True Blue Bloods Shine

Many seemed preoccupied on Friday with a certain royal to-do over in old Blighty (not Malcolm), but those of a more discerning palate would have been privileged to watch a pair of true Blue bloods in action: firstly at the Clyde Hotel for the Footy Almanac lunch, where Ted Hopkins entertained and illuminated as guest speaker, and then in the evening when King Chris of Princes Park strutted his wares in a truly dazzling display on enemy soil. Rather than relying on accident of birth, these two football royals provided a feast for the mind and the eye with bravura displays of talent and original thinking.

Ted Hopkins always shaped as a must-see for Carlton tragics, having etched himself a permanent place in our hearts in two quarters of football one September afternoon in 1970, whilst leaving scars on Magpie psyches which still haven’t fully healed. But even if you aren’t of the Navy Blue persuasion, he offered a fascinating tale of one who leapt from relative obscurity to the front page, and who then was finished in the big league a mere six months later. He then went on to a life as a writer and poet, before deciding to take a fresh look at the game he used to play, devise an system for analysing that game, developing a series of measures which have subsequently entered the common parlance of football, and harnessing these measures to the potential of the internet.

Whilst Ted didn’t seem too keen to discuss in much depth those famous goals in the 1970 Grand Final, when it came to the subject of Champion Data he revealed an eternal tale of the battle between conventional wisdoms and new thought, the struggle of fledgling outfits against established interests, and an insight into how statistical analysis of the game can both illuminate or obfuscate, depending on the use to which they’re put. In many ways, it seemed a particularly Almanac sort of story.

His book, The Stats Revolution, promises to be a fascinating read, and was eagerly snapped up by those in attendance.

Mind and belly replenished, it was home to witness Carlton seek redress for their heart-breaking elimination final defeat last season at the hands of Sydney. With the SCG long having been a burial ground for Navy Blue aspirations, there was a fair amount of trepidation regarding this contest.

Whilst Carlton’s win-loss ledger was promising thus far, it had been hard to get a handle on where they really stood. Several games had seen them have scintillating bursts, followed by periods where they appeared to completely lose their way. Combined with chronic periods of inaccuracy in front of goal, they seemed a flaky proposition to take on a Sydney side which can be relied on for honest, consistent effort, especially on the constrained dimensions of their home ground. That it was a wet night in Sydney only compounded worries. Things seemed set up nicely for the Swans.

That was the pessimist’s view. But if we applied Hopkins’ analysis to the Blues of 2011, there’s more reason for optimism. As Ted bluntly pointed out, the sure method for losing football games in the modern age is to take possession at half back and promptly turn it over to the opposition. This has been a problem plaguing the Blues in recent years, with poor disposal undoing much hard work. This prompted major recasting of backline personnel this season, with superior kicks like Yarran and Laidler slotted into defence. The work in progress was interrupted this night by Yarran’s injury-induced absence.

That wasn’t the only obstacle the Blues initially encountered. As the rain fell, both sides managed to create scoring opportunities in the first quarter, but Sydney always seemed to hold a slight edge, which was magnified on the scoreboard when McGlynn slotted a goal on the siren: 13 points was a useful margin in the conditions. McGlynn is such a smart goal kicking midfielder that it’s a wonder Hawthorn ever saw fit to let him go.

Sydney’s useful margin was in severe danger of blowing out in the second term, as the game was played very much on their terms. Only inaccuracy prevented them taking control on the scoreboard. Strong-bodied mid fielders like Bolton and McVeigh were providing the grunt, Kennedy was repeating his ball winning efforts from last year’s final, and Mumford’s bulk was proving more effective in the conditions than Warnock’s reach.

Sydney only had two worries: the 6 behinds to 5 sore line for the term reflected poor return for their control. The other worry was that Chris Judd’s opponent for the night, the redoubtable Keiran Jack, had injured his ankle and needed to be relieved of the tag by Ryan O’Keefe. All concerned would still have memories of Judd’s third quarter burst in that final, O’Keefe especially so.

Reaction to the Carlton skipper from opposition fans since his second Brownlow win has been mixed. Collingwood fans especially seem aggrieved that their Great Dane didn’t add that particular medal to his haul of personal acclaim. To this, the only thing to be said is that Judd didn’t vote for himself: any issues should be taken up with the umpiring fraternity. His speech on the night indicated he maintained a better perspective on the award’s meaning than a couple of the shrill media assessments that issued forth from normally balanced commentators in its wake.

