Round 6 – Carlton v Sydney: You can’t buy confidence at a store

2.10 pm, Sat 29th April
Melbourne Cricket Ground


Friday night in Canberra was a showcase for ‘fast’ football as the best currently play it. Saturday afternoon at the ‘G wasn’t. The opening twenty minutes of this encounter was football at its most risk averse. Both teams danced around each other waiting for something to happen, without apparently knowing how to make it happen. This was understandable from Carlton, who the week previous had sent the equivalent of a boy band to a Port Adelaide heavy metal festival, with predictable results. The shock here was the other participant in this public display of anxiety.


Sydney entered this round without a win in 2017, but with the benefit of the doubt earned by a formidable modern legacy. A tough early fixture encouraged thought that their form might be better than their win/loss ratio suggested. This was the week for them to get back on track. Watching those opening minutes, it became obvious it might not be that simple.


Sydney led 3 goals to 1 at ¼ time, but Carlton knew they were in the game. As usual, their biggest problem had been connecting midfield to forward line. More promising signs emerged in the 2nd term.


Levi Casboult is not a footballer with a subtle repertoire. His Old Testament name matches a blunt instrument style. At his best, he does specific things well. Given the chance to run at a high ball, he is a powerful contested mark. The Blues engineered three such opportunities in the 2nd term. Considering his much discussed kicking, Levi’s return of 2.1 was over the usual odds. In the right mood, Levi also exerts the kind of physical presence that unnerves opposition defences. Today he was in the mood. By half time a number of Swans were quite concerned to know where he was.


The Swans led by 8 points at the half, largely living off the Carlton turnovers still regularly on offer. Isaac Heeney had started to loom as a threat, and Tom Papley was energetic up forward. Otherwise, they were generally subdued. And they refused to tighten up on Sam Docherty and Kade Simpson across Carlton’s half back line. This would prove a costly error.


Carlton opened the second half winning centre clearances and kicking successive goals to poke their nose in front. What happened next had huge influence on the balance of belief between the opposing camps.


As a 29 year-old ex-Freo journeyman, Alex Silvagni was a Carlton debutant very much against the club’s 2017 grain. He’d clearly been selected to play on Buddy. It looked a very big ask. Nevertheless, Silvagni demonstrated from the opening bounce he intended to make Mr Franklin earn his pay. The only first half goal he’d conceded was an unstoppable Buddy special: a one-step missile launched from 50 out, close to the boundary. Now the Swans stormed through the middle and Buddy was goal side of Silvagni with an open field ahead. Precisely where he likes to be. It looked a forgone conclusion, to everyone but Silvagni.


When Silvagni not only kept pace with Franklin, but dispossessed  him and launched a counter attack, the Carlton crowd erupted like we’d won a final. Seated to my right was a diminutive Blues fan. He couldn’t have been much more than eight years old – the Carlton demographic who have only known lean times. The guttural roar he emitted at that moment might just have been sourced from the DNA of ancient hunters after a kill.


The moment had its effect on field as well. Clearly nettled by Silvagni’s closing speed, Buddy fluffed a couple of marking opportunities soon after. The roars grew. Carlton were now smelling Swan blood. Matt Wright struck a purple patch which produced 3 goals. Sydney toiled, but their timing was off. Gary Rohan’s leaping attempt to spoil Sam Rowe was brave, but poorly conceived and worse executed. It saw him stretchered from the ground. By ¾ time they’d closed the gap to 9 points without building any sense of momentum.


At the start of the final term Brandon Jack appeared to be running into an open goal. Now fully inhabiting the spirit of his more famous cousins, ASOS mowed him down. Cripps, then Kruezer took contested marks as Levi continued to crash and bash pathways. Weitering conjured a moment of magic, splitting two Swans defenders with a check-side kick that set up another goal. All the while, Docherty and Simpson continued to run riot.


Much has been made of Carlton’s GWS connection, but the real jewel in our recent recruiting crown was getting Sam Docherty from Brisbane. If All Australian teams were genuinely picked on a season’s performance, rather than reputation, Doc would have claimed a half back spot for his efforts last season. Today he was rampant, collecting 39 possessions, all the while marshalling the back line and picking off numerous Swan sorties.


