These Eagles show few signs of Rocking

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)

GOALS
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

About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Livable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has been a Carlton member for more than 30 years.

Comments

  1. Great report JB,

    I watched this game, and I almost fell asleep a few times. It was a shocker. It was great to see players like Gibbs, Murphy, Judd and O’hAilpin at their best though.

    If Worsfold goes, i’ll be unhappy. He’s a great coach, and he has the cattle to drive the Eagles to the finals, they just lack something. Whether that something is class, skill or polish, or all of the above, JW will right that wrong come next season.

  2. Tony Robb says:

    Thanks John.
    The game was only on reply here at 7.30 so Ive not had achance to watch it. By the sounds of things and the fact that the Blues cost me a mulit by fiddling around in thelast quarter, it may be best not to bother. However, with the Bees and Roos coming up, Carlton must now find 4 quarter players in all positios, The return of the Ghost who Walks, Mr Walker was a huge bonus. A couple more defenders to follower plus Son of Vinnie and the 2nd half sets up OK. Still iffie on Henderson but the Blues probably hope he will turn into what they hoped Josh Kennedy has ( if that made any sense). Im looking forward to being at the North game as part of our annual trip south. Unfortunately Collo only sells light beer at hugely inflated prices but it will be good to see a game live.
    cheers
    Tony

  3. JB – I reckon Worsfold is perhaps the worst coach in the AFL. He makes Ross Lyon look like a genius.

  4. John Butler says:

    Thanks for the comments guys.

    The Woosha issue is another of those is it the coach or the cattle questions.

    He is very nearly a dual premiership coach, but with a very different list.

    There have certainly been times in recent seasons watching Eagles games where you were left wondering why he didn’t make a move.

    Is it possible the game has passed him by?

  5. westcoastdave says:

    I think there are a lot of questions over Worsfold’s coaching, and have been for many years. It seems to me that the role of a coach is to get as close to 100% of potential out of a group of players (and to leave something for the next phase if possible). It is not clear to me that Worsfold has been able to do that. True, the playing group is not as strong now as it was – but it hasn’t gone from best to worst in the last few years.

    There must be a few roles for a coach, and it may be that different people bring these. Off the top of my head there are: skill development; season strategy; match strategy; match tactics; club culture; recruiting. There are I’m sure more than that, but it’s a start.

    Let’s look at each of them. The skill level doesn’t seem sufficient at the Eagles at the moment, and it has to be a given that you can kick and catch and handpass a ball in the vicinity of a team-mate’s hands. This area seems below par. Decision making is not instinctive, and looks to me like a team far more afraid of failure than a group seeking success. The fact that the 2005-06 team was so crisp and precise suggests that he can create an environment where it happens though.

    Season strategy is impossible to determine from a distance (but I hope that this isn’t it!).

    Game day coaching has never, to me, seemed a strength of Worsfold. He has a game plan which rings true for those of us who rejoice in the traditional man on man style, but those days are clearly, for better or for worse, a long time gone now and his hybrids are unconvincing. He has always been slow to react (if at all) to games getting out of hand, and that means either the team isn’t well enough prepared or that the coaching group is not well enough prepared. Selections leave limited flexibility, and there seems little willingness to make moves just to see what might be possible once the status quo is not tenable.

    Club culture is ironic ground. It should be where Worsfold is strongest, but his legacy is probably not going to be great. If that is not his fault, then by definition it is his fault. There is no doubt that Worsfold is a legend round the club, and rightly so for his playing years. Coaching wise though, while I thought he’d brings some strong personal characteristics to the club, recent years have not exactly covered anyone in glory (though they are also not anywhere near as bad as sections of the media would have us believe).

    That leaves recruiting. You’d have to say the Eagles have been reasonably strong there, but the apparent deliberate strategy of never having a key forward seems misplaced.

    Overall, I think West Coast could do worse than keeping Worsfold. But they give me the very distinct appearance of being a club who could benefit from a coach (or coaching panel) that have stronger skill development capabilities and more creativity in match situations. That is easy to say from a distance, and may well be doing a disservice to all involved. I can only comment on what it looks like from afar, and that looks at the moment like a club operating at a lot less than 100% of its potential.

  6. I’ll verge into cliche here: what do Worsfold’s teams stand for?

    We know that Geelong move the ball quickly through the corridor, St Kilda lock down the opposition, Sydney clog up the play, Collingwood used to go round the outside but, to their credit, they’re evolving in this regard …

    I’ve never known that Worsfold’s Eagles teams have a particular stamp. It seems to me that he had a handful of champion midfielders and a very good support cast in 2006.

