Blues turn gun on themselves, still manage to miss

To figure out what you stand for, it usually helps to know what you stand against. In this regard, Collingwood has proved invaluable to Carlton supporters. But if I was to turn to chapter one, page one of my personal book of nemeses, you wouldn’t find a Magpie. Instead, there’d be a big snarling Tiger.

The Richmond outrages committed in the 1973 Grand Final left indelible scars on my nascent football mind. They were my original bogeymen. We have history. Though I then wouldn’t have really understood what a blood rivalry was, I felt it. Neither youth nor Tigers deal much in shades of grey.

Well, as we all know, it’s been a long time since the Tiger did much snarling, and old enmities will only get you so far. As season opening spectacles go, this fixture has been more Ben Stiller than Ben Hur in recent years. You would expect the AFL nabobs are scrutinising its future closely.

Round one results are almost as much about managing expectations as getting the points, something the Tigers are acutely conscious of since the Great Cousins Bubble of 2009 blew up on them. In this they have succeeded, parlaying last year’s 15th place finish into a mantra of rebuilding and renewal that is holding firm, for the moment. The Blues, on the other hand, are talking things up for the first time in a long while.

Carlton watchers have noted a new pre-season emphasis in defence, where the influence of recruit G. Brown, ex of Collingwood, was prompting much speculation. The expectation was that certain intellectual properties may have accompanied him on his journey across the great divide. The absence of Jamison and Bower was going to put this theory to an instant test. Jack Riewoldt had no obvious opponent for this encounter.

This seemed of little consequence initially, as Warnock dominated centre bounces, allowing Judd, Murphy, Gibbs, Simpson and co to do as they pleased. A variation of Collingwood style defensive press – albeit a messier, less efficient one –  was keeping the ball locked in Carlton’s forward line. Sadly, the Blues were also imitating some of the worst aspects of Collingwood’s goal-kicking: the points mounted.

Promisingly for the Tigers, their rare counter attacks produced opportunist goals to Morton and Riewoldt, and they actually found themselves in front. The choice of 7th gamer Simon White as Riewoldt’s opponent, in preference to 162nd gamer Brett Thornton, spoke volumes. It seems Thornton’s rabbit-in-a-spotlight defensive style inspires no more confidence in coach Ratten than it does in most Blues supporters.

Debutant  Ed Curnow ended the forward line farce by snapping Carlton’s first, only to see Riewoldt outpoint White and reply. By sheer attrition of behinds the Blues led 2-8 to 3-0 at the break, having converted spectacular clearance dominance and a 19-5 inside-50 advantage into a 2 point scoreboard lead.

Carlton finally found the goals early in the 2nd. Gibbs cleaned up from a scramble, Walker discovered a sweet spot on his left foot he didn’t know he had, and Deledio completely lost track of Carrazzo.

Another rout looked possible. Betts and Garlett were a handful forward, and too many Carlton midfielders were running free. Murphy and Gibbs, in particular, didn’t seem to have opponents.

But a few Tigers mounted a resistance front. Nahas took the game on from defence, Cotchin started to influence play, and Almanacker Daniel Jackson was providing spirited opposition to the Juddernaut, working off him to goal. Matt White had completely blanketed Carlton’s efforts to rebound through Chris Yarran. Riewoldt looked to have Simon White completely outclassed, if only Richmond could get it to him.

Suddenly, Jarrod Waite went down off the play in a collision. He woozily made his way to the bench, not to return. In a short while, he became the first to be subbed under the new rule, sending footy trainspotters into a frenzy, and Carlton into some disarray. For all their statistical dominance, it was only an Edwards clanger, gifting Murphy the final goal of the term, which enabled the Blues to lead by 22 points.

