AFL Round 1 – Carlton v Richmond: Tigers in spite of themselves

The Mick Dynasty: Week one

Round one is the round of hope, where every team begins with a clean slate and all lies ahead. This is the theory. In reality, no club enters any given season unencumbered by the baggage of what preceded. In the case of both Carlton and Richmond the accumulated baggage is considerable, and hope must coexist with rising impatience and frustration. The recent history of both suggests an affection for analogue ways in a resolutely digital age.

Richmond fans have been given little to sustain them but hope for a full three decades now. The Tigers of Graeme Richmond fell so in thrall to a cult of ruthlessness that they eventually ate themselves. The club is still to fully recover, yet the fans have endured in what must often seem like an abusive relationship. The Tigers of old now suffer the indignity of others’ sympathy. If this keeps up, they threaten to become that thing most dreaded – ‘everyone’s second favourite team’. GR must spin in his grave.

Carlton need not fear a similar development. Our reputation precedes us, as has more blood on the floor over summer as the latest in an enduring line of messiahs was installed. A platoon of coaches required sacking, and the budget of a small African nation was expended, but Michael Malthouse now resides in the Carlton coach’s box. His predecessor’s problem was that he was never viewed as a messiah. Brett Ratten never entrenched in the minds of those who mattered that he held keys to the Promised Land. This will always prove fatal at Carlton. President Kernahan understood the beast well when he said it had been impatient for 149 years.

Impatient too is the pace the modern game is played at. Those who shape the rules seem ever more frightened to allow any pause, lest the audience’s attention stray. This is the techno age of football, whether we like it or not.

Carlton had the best of an opening frenetic blur, kicking the first 3 goals. Thereafter they performed a better collective disappearance than Houdini himself might have conjured. They certainly absented themselves from centre bounces, where Cotchin and Tuck feasted in their contrasting styles. Only the Tigers’ familiar inability to take their chances prevented them leading at the first break.

Their domination increased in the second term. The Blues remained reactive, allowing Richmond to nominate their terms. For midfield distribution the Tiges have a couple of Rolls Royces (Cotchin, Deledio), a potential bulldozer (Martin), and serviceable sedans (Jackson, Grigg, Tuck, and Houli, amongst others). The sedans offered the odd sputter and cough (up), but collectively Richmond dominated by weight of numbers. Conceding 7 goals to 1 for the term, down by 38 points, the Blues lacked even an ignition spark.

As happens in early rounds, the pace of the game started to take toll, opening up space to score in the third term. Judd threatened to lead a Carlton resurrection, but their collective effort remained marred by errors and ill-disciplined acts. The quarter saw both sides share ten goals evenly, leaving Richmond still comfortably 36 points to the good.

But is comfort a word that can ever be used in conjunction with Richmond?

Almost on cue, Richmond stopped and Carlton surged. Gibbs and Kreuzer played the last quarter seemingly without opponents. Yarran and Garlett had hardly been sighted – now they sprang up everywhere. Inexorably, Carlton closed to within a kick. Dustin Martin was one of the few Tigers still finding the ball, but a series of over-the-shoulder-hope-for-the-best kicks seemed to sum up his side’s fatigue and panic levels. Almost alone, Alex Rance fought bravely to stem the tide. It shouldn’t have been enough.

Twice in the dying minutes the ball fell to Chris Yarran in front of goal. In terms of pure skill, Carlton could have nominated few better. But skill is no substitute for poise in the vital moment. It is this poise that Yarran, and Carlton, still lack. Where recently Geelong have mastered the collective muscle memory for doing the right thing at the critical time, Carlton still seem haunted by an inability to close the deal. This is but one of the issues Malthouse will need to address.

In truth, this would have been a theft to exceed even the heist from Round 18 last year. A more ruthlessly efficient unit would have put the Carlton of tonight to the sword. Overall, the Malthouse show seemed curiously under-rehearsed for opening night.

With a list virtually unchanged from last season, but hopefully less injury-ravaged, Carlton’s hopes for improvement this year are based largely on improved consistency of method. Whether this will be enough to overcome previous shortfalls in list management and player development remains to be seen.

Richmond narrowly dodged another calamitous wound to their psyche. Coach Hardwick can still sell hope with some conviction, having pocketed four points for a fixture that has brought only recent pain. He has thus far been blessed with positive press, but if his side continues to protect leads with all the conviction of a hooker protecting her virtue, then surely some difficult questions must come his way.