Of his performance this season, one obvious difference has been the loss of punch in his kicking. His trajectory is now more often nine iron, tending occasionally to sand wedge. This invites platonic speculation about the state of his groin, the football world being the peculiar beast it is. But little else is different. He hasn’t regained the turbo-thrust jet of his early years, but he’s still plenty quick enough. And so powerful in the tackle.

Applying  Hopkins’ analysis again, Carlton had been suffering from an over abundance of ineffective short kicks in the conditions. There was a distinct lack of long kicking to advantage. Things didn’t immediately improve after half time. The Swans edged 17 points clear, significant in the conditions. At points such as this Carlton has usually fallen away in recent times.

Just in time, the will to kick long returned, and Eddie Betts picked an opportune time to have his first purple patch of an otherwise subdued season. A burst of 3 goals from him had us a point ahead.

Then the AFL’s particular method of match-day  bureaucracy intervened. Sydney were penalised for an interchange infringement. They obviously disagreed with the call. I can offer no evidence as to its validity. I will, however, again question whether an issue that only ever surfaced every decade or so under the previous arrangement is helped by a regime so over-engineered that teams now regularly suffer a penalty for infringing it. It’s possible the exponential increase in interchanges may have required a change, but games should be decided on the field, not by trivialities on the boundary line.

Whatever the rights and wrong, the decision gifted Setanta a goal, helping Carlton lead by a point at the final break.

Sydney were to draw level with a behind, but Carlton’s skipper wouldn’t countenance any more than that. He repeated his efforts of that final, plus some. Hopkins’ analysis values clearances and hard ball gets, but only if they produce something positive from the possession gained. But when Judd is on a roll, hammering in at every stoppage, driving the ball his team’s way with second, third and fourth efforts, it creates a momentum of sheer territorial gain, and a statement of such will power, that statistics fail to convey the whole effect. The lift to his teammates is tangible, as is the panic created amongst opponents.

Inspired by his effort, the Blues established a lead that couldn’t be overhauled. Though the captain inspired it, the really encouraging aspect was the spread of contributions. Bryce Gibbs was again matched to Adam Goodes, and his blanketing of the Swans’ star meant Sydney lacked a game breaker of their own. Betts’ third quarter burst was vital, Garlett continues to worry defences, Walker strived when the side struggled early. With a pre season under his belt, Marc Murphy looks set for a big year.

The addition of mature age recruits Ed Curnow and Nick Duigan shouldn’t be overlooked, both giving the team a significant boost in their respective parts of the field.

Special mention should go to Michael Jamison. All the best Carlton sides had a strong foundation in defence. Still with only 67 games under his belt, he has long been our best one-on-one defender, in a backline short of such resources. Now he is developing the confidence not only to stop, but to help create.

Sydney weren’t disgraced. They rarely are. But they could badly use a fit Daniel Bradshaw to give their forward line some teeth. And they will be haunted by visions of Judd for some time to come.

Interviewed after the game, the steam pouring from the Carlton captain was testament to the effort expended. He seemed more animated than is his custom- this win was a tangible sign that better things are possible.

All around, it was a day for Blues fans to savour.

About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World’s Most Liveable 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. johnharms says:

    A comprehensive summary of the FRiday JB (I got caught out by the 7.30 Channel 7 start and missed the first half).

    I also was applying some of the Hopkins-analysis to matches over the weekend, especially the Adelaide-Saints match where there was a lot of butchering of the ball. I was also noticing the way that fatigue affected skills – the trade off being that players had more time and space when they were tired which gave the more skilful even more opportunity. I reckon this is another positive result of the rule change and the ongoing frenetic pace expected by coaches. It means of all the types playing the gmae (athletes, runners, tacklers, stoppers, negators) it is footballer footballers (if you know what I mean) who can have most influence.

  2. John Butler says:

    JTH

    The other noticeable difference is the return of the long kick to break zones. Sides that are prepared to raise their eyes and go long are prospering.

    And it means the big men are BIT. Especially as they are rested up forward.

  3. It was a fascinating lunch on Friday. I had to leave just as a few blokes looked to be settling into their work at the bar.