Sydney met their fate with uncharacteristic meekness. Buddy spent the last 40 minutes of the match chasing kicks around half back. It got him away from Silvagni, but seemed to perfectly suit Carlton’s purposes. Most tellingly, the Blues regularly targeted Callum Mills, with only  tepid and occasional protest offered by Mills’ team mates. Sydney just didn’t look much like the Sydney we’ve known.


For all the resources, expertise and claimed knowledge now poured into AFL teams, the creation of a successful side still has an alchemical component that defies easy analysis. As the tempo of the game quickens, decision making and skill execution become ever more critical. To an extent those qualities rely on the innate abilities of the players. But anything required of an athlete is easier if they are confident in themselves and their teammates. A close ally to that confidence is belief. The reasons why confidence and belief desert a playing group can be hard to identify, but the absence of them can be plain to see in what results. Suddenly, unexpectedly, this is where the Swans find themselves.


After the debacle of last week, Carlton recognised Sydney’s struggles and took confidence from them. As we search for our own magic formula, we could do worse than tap into the source of that young Blue’s primal roar. If we could distil that, we might really be getting somewhere. And a few more Silvagni’s probably wouldn’t hurt, either.


CARLTON    1.3    5.4   10.7    15.7     (97)
SYDNEY      3.2    6.6    8.10   11.12    (78)

Wright 4, Casboult 2, Kreuzer 2, Weitering, Petrevski-Seton, Simpson, C. Curnow, E. Curnow, Cripps, Smedts
Sydney: Papley 2, Hayward 2, Franklin, Heeney, Hannebery, Kennedy, Jones, Sinclair, Parker

 Docherty, Simpson, Kreuzer, Wright, Cripps, Casboult, A Silvagni
Sydney: Heeney, Lloyd, Jones, Parker, Papley

VOTES: Docherty (Car) 3, Simpson (Car) 2, Kreuzer (Car) 1

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. Tony Robb says

    Hi JB
    Only saw to first and last 15 minutes due to wedding commitments although regular peeks at the scores after quarter time were as beautiful as the bride. Looking fwd to the Saturday’s match at the G as a win over the Pies, Bombers and Swans would be terrific. Will have to pack two caps as we are off to the Giants on Friday night

  2. John Butler says

    TR, it got better after the start. At least for Blues fans.

    I reckon the tempo on Friday night may be a bit more hectic than the following day.


  3. E.regnans says

    Bravo, JB.
    Fine observations, fine writing.

    Though both teams occupy lower rungs of the competition ladder, this week looms as a good ‘un. A Carlton powered by the impulsive guttural roar of youth v a Collingwood just reacquainted with the idea of footy as helter skelter fun. May the best team win.

  4. John Butler says

    E Reg, I’d been thinking that Collingwood weren’t playing that badly, until they did ANZAC day. Likewise, I’d been wondering about Geelong if Dangerwood didn’t fire. I think we got some answers last Sunday.

    Sets up an intriguing contest. But Collingwood & Carlton are always fun. So much baggage. So much material.

    PS, that young bloke may have blown my eardrum. It’s still ringing. God bless him. :)

  5. Peter_B says

    JB – your piece made me reflect on a conversation we had at the start of the season; and the central role of expectations in determining our enjoyment of life and sport.
    All of your (low) expectations for your developing Blues are being exceeded, and in the quiet, patient (how UnCarlton) manner you prescribed.
    Meanwhile in the Emerald City (eastern suburbs) and Melbourne’s Leafblower East (where has Mr Wrap gone?) the punters are hurling themselves from building and finding a sudden interest in macramé classes. Over here in the West the Dockers supporters are content not to be as hopeless as (secretly) feared. Us Eagles are myeaah – top 4 aspirations supplanted by bottom end of the 8 – on a good day and if all finals can be played on sunny days at Subi (not asking for much). Still hope springs eternal – no one ever killed themselves with a yearling in the paddock.
    I gifted a Foxtel Go login to my Carlton barracking neighbour last week so they could watch the Sydney game. Sebastian (age 10) and his parents are visiting Melbourne for their first ever MCG game on the weekend. Seb is like a kid who has swallowed 20 bottles of red (navy blue?) cordial this week. I have suggested they look you up – as a cautionary tale of what a lifetime following the Blues can do to a man. Which eardrum should he yell into?

