Carlton and Hawthorn: a study in contrasting… fortunes?

At the end of the 2004 season, Hawthorn’s new coach Alistair Clarkson sat down to wonder where to start in rebuilding his club. It had only been three years since the Hawks had lost the preliminary final against eventual runners-up Essendon but they had since been busy going downhill; 10th in 2002, 9th in 2003 and 15th in 2004 with just two wins to their name by Round 18.

At the end of the 2004 season, Carlton coach Denis Pagan sat down to ponder his next move. He had taken over from Wayne Brittain at the end of the 2002 season following the Blues’ first ever wooden spoon finish. Carlton had finished 15th and 10th in his two seasons in charge. Were they on the up? Should he plan for a finals launch?

Fast forward 10 years and Hawthorn have won their third premiership under Alistair Clarkson and are gearing up for just the fifth hat-trick in VFL/AFL history in 2015. Carlton, having moved past Denis Pagan and Brett Ratten and onto Mick Malthouse, are staring down a long rebuild after winning just two elimination finals in its premiership window.

Why has there been such a marked difference over ten years between two sides who started shoulder to shoulder?

Hawthorn have been able to capitalise on their strong club development and drafting to create an outstanding and enduring leadership group.
All over the ground, Hawthorn have moulded a champion team half made of leaders. Clarkson couldn’t have asked for a better spiritual leader than Luke Hodge, a two-time Norm Smith Medallist, two-time premiership captain and one of the most respected players around today. To have a courageous, skilful and smart captain, exceeded in the modern game only by Michael Voss, is a great start.
During Clarkson’s reign, Hodge has received constant support from excellent players all over the ground: elite match winners in Sam Mitchell, Jordan Lewis, Jarryd Roughead and the recently retired Brad Sewell have been holding down the fort since 2005. Looking at the four seasons in which Clarkson built up a premiership winning side, you can throw in veteran Shane Crawford, hard nut Campbell Brown and ex-Fremantle full back Trent Croad, all crucial players in the Hawks’ build-up to their 2008 premiership. Small wonder they could afford such a law unto himself in Buddy Franklin! As Hawthorn’s recruitment bore fruit, key defenders Josh Gibson (recruited from North Melbourne in 2010), Shaun Burgoyne (Port Adelaide, 2010) and Brian Lake (Bulldogs, 2012) became club leaders as well, giving the Hawks on-field structure all over the ground.

By contrast, Carlton’s leadership group over the last 10 years has never been one that a premiership winning club could be built around. Indeed, to have been in Carlton’s leadership group has been to undertake the burden of the club’s failures.
Since 2005, Carlton have tossed and turned over four captains (Hawthorn just three) while experimenting with an extended leadership group. Anthony Koutoufides (2004-06 captain) has gone down in Carlton’s history as an all-time great but time will not be as kind to Lance Whitnall, who tossed the coin for a solitary season in 2007. Chris Judd returned to Victoria to captain Carlton in 2008 after six illustrious seasons at West Coast, struggling through injuries and burden to maintain his form and win the 2010 Brownlow Medal. After five years, Judd handed over the reins to young gun and current skipper Marc Murphy. Whilst both Murphy and Judd are excellent players, they don’t have the sheer versatility that makes Hodge the finest captain since Michael Voss.
All the meanwhile, over the last 10 years some of Carlton’s finest scapegoats have made up their leadership group. Bryce Gibbs, who has spent half of his career with the possibility of returning to Adelaide hanging over his head, has been a vice-captain for four of the last five seasons but he is far from the most questionable choice of leader. Bret Thornton, Simon Wiggins, Brock McLean and Brendan Fevola, all players who now induce grimaces amongst the Carlton faithful, were part of the leadership group at one time or another between 2007 and 2014. The eventual result of their careers does not affect their credentials; simply, none of them were ever captain material.
The risk of having a leadership group is that on-field direction can be misinterpreted and contradictory. Evidently Carlton’s gambit of having an on-field representative for every division of the ground has resulted in just that.

