 2nd.
At half time the margin was four goals, 8-8 to 5-2.
A televised half time interview with Chris Judd produced no greater revelation than the fact the Carlton skipper was a skateboarder in his younger days. There was no likelihood of the carefully maintained Judd off field facade slipping.
The Blues kicked the first four goals of the 3rd term to seize a stranglehold on the contest. They were also dominating possession to a laughable degree. As a recently favoured Blue tactic, Bryce Gibbs was providing drive off half back with his poise and excellent delivery. Worsfold made no apparent effort to impede his progress, or perhaps it was the players who were failing at their task. Either way, Gibbs proceeded at will. It appeared Murphy was supposed to have Rosa for company, but the Eagle was so seldom in the same frame this is purely speculative.
Just as things looked likely to get really ugly, the Blues lost concentration again. The Eagles attacking repertoire seemed largely confined to stacking tall timber forward and hoping for some grabs. As the Carlton midfield loosened, this brought some late goals. Le Cras also continued to prove elusive.
This late lapse allowed the ¾ time margin to narrow to 32 points, but the sense of the contest was that it was Carlton’s to squander.
Brilliant goals to Murphy and Henderson forestalled any such notion, and the rest of the game could best be described as junk time, with some attractive passages of largely no consequence.
Le Cras at least ensured a good personal day with 5 goals, whist Kennedy’s 4 again caused regret that the Blues had lacked the courage to offer up the Bogan as trade bait for Judd. But hindsight is always 20/20.
Matt Priddis showed a great ability to get hands to the ball at stoppages, but severe doubt remains over the quality of support he was dishing it out to. West Coast will be praying Kerr can resurrect both body and career.
For the Blues, the usual mid field suspects shone against a one-paced Eagle brigade. Gibbs ended with a ridiculous possession count, and he used the great majority of them with the cool proficiency that is his trademark. Murphy enjoyed the Rosa match up and had some flashes of absolute brilliance. Garlett gave a textbook small forward display of chasing, tackling and repeated involvement in scoring chains.
The inclusion of both McLean and Handley added inside grunt and allowed Judd to get out on the run more than has recently been usual. It remains to be seen if this balance is sustainable.
In the after match rituals, Woosha was talking about 3 year plans and expressing faith in the current Eagles squad. I still have too fresh a memory of his brutal playing inclinations to want to disagree to his face, but from the safety of the east coast, I’ll beg to differ.
Too many current Eagles seem to lack poise and skill under pressure, and they seem bereft of any explosive capacity in mid field. Of the many tall forwards, Kennedy shines like a potential beacon, but others seem to be marking time career-wise. Some of the younger key defenders fail to convince, and Glass is nearing the end.
Most of the West Coast buzz has revolved around Nic Nat. It is true he is a spectacular athlete and has a precocious talent as a tap ruckman, but when it comes to putting himself in positions to consistently influence games, he has much to learn. And he will only get the opportunity to learn at the expense of ruck time for the man who, only five minutes ago, was already the template for the modern athletic ruckman. Balancing Natanui’s development whilst maintaining Dean Cox’s output could prove to be a quandary yet.
For Carlton, this was a win achieved in spite of several lapses and many squandered opportunities. It has been a long time since the Blues could win comfortably with such descriptions attached, so let’s not complain too much. But a more demanding opposition will be less accommodating to such faults.
Carlton 5.5 8.8 12.13 15.15 (105)
West Coast 3.1 5.2 8.5 11.10 (76)
Carlton: O’hAilpin 3, Judd 2, Robinson 2, Garlett 2, Gibbs, Scotland, Betts, Browne, Murphy, Henderson
West Coast: LeCras 5, Kennedy 4, Cox, McKinley
Votes: 3- Gibbs 2- Murphy 1- Garlett