    I thought the Blues were gone on Saturday night. Judd’s effort was sensational. You could almost see him saying to his fellow travellers “pull your fingers out boys. This is how you do it.” And they did.

    I would rather get bamboo shoots shoved underneath my finger nails than watch a wedding involving a royal ponce (though he does seem like a nice bloke) who, by luck of birth, will one day rule over a country that is economically, militarily and increasingly politically opposed to Australia.

    What’s mare the ceremony was held in a church that came into existence due simply to the petulance of a spoit and lunatic king a few centuries back. What nonsense.

  4. John Butler says:

    So I take it you weren’t invited Dips?

  5. smokie88 says:

    #3. Oh, well said, Dips !
    My late Irish grandfather would have been turning in his grave at the pomp and
    extravagance displayed on Friday night. I cannot get my head around the concept
    of kings and queens and birthright in this day and age. Thank God for the footy!
    #4. JB, I wasn’t invited either.

  6. Andrew Fithall says:

    You missed an entertaining day at Williamstown Literary Fest yesterday JB. Aside from the football panel – which was excellent, an hour listening to Dave Graney being interviewed (?) by Paddy Donovan (Paddy said later that he had prepared 30 questions and got to ask 4) and then Paddy again this time with Paulie Stewart from Painters and Dockers and now the Dili All Stars was very amusing as the two journalists/ex lead singers exchanged anecdotes.

    Returning to football – I can put you straight. Carlton was gifted an undeserved goal by an incompetent interchange steward attempting to enforce an ill-considered rule with a ridiculously onerous penalty.

    I take your point on Judd and I won’t begrudge him the 3 votes for the Carlton Swans game. It will be when the umpires also give him 2 votes in the Pies v Dogs game that I will get a bit snarly.

  7. John Butler says:

    AF, it’s a shame other matters intervened yesterday. All those you mentioned sounded promising. Fortunately, the reason for our diversion has improved significantly.

    I think the interchange arrangements are ridiculously convoluted. They almost beg for mistakes to happen. How many times in the history of the game have the numbers on the field been relevant? Why is all the self important drama with flags and penalties necessary?

    Looks like your lads impressively strangled the Bulldogs. Only 1 vote for Judd in that game.

  8. Phantom says:

    So, you are just slightly Republicanly inclined Dips.

  9. Peter Flynn says:

    #2,

    By eye or by stats?

    I reckon you’ve deduced this by eye.

    And I think you are right.

  10. John Butler says:

    # 9 PF

    Correct. Eye.

    It’s good to see the big blokes back.

  11. Keiran says:

    Sounds like Hopkins was an interesting guest. Wish I could have heard it. Swans have got to let the Blues have one in a while otherwise they won’t want to come back. Was an entertaining game! Enjoyed the read also John.

  12. #8 Phantom – ah yes.

    Nothing against the Royals personally, but they’re over there and we’re over here.

  13. Phantom says:

    Will not take the Poms seriously till they give us our constitution Dips.

    I had a totally wedding free night and loved it. Mind you I was kicked out by Jane and had to go to the shack; but you must always do what you are told.

    What did you think of the Bloods stripes? How would Collingwood look in them?

  14. #13 – Quite liked the Swans hoops. Collingwood would have to change their jumper when they play the Cats – our traditional hoops would clash with their new Lexus Centre corporate hoop design. Nah, leave the bludgers in the jail bird outfits.

    I was actually yelling at the TV “Go the Bloods” hoping they would knock off Carlton. My 11 year old said “Who are the Bloods?” Sad really.

  15. Phantom says:

    You’re right Collingwood won’t change. They are just a commercial product with no resemblence of a true grass roots footy club.

    And their strip is the bar code that all modern commercial products use.

    Do you think that is how their supporters get through the turn styles? Wear a bar code top and automatically get through and have some credits deducted.

    They can recharge credits at the local newsagent or Safeways.

  16. Pamela Sherpa says:

    Why begrudge happiness Dips? I thought the wedding was lovely, it made many people feel joyous and happy as well- just like a good win for your footy team does.

  17. #16 – Pamela, I’m not begrudging happiness. Good luck to them. The poor sods will have their work cut out trying to be happy with the media pack after them.

    What I don’t understand is why Australia is so besotted with the Royals. Why it was rammed down our throats as if we had to care? Not only are they irrelevant to us, but, as I pointed out above, the country they represent is opposed to us in many critical ways.

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