Hawthorn have accelerated their development by snaring second-hand, ready-made players in trade deals. Their backline against the Bulldogs yesterday was half trade pick-ups in Shaun Burgoyne (Port Adelaide), Brian Lake (W Bulldogs) and Josh Gibson (North Melbourne). Look further afield and you can see a ruck division of Ben McEvoy (St Kilda) and David Hale (North Melbourne) feeding a forward line featuring Jack Gunston (Adelaide), surely one of the most remarkable trade bargains of the modern era. Don’t forget their 2008 premiership trade stars in Stuart Dew (Port Adelaide) and Brent Guerra (St Kilda/Port Power).
Hawthorn have not only fast-forwarded their premiership window, they have extended it. One batch of mature age, match winning champions has given the next time to find their feet and develop into elite AFL players.

The Blues have been short on champions since 2004 and arguably only one of them was the result of fine trade week negotiation. Chris Judd has now played more games for Carlton than West Coast and has a Brownlow to boot. However he is truly an outlier when you look at the success rate of the Carlton trade selection since 2004. Remember Jason Saddington? Dylan McLaren? Andrew Collins? Cain Ackland? Greg Bentley? Chris Johnson? You should – they racked up 110 games between them. I’m sure you remember Michael Rischitelli and Brock McLean, although how fondly probably depends on whether or not you don the Navy Blue. It would be a bit unfair to write off Dale Thomas already, but not very much.
Carlton also have cause to regret some of their exported players (excluding the unfairly criticised Kennedy-Judd deal, which gets questioned every time Kennedy kicks 10 against a bottom four side). Shaun Grigg has become a fixture in Richmond’s defence following the deal that has netted 36 games across six seasons from Andrew Collins. Jarrad Waite and Eddie Betts have revelled in their new roles at North Melbourne and Adelaide respectively, raising questions about their management at Carlton. Admittedly such a condemnation is easy in hindsight, but the decision to hold onto Robbie Warnock as tap ruckman and flick Sam Jacobs to Adelaide in 2010 has been disastrous. Oh, and Warnock was another trade pick up. I rest my case.

Since 2004, Hawthorn have selected well when it comes to the National Draft. Carlton, not so much.
In ten years, Hawthorn have turned no fewer than seven draftees into 100 plus game players. Jarryd Roughead, Lance Franklin, Jordan Lewis, Grant Birchall, Cyril Rioli, Clinton Young and Liam Shiels have played 1166 games for the Hawks between them, while Tom Murphy (95), Simon Taylor (85), Paul Puopolo (90), Isaac Smith (88), Brendan Whitecross (84), Ben Stratton (94), Luke Breust (94) and Xavier Ellis (86) also deserve to be acknowledged for their efforts. In short, Hawthorn have been able to build nearly an entire premiership team through efficient recruitment alone.

To this day, Carlton probably regret their 2000 and 2001 salary cap breach that saw them stripped of picks in the 2002/03 draft. However their subsequent punishment doesn’t entirely explain the club’s inability to build sustained success. Since 2004, the Blues have had three number one draft picks in Marc Murphy, Bryce Gibbs and Matthew Kreuzer and picked up the scoop of the 2008 trade week when they snared Chris Judd. In the same period, Hawthorn have only gotten as high as number two (Jarryd Roughead, 2004). Murphy has been superb, Gibbs variable and Kreuzer talented but oft-injured. They still stand out from the largely mediocre crop of draftees the Blues have been picking up since 2004. Carlton have had 51 picks in the last 11 drafts. Just 16 are still at the Club, which still leaves 33 who finished their Carlton careers with less than 50 matches.

Efficiency versus waste, innovation versus mistakes. Hawthorn have laid down perhaps the perfect blueprint for modern day AFL success over the last ten years with their leadership, recruitment and development. In this time Carlton haven’t been alone in butchering chances and mislaying plans… but they have repeatedly erred where the Hawks have soared.

About Callum O'Connor

Here's to feelin' good all the time.