If Carlton had reorganised their forward plans for the second half, there was little evidence. In fact, the Blues showed few signs of a pulse at all in the 3rd term. The Richmond resistance became a full-blown insurrection. Jackson kicked their 8th straight, before Cotchin broke the sequence with a miss. It mattered not, as the Blues stopped running and Newman, Cotchin, Houli led the charge, ably supported by Angus Graham, who had fought back after his early rout.

With constant supply into the Richmond forward line, Carlton’s Riewoldt problem lay fully exposed. Simon White tried gamely, but he was outmatched. Back in ’73, he might have adopted blunter methods, but there are too many cameras around nowadays.

Young Jack, too, has some very old-fashioned football virtues in his repertoire. He has a great pair of hands, and reads the ball’s flight brilliantly. He can use his body to protect space, and is inventive on the ground if he doesn’t mark. He’s also a better kick than his cousin. In demonstrating all these talents he threatened to run amok. Finally, Thornton was given the task. In an excruciating five minute cameo, Brett Ratten saw enough. White would just have to guts it out.

Some sought to blame Waite’s departure for unbalancing the Blues. It certainly didn’t help, but a bigger problem seemed to be large dose of plain old dumb footy. If you kick the ball on top of the little guy’s head, or put it too far out in front of the big men, don’t expect to kick too many goals.

The quarter ended appropriately, with Riewoldt allowed to mark on his chest, three metres out, between several defenders, and stretching the lead to 14 points. Given their first half wastefulness, the Blues were staring at one of the most public suicides of recent seasons.

At the ¾ time break, Chris Judd must have shrugged his shoulders and thought, “here we go again”.

Early in the final quarter, Riewoldt just failed to grasp a bouncing ball in the goal square. If he’d stretched the lead to 20 points, it may have been enough.

Judd helped rebuild his side’s fragile psyche. He goaled to narrow the gap, and just kept ploughing a path to the ball. Others soon took the lead, but they struggled to land a blow. Then a tiring Deledio tried to clear from deep down back. Garlett smothered the kick, recovered, and snapped a brilliant goal. The air seemed to go out of Richmond. Warnock had regained control in the ruck, and the Blues running brigade took over again. Thornton was allowed to play loose man in front of Riewoldt for too long, denying him any chance. Carlton ran out winners by 20 points in the end.

For those with a taste for the bizarre, it was a game to offer plenty. For Carlton to lead the inside 50 count 50-28 at ¾ time, yet look almost gone, is a special kind of genius. The wild swings between the Blues’ best and worst remains almost schizophrenic

But, aside from the usual suspects, there was a lot to like. Laidler and Duigan showed  promise down back, Curnow played an outstanding debut game, Robinson showed improved fitness and durability in the middle, and Warnock dominated large stretches.

But the team was so wasteful in so many respects. For too much of the game they didn’t do the unfashionable team things well enough. The one qualifying factor is that much can be added to this night’s line up.

The Tigers have a handful of players who look like they could really be something. And they have Jack. But they lack enough support, and hence, are too easily isolated and picked off. Skill errors continue to crucify them at crucial moments. Foley will do much better, and the debutants showed promise. The placement of Deledio in defence seems counter to his natural inclinations. Perhaps a lesson is being enforced.

What the Tigers had plenty of was persistence. They plugged away and it almost found them a way. Take them lightly at your own risk.

Carlton escaped with the points, but they would want to be wary of a Gold Coast ambush. And they need to stop leaving it to Chris Judd if they want to be taken seriously as a team.

Carlton            2.8   9.10   9.13   14.20 (104)
Richmond       3.0   7.0     13.3   13.6 (84)

Carlton: Betts 3, Garlett 2, Walker 2, Curnow, Gibbs, Carrazzo, Murphy, Judd, Armfield, Hampson
Richmond: Riewoldt 6, Morton 2, Jackson 2, Graham, Vickery, White


Car: Murphy, Judd, Warnock, Gibbs, Simpson, Robinson, Curnow

Rich: Riewoldt, Cotchin, Jackson, Nahas, Newman, Houli

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.

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