  6. John Butler says

    Expectations are a huge part of it PB. Those we held originally, and those inflated or deflated on a weekly basis according to the media agenda of the moment.

    But when an outfit that has been as durable as the Swans hits a wall like they have, it does make you wonder. I couldn’t believe they didn’t stick up for Mills more convincingly. I reckon something’s up.

    Where has The Wrap gone? he’s been keeping a low profile.

    Can’t you get in trouble for encouraging a young bloke to fraternize with the likes of me?

  7. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Good win JB.
    Blues a big chance this week because:
    1. Our boys will be sore from all the backslapping.
    2. You always find a way to spoil a Collingwood celebration.

  8. That was a fine and keenly observed piece of writing JB. I particularly liked the references to the young boy (surely a notification to child protection is in order given that his folks allowed him to follow carlton) and I loved the analysis of innate ability, talent & belief.

    Phil above is right in part in that carlton seem to find a way to rain on our (Collingwood that is) parade. This time no George Harris.

    After a BOG in the 2’s will Daisy be recalled given that SOSOS is out with a clipped wing?

    Collingwood beating Geelong is not a big deal per se as “we: have beaten them about 6 of the last 8 times or so. However beating Carlton, well that is a different matter.

    TISM. I won’t be going as I’ll be in Thailand trying somewhere to watch the game at 11 am or so, while my wife will be wondering WTF am i doing going to a bar in Bangkok

  9. John Butler says

    I don’t know. All you Collingwood pessimists. We’ve only beaten you in 5 GF’s. It’s not like we’re responsible for the other 21 losses.

    Having got that out of the system….

    Phil, if the boys are backslapping after one good performance then Bucks still has a lot of problems.

    Jim, Daisy is an interesting question. He doesn’t really fit in with our future plans, but I don’t think most Carlton people doubt the effort he’s put in since he came to us. If he was to show some real form, and given the trigger clause in his contract, it would be a dilemma. As an aside, the number of bad contracts we signed during the Malthouse era is a subject worthy of its own investigation. Though I hope we already have.

    I too won’t be able to attend, which is a bugger. Though I won’t be anywhere as exotic as you.

    Cheers guys

  10. Peter Fuller says

    Thank you for your excellent report, JB which renders my draft superfluous. I had been facetiously suggesting that having taken on the might of Gold Coast, Richmond and Melbourne (and been predictably vanquished) that we were just waiting for the easy beats, Sydney, Hawthorn, North and Collingwood, to get a run of wins on the board.
    My reflection prior the game was to note that as an old codger, I often find myself beginning sentences “I remember when…” to the groans of listeners. My IRW anticipating last Saturday’s game was … when Carlton were strong and South Melbourne were weak, and latterly when Sydney were mediocre. How that pattern has been reversed since 2002!
    The prospect of the Collingwood match is intriguing. These days I describe myself as hoping but not expecting. Saturday at the G will be an interesting test of our work in progress.

  11. John Butler says

    G’day Peter. Given the general reversal of fortunes this season, it’s frequently hard to figure out what is going to happen week to week. It was certainly a surprise to see Sydney play as they did. A pleasant surprise from our perspective.

    As for the Pies, who knows? “Hoping but not expecting” would seem a wise state to maintain.


  12. Luke Reynolds says

    Excellent work JB.
    I’m nervously sitting in the Olympic Stand, hoping Carlton won’t ruin our celebration. Reading this about their fine win last week has me even more on edge.

  13. John Butler says

    Well well well Luke. A disappointing game for you no doubt.

    I have to say, most times I’ve seen Collingwood recently, I struggle to identify their intended style. Same again yesterday. And watching some of your blokes making the same types of errors again and again, I’m inclined to think your talent profile is severely overrated.

    So what did last week against Geelong tell us? Was it more about the Cats? Or the Pies?

    Pretty happy with the Blues, though. :)

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