AFL Round 23 – Carlton v St.Kilda: Thus ends the year from hell

Sunday’s Carlton-St. Kilda match came at the conclusion of a testing week (in a trying year) for adherents of the Church of the Old Dark Navy Blue. The final ten minutes of the match brought a fitting conclusion to the Blues’ season from hell.

Prior to the season, optimistic adherents had been seduced into extravagant expectations. Even more cautious worshippers were sufficiently impressed by the comprehensive victory over the Magpies in round three, to dream about the possibilities. These comfortable fantasies lasted until the opening minutes of the following match, when Andrew Carrazzo was steamrollered by Sam Lonergan, and the fate of the match against the hated Bombers was effectively determined. From there it was downhill for the bulk of the season, until a mini-revival, late season, which was snuffed out comprehensively by the embarrassing loss to Gold Coast.

Sunday’s match was rendered a formality by the results of the previous week, but it was over-shadowed by the theatre of the prior week – the sacking of Brett Ratten and his subsequent transformation from incompetent pariah and scape-goat to all round good bloke. Nothing in his life became him like the leaving of it.

The match played out as a microcosm of Carlton’s miserable season. It began in spirited fashion, but the combined effect of an enervating day (bright sunshine and the Etihad roof off) and an end of school term atmosphere progressively reduced the intensity. Brief surges of individual effort gave way to a general ennui, never more apparent than in unforced errors of that splendid Saints’ warrior Lenny Hayes.

By half-time, two key Carlton players – Yarran and Judd – were out of the game, which seemed to condemn the Blues to another dispiriting defeat. In fact, the survivors lifted in the third term,  and a nine point lead at the last change together with Carlton’s slightly greater incentive – to do it for Ratts – suggested that they might sneak home. Twenty minutes into the last, a fifteen point advantage seemed to assure this. However, the door had been left ajar by Carlton’s profligacy in front of goal. A dominant third quarter had yielded 3-8 to 2-2, and collectively for the day Betts, Garlett and McLean tallied 3-10. The Saints effectively exploited Blues’errors as fatigue took its toll, and five unanswered goals in red time assured the Saints of victory.

As an outsider – even an emotionally committed one – I’m hesitant to pass judgement on the respective merits of the outgoing coach and his putative successor. Questions that determine how harshly or generously he should be judged depend on knowing how much autonomy he enjoyed, what were the relationship dynamics between coach and assistants, as well as the role of other key participants – recruiting officers, fitness staff, board members, sponsors and assorted hangers-on.

Jake Niall has suggested that Ratts was still on P-plates till the end. If that is true then his responsibility for the disastrous season is mitigated.

My main concern is the cack-handed manner in which the process of his dismissal was handled. Ratten was sacked with one match remaining. Far from his successor being stitched up, the deal seems to be based on a wink and a nod. To compound matters, MM’s public agonising suggest he is lacking the single-minded commitment that this most intense of jobs demands. Malthouse seems to me to be – certainly to have been a fine coach. However, there are no guarantees that this capacity will be maintained into an uncertain future. I also question whether the personnel at Carlton – however they might be augmented by trading/drafting – will prove good enough to close what is still a significant gap to the best in the competition.

Although I consider that the best outcome was to have Ratten serve out the final year of his contract, if the opinion of those closer to the action was that he should be sacked, I am at a loss to see what was gained by taking that decision and acting on it last week rather than this. If, as has been suggested, it was Ratten’s initiative – i.e. that he demanded he be advised about his future – it was still surely possible for the administration to deny his request until the post-season review. I would also think the wisest course of action was to consider all possible coaching options, rather than prematurely decide that MM is available, let’s have him.

As for an evaluation of BR: it’s obvious that he didn’t meet his or the Club’s expectations in 2012. While a great man once said, There were reasons but they’re only excuses, a disregard of extenuating circumstances is likely to lead to a poor conclusion, in any situation. In my view, Carlton have topliners in the following categories: 3 small midfielders, 3 tall defenders, 1 tall forward (2, if the ruck is covered without Kreuzer). The three midfielders missed 19 of a possible 66 matches, the defenders 35/66, the tall forward 11/22 (14/44 with the Kreuzer adjustment). Given Carlton’s thin ranks of second tier players, this inability to put the best team on the field regularly had its inevitable consequences. Roll on 2013!

About Peter Fuller

Male, 60 something, idle retiree; Blues supporter; played park/paddock standard football in Victoria's western district until mid teens, then Melbourne suburbs; umpired for approximately 20 years (still engaged on light duties - occasionally fieldie, regularly on the line). I thank the goddess at least weekly, that I was born and grew up in the southern States of Oz, so that Aussie Rules was my game from earliest childhood. I still love it with a passion, although I can't pretend to a thorough understanding of the tactical complexities of the contemporary game.


  1. Good sum up of the match and the events. I was there, and I thought the Blues would take it, with all the steam of this last week. But there’s also a cockiness around their attempts at goals and I think they were surprised that the Suns saw through it or that St.Kilda has learned (from the best like Geelong) to keep plugging away til that final moment. It didn’t help that you were two men down and the rest were buggered.

    It remains to see whether MM will be all he is pumped up to be.


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