  1. Paddy Grindlay says

    Really good article. Haven’t seen this comparison before, and found really interesting and well written.
    Cheers Callum

  2. And not to mention one of Hawthorn’s key players moving to their 2012 Grand Final nemesis – and immediate challenger – before the champagne corks had finished popping after the Hawks beat the Dockers in 2013

    The contrasting attitudes of the clubs is an amazing study. Hawthorn, while miffed to lose Buddy simply knuckled down got on with the job. while Carlton have just gone around in circles

  3. Skip of Skipton says

    At the end of 2003 Carlton traded into the club:

    David Clarke (Geelong)
    Daniel Harford and Brett Johnson (Hawthorn, for pick 51)
    Cory McGrath (Essendon)
    David Teague and Digby Morrell (North Melbourne)
    Heath Scotland (Collingwood, for pick 35)

    In the national draft, apart from Andrew Walker at #2, they selected all mature aged players:
    Ricky Mott, Glen Bowyer, Jordan Bannister, Adrian Deluca and Steven Kenna.

    This influx of experience and short lived enthusiasm enabled a ‘dead cat bounce’ up to 10th the following season, but straight there after it was back to the cellar.

    Scotland for #35 was a winner; the rest including B+F winner Teague were all knackery jobs.

    Players taken after the pick 51 which they traded for a band-aid were:

    Daniel Jackson, Sam Fisher, Ben Hudson, Michael Rischitelli and Shane Tuck. All 200 gamers, give or take; and almost all B+F winners.

  4. Great analysis Callum and others. The question it begs is WHY? No punter backs only winners, but when one gets a 66% strike rate and the other 5%, you start to wonder what form factors they were looking at.
    To me it suggests that Carlton’s strategies have been backward looking, like general using the tactics that won past wars.
    Hawthorn have been supremely good at looking at where footy is going, and what player attributes they need for 1-5 years ahead.
    The game is not the same.

  5. I really enjoy reading articles like this, Callum, which have plenty of research and dig back to offer comparisons. Good stuff. Would really like to see more if you are so inclined.
    Carlton have made some terrible decisions at the trade table. Laidley-esque.

    Allow me, however, to take issue with a couple of points:
    * I think it is unfair to compare Judd’s leadership with Hodge’s, particularly given the cattle he has had to lead. Judd is sometimes unfairly maligned, but has been a champion, and inspirational leader, for years. The fact that he is still the go-to man at Carlton, at his age, speaks volumes.
    * I am not sure Waite is “revelling” at North. He has played one good game, and will play his next good game in Rd 18.

  6. John Butler says

    This is a fine analysis Callum, but I think Skip has nailed an excellent point.

    The pertinent question re 2003 is why Dennis Pagan felt he had to top up, not rebuild. Club expectations? Personal expectations? Both probably.

    If ever there was a time to rebuild it was Carlton in 2003. But thanks to Jack, and like thinking from those who followed, Carlton didn’t do rebuilds. We’ve paid the price ever since. Though a Carlton president is now, 12 years later, talking rebuild, we’re yet to see if he really means it.

    RE Judd: he is not the extrovert leader Hodge is, but he has continued to set an example. It’s no his fault so few have followed. Hodge was at a club that built the right structures to support him. Judd has been left to carry too much on his own.

    And yes Smokie,, I noted which round you nominated for a Waite bag. You will undoubtedly be proved right. Bastard! :)

    Great work Callum.

  7. Peter Fuller says

    Excellent research, Callum, which gives force to the concerns we Blues’ fans have about the management of our club over many years. This is evident on the playing field, in the coaching department and in the boardroom.
    It has been obvious for a long time that Carlton has demonstrably failed to adjust to the modern era, as old habits have died very slowly, but your analysis, Callum, has provided a compelling evidence of how poorly the club has managed the necessary adaptation.
    I’m grateful, also, for the considered comments. Supporters of other clubs have plenty of justification for dancing on the Blues’ grave, given the patronising attitudes of some of our public representatives – certainly during the last 50 years. The fact that Almanacker contributors here have resisted that temptation is welcome.

  8. Peter, we’re just waiting for them to hit rock bottom first. Notwithstanding the honest commentary of supporters on this site, I’m still amazed at how many Carlton supporters are still quite smug and are waiting for a seemingly inevitable resurgence!
    The old born to rule (dominate) mentality obviously lives on obliviously.

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