The lingering impression was of a spirited contest between middling teams. Yet we must avoid the trap of seeking the whole story in round one, remembering this is only an opening chapter. The rest of the tale is still to be told.


CARLTON              3.3     4.6      9.12    14.17 (101)

RICHMOND           2.9     9.14    14.18  14.22 (106)


Richmond: Deledio 3, Vickery 3, McGuane 2, King 2, Jackson, Martin, Conca, Houli

Carlton: Gibbs 2, Judd 2, Betts 2, Murphy 2, Kreuzer 2, Garlett 2, Yarran, Hampson


Richmond: Cotchin, Rance, Deledio, Vickery, Tuck, Jackson

Carlton: Gibbs, Kreuzer, Judd, Walker, Murphy

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 passed his 40th year as a Carlton member.


  1. A very fair and balanced summary, JB. When the Blues nearly beat my Eagles in the Semi at Subi in 2011 it was all about your leg speed and taking chances with quick ball movement throught the corridor.
    I struggle to see how your personnel is suited to Mick’s traditional tough, hard tackling, risk minimising round the boundary style. Kreuzer seems your only convincing tall or key position player. Are your bodies suited to his style??

  2. John Butler says

    PB, I’ve always thought a smart coach trims his ‘style’ to suit his resources. Malthouse is no fool. Once he gets a better feel for our list, I expect ( hope?) he’ll strike a reasonable compromise. Our main problem in this game was that we just didn’t get the pill for 40 minutes.

  3. Tony Robb says

    Had we won that game I would have been embarrassed for both clubs. Actually, I am embarrassed for both clubs as that was the stuff of a pre-season kick out. I fear a bleak month ahead of a bleak year. Carlton cannot persist with the likes of Yarran and Garlett Lazy and non competitive. Maclean getting age game says it all really. If Malthouse is supposed to bring a tougher edge to the club it was far from evident on Thursday.

  4. John Butler says

    TR, I’ve been away and missed most of pre-season, but to me it looked like we thought opening night was actually dress rehearsal.

    Selection was confusing – Joseph as sub? No Laidler? Unless blokes are underdone it is hard to figure out.

    You are correct that if we can’t produce better it will be a slim month. Disagree on Garlett & Yarran though. We don’t have anyone else who can have the same impact. We just need them to do more.

  5. Carlton will take a while to adjust to a new style, just as Malthouse will adjust to a new playing list… we’re at least six weeks away from reaching a point where the two meet. Am not the slightest bit concerned – even if Carlton go 1-4 at the end of the month.

  6. John Butler says

    Litza, you continue to counsel patience and caution. This is out of character. Not to mention un-Carlton-like. I’m concerned.

  7. JB, I think there may be a fair bit of confirmation bias attached to my long-term confidence.

    That said, my patience does not extend off-field. Our board is bloated and has a benefactor mentality and our President out of his depth…

  8. John Butler says

    I was amused to read that Sticks may stay on to steer us safely through our 150th anniversary celebrations. I was unaware he was in the catering business.

    Being Carlton, you’ll have to pry our benefactors from our cold dead hand…

  9. It’ll be interesting how the recent rule changes designed to create a non-stop game played in slo-mo pans out as a quality spectacle. Especially when an interchange cap is thrown into the mix. It’s not conducive to the forward press, if that’s a tactic MM has designs on implementing regularly. It’s physically impossible to do beyond short bursts it seems.

    With the long (often blind) kicks to position this game took on the look of something c1982. Alas no Helen D’Amico presented herself.

  10. John Butler says

    JD, there would appear to be a contradiction between the constant tinkering of rules to speed the game up and any decision to cap interchange. Rule changes like kick-ins and now throw ups have eliminated natural pauses in the game. I suspect even spectators might like a break to catch their breath.

    I’m not sure the terror the AFL has about stoppages is really justified. It’s a long time since Andy D slagged the Swans’ game style off. Can’t we move on?

    PS: whatever happened to Helen D?

  11. I think what’s happened JB is the AFL sped up the game too much and now they’re cranking it down from 5th to 2nd gear to reduce heavy impact & head injuries. By next year, sometime around R15, players will be virtually hauling a caravan up the mountain in 1st.

    A side effect I believe is that skills will suffer. Players notoriously kick poorly by the last quarter as it is. It’ll be an older style of game that KB and Vlad love but I wonder if it will fill the empty plastic seats at Skoda, ANZ & Metricon stadiums?

    I reckon based on the evidence so far brains trusts in clubland will be reworking their game plans, if they haven’t already. It’s just a game of attrition now, which is a shame.

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