    I argue that a team with those players that was coached by a more creative soul would have beaten Sydney by more than two or three points.

  7. And JB, the old business about cattle or coaching doesn’t wash with me.

    Coaches are responsible for the players they put on the park. It’s one of the key ingredients of coaching: the team he picks.

    Damien Hardwick has made some very hard and unsavoury decisions at Richmond. He’s buckled on Shane Tuck and reintroduced him, but poor old Tucky won’t be kept beyond his current contract.

    Hardwick is playing only those who feature in his long-term plans. He’ll reap the rewards down the track. He’s responsible for his cattle.

  8. John Butler says:

    Paul, I take your point, but surely some circumstances have suited certain coaches better than others.

    This is not to argue that Worsfold has made the most of things since 2006. All the club leadership must have had some knowledge of the behaviour that blew up in their faces. And they don’t seem to have really got back on track since.

    The point about their style, or lack thereof, is telling.

  9. Brad Carr says:

    Last week’s game as Carlton was one of the most disappointing West Coast performances I’ve seen, probably worse than last year’s insipid away losses against Melbourne and Richmond (and for that matter last year’s insiped win against Melbourne at home), worse than this year’s Round 3 game against North (a game that was deviod of any semblance of either skill or decision-making).

    The scoreboard flattered us significantly. Carlton only played 15 minutes of good football, and that was more than enough. If they’d been switched on for any reasonable period, they would’ve torn us apart by 100+.

    So where does that leave us?

    I actually think some of our young players do look good. Kennedy is terrific; Sheppard looks ok; Will Schofield has really emerged this year; McGinnity has shown a bit (and used the ball more directly than the more noted midfielders); Natanui will take time but will make it in the end; Stevenson looked great against Hawthorn; Ebert has taken strides this year. Then there’s Houlihan (who I rated as our best midfielder in the latter hald of 2009), Masten (doubts persist, but played his best burst of footbal before doing his knee) & Shuey nursing on the sidelines.

    Why are we rubbish then?

    I understand the temptation to focus on the coaching staff. Like Westcoastdave (above), I reckon a coach needs to have about several attributes, like player development, getting them ‘up’ for the weekend, pre-match tactics, match-day tactics, HR manager, leader who sets the ‘mood’ – probably a few others, there’s just a few that spring to mind. As Westcoastdave rightly notes, Woosha has never demonstrated a strength on tactics, but has previously done ok on some of the other scores. I had really hoped we would lure Laidley as an assistant, thinking his strengths would complement Woosha’s. The fact that Laidley chose to instead go to Port (presumably for half the money we would have offered) suggests he could get responsibility at Port than Woosha (and perhaps incumbent assistants like Sumich) would allow him at West Coast.

    But let’s also point the finger at some of the “cattle” – the senior players who should be setting an example and providing some on-field leadership, and aren’t.

    Andrew Embley – was terrible last week, made an absolute howler when he sauntered along slowly and got run down in the defensive 50, which only rivalled his howler when bouncing the ball running into goal the previous week; he doesn’t look interested, he’s not contesting enough, he’s not showing any of the hunger that he should have after a recent (stupid) 2-week suspension. Finished 2009 very well after a mediocre start, but I’m just about out of patience with him, and not of a mind to give him the chance to replicate that in 2010

    Quinten Lynch – at times unfairly maligned, but the maligning is becoming fairer by the week. He played some good footy in 2007 when he was moved up the ground, and I thought he was in career-best form in the latter half of 2009 when he played mainly as the 2nd ruckman (first to Cox, then to Natanui after Cox went in for surgery), throwing his weight around in the middle. But with the club now playing both Cox & Natanui (fairly obviously the correct decision), there isn’t room for him in that role anymore – and now he just seems woeful. Easy marks bouncing off his rubber-chest, getting brushed aside way too easily (for a bloke of his size) in marking contests, going to ground too often. The 2nd efforts have dried up – there have been stages in his career (not always) when these were terrific, but they’re non-existant now

    Mark Nicoski – maybe not as ‘senior’ a player, but his poor kicking skills (he kicked a great goal on the run in our comeback win at Gellong in 2006, then broke his ankle, and hasn;t been able to hit a target since) are now matched by lazy efforts, just trying to pick up some handball-receive touches

    Matt Rosa – again not a ‘senior’ player, but one who’s been around a while and should be asserting himself on games and setting an examples for the younger crop that are 2-3 years younger than him; but he waits for others to make the play and just drifts along

    The youth policy is all good and well, but now having a good crop of kids who aren’t being led and are lacking direction, I wonder if we actually need to make a conscious effort to recruit some senior players. I struggle to see how the development potential is going to be realised with only the current crop.

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