AFL Round 3 – Carlton v Essendon: An Evening with Big Nick

A  glorious, soft autumn sun is shining. The crowd filters through Yarra Park in waves of red, black and navy blue. Footballs fly back and forth. The Footy Record spruikers seem older than I remember. MCG attendants have always seemed old. Most remain better suited to old metal turnstiles and clipped tickets, not electronic barcode readers.

For all the angst surrounding these two clubs in recent years, the mood is relaxed. The tribes mix easily. Though it’s hard not to notice one looks more buoyant than the other.

The crowd eventually clocks in twenty thousand shy of what would normally be expected. It’s obvious who’s missing. Carlton had offered free reserved seats to members for this game. As I sit in the designated area I’m surrounded by rows of empty seats.

A lacklustre first term revealed the pattern of the game to come. Carlton won clearances and contested ball, but used it to little effect. Essendon dominated in the open and largely dictated tempo. The Blues would win the ball but quickly turn it over, whereupon the Bombers would react quicker, breaking into space and kicking with more precision and penetration.

Carlton threatened to wrest the lead during the second term, but Essendon kicked clear with four unanswered goals in the final ten minutes of the half. They led by 27 points through superior ball use and a 7.0 second term conversion.

Much of Carlton’s early competitiveness came, surprisingly, from Cameron Wood. Completely outclassed by Nic Nat the previous week, Wood found Bellchambers much more to his liking. Following up after tap outs , he matched Judd for clearances in the first half, before fading. It was an admirable effort from a plodder clinging to a career, but Carlton desperately waits for better news on the state of Matt Kreuzer’s feet.

Whatever strategy Carlton had for Jobe Watson, it was a dismal failure. He roamed the ground for three quarters unencumbered, dominating. When he ran into an open goal early in the final term, his team looked to have done enough with a 41 point lead.

Whether the Bombers were thinking of Anzac Day, or just ran out of gas again, will be a question for debate this week. From this point on they stopped sufficiently that, had Carlton been able to better take their chances, things might have got tight. But when you’re seven goals down you need to do better than a 4.6 final term. In the dying minutes, it was Essendon’s players who were prepared to gut-run to a loose ball, create the extra number, and kick the sealer.

Essendon has the key position structure Carlton lacks. Carlisle and Daniher presented to the ball carrier when required, whilst Hooker and Hurley easily mopped up any long kicks into Carlton’s forward line. With 23 marks between them, they took the Blues forwards to the cleaners.

The shining light for Carlton was the performance of young Patrick Cripps. He showed an ability to win the ball in tight and distribute with clean hands. Unfortunately, his effectiveness in the open is hindered by poor kicking, but he looks like a keeper. County Louth’s own Ciaran Byrne came on as sub in the final term and added zest to our late surge.

It seemed an inauspicious day for Carlton to resurrect their social club in the cavernous ambience of the Melbourne Park Function Centre, but the faithful flocked back in large numbers and surprisingly good spirit. Andy Lee and Sam Pang gave admirable service as hosts. To their credit, LoGuidice, Trigg and other senior figures mixed with the crowd, stating their case, pressing the flesh. As an exercise in the club reconnecting with its membership it felt like a useful first step. It was more encouraging than anything happening on the ground. But it’s only a first step when a Long March is required.

Another notable attendee was John Nicholls. At the time your correspondent commenced the journey back to Ballarat, Big Nick had bid his retreat from the well-wishers. He cut a solitary figure trudging up the concrete ramp in fading light. You’d have given more than a penny for his thoughts. Having seen the club through many battles, he as much as anyone would appreciate the task ahead.


CARLTON     2.4    5.7    7.12    11.18 (84)

ESSENDON  3.4   10.4    14.6   16.9 (105)

Carlton: Henderson 2, Everitt 2, Judd, Gibbs, Armfield, Bell, Jones, Walker, Ellard
Essendon: Daniher 3, Zaharakis 3, Howlett 3, Chapman 2, Goddard, Heppell, Carlisle, Collyer, Watson

Carlton: Everitt, Cripps, Murphy, Woods, Judd
Essendon: Watson, Hooker, Hurley, Heppell, Howlett, Goddard, Stanton

Official crowd: 54,854 at the MCG

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. Continuing to go to games in hard times is part habit; part tribalism and part earning the right to celebrate when the good times eventually return. I have no time for good time supporters.
    I yelled “come on Eagles” more times yesterday than in the last 3 years – because they were trying but outclassed and outmuscled. Only Wellingham and Hill copped my wrath – sever provocation m’lud.
    Well done for hanging in there JB. Are you Clare to Litza’s Frank Underwood?

  2. John Butler says

    PB, its getting almost as hard to write about Carlton games as it is to watch them.

    Not sure I’m Clare’s dress size.

    I have noted The Elbow’s comments on an interview I didn’t hear. I have some thoughts myself when time permits.

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