Carlton’s Most Important

Carlton’s drought-breaking 28-point win over the Bulldogs on Sunday reaffirmed the importance of a functional, damaging forward line.

Not to isolate or undersell the problems to have plagued the Blues’ dismal start to the season – it’s one of many areas of the field the Blues failed to have up and firing – defence, midfield and forward.

Though, Sunday’s result again confirmed Carlton’s lynchpin, its most important player: Lachie Henderson.

It may raise a few eyebrows when we consider the Blues are home to the likes of midfielders Judd, Simpson, Carrazzo, Murphy and Thomas, the workman defender Michael Jamison, and the elder statesman Heath Scotland.

Ironically, on the same weekend former Carlton spearhead Brendan Fevola slammed the Blues’ lack of forward targets (whom Henderson was traded from the Lions in exchange for), the 196cm, near-100kg Henderson booted five goals, and took eight marks.

Three of the five goals came in the first quarter, a quarter in which the Blues were relatively fresh off their embarrassing 23-point loss to Melbourne last week, followed by a week-long media drubbing.

It was an occasion where Henderson could play exclusively as a forward, despite the 24-year-old’s presence as a vital cog to the Blues’ defence; a swingman between forward and back, and essentially, Carlton’s most important player.

The dilemma of whether to play Lachie forward or back is not a foreign concept at Carlton.

It has been bereft of quality tall-timber for many years, where it has faced the same dilemma with Jarrad Waite, when fit to play, and not watching from the stands, right back to the early to mid-2000s in the post Silvagni, Sexton, Manton, Christou era with former skipper Lance Whitnall, valued at both centre half forward and centre half back.

At just 89 career games (72 with Carlton, 17 with the Brisbane Lions), Henderson, then 84 games, finished the 2013 season ranked third in the competition for overall contested marks, taking 153, ranked first at the Blues. He also went on to win Carlton’s Most Improved Player, High Achiever and DI Count (recognising ‘one-percenters’) awards at the club Best and Fairest, eventually placing third in the latter.

Contested marking in the Blues’ forward line was hard to come by even when Fevola produced his magic during the club’s lowest ebb; Fevola was primarily a leading forward, whose speed would often leave opposition defenders lamentably eating dust.

In short, Henderson brings a refreshing element to Carlton’s forward line that hasn’t been seen in a very long time.

Let’s not undersell the 24-year-old’s work in defence, though. Henderson has played on some of the competition’s most potent tall forwards, including Nick Riewoldt, Jack Riewoldt, and Travis Cloke.

Having spent the 2013 season as a “swingman”, being assigned the opposition’s best tall forward more often than not when in defence, taking 153 contested grabs (third in the competition) when spending large chunks of a season in the back half, is a testament to Henderson’s ability to lock down quality spearheads.

To be the leader in ‘one-percenters’, a footballing act paramount to the game of all quality defenders, is yet another feather in Henderson’s cap.

Lachie’s importance to the Blues line-up has been further highlighted through the recurring absence of Michael Jamison, who, when on the park, is a quality defender, though has had an injury-plagued career.

And the injury-prone, and sometimes undisciplined Jarrad Waite, whose inconsistency through aforementioned problems have been his own worst enemy.

Much had been made of Carlton’s trading and drafting strategy in the wake of its four straight losses, namely by Carlton power broker, Bruce Mathieson.

Sunday evening’s resounding victory over the Western Bulldogs does not fix Carlton’s long-term problems list-wise, but if credit had not previously been given for the Henderson-Fevola trade, in other words, if one was incapable and had been living under a rock, then credit would surely be granted now.

In his fifth season at Princes Park, Henderson is destined to become a ten-year player at the Blues. Fevola’s demise at the Lions has been well-documented, and there is no debating which club won the trade.

As a trade, and a quality pick-up, it can be likened to the North Melbourne and Sydney dealings at the end of 1997 with Wayne Schwass and Shannon Grant. The Kangaroos were to receive an exciting 20-year old in Grant, and the Swans, a reliable premiership wingman, though without youth on his side, in 29-year-old Schwass.

Grant played until the end of 2008, marking a ten-year career at North winning a premiership with a Norm Smith medal in 1999, while Schwass retired in 2002.

Similarly, the Blues received 20-year-old Lachie Henderson, while the Lions received 28-year-old Fevola, who would be 29 at the commencement of the 2010 AFL season.

As promising as Henderson was as a fresh-faced 20-year-old walking through the doors for the first time of a newly-renovated Princes Park back in October 2009, the pressure of expectation was always going to weigh heavily on a man who was exchanged for the Blues’ sole shining light during the club’s darkest period.

Five years on and nearing 100 games, Henderson, who turns 25 in December, continues to stamp his authority on the game at both ends of the ground.

Carlton’s most important player, but where to play him? Over to you, Mick.


  1. Re Brendan Fevola: I am reminded of my second-last OS trip, over 20 years ago now.

    There I was in a bar somewhere in Manchester the night before the Old Trafford Test in 93. England had played a ‘friendly’ somewhere in Europe the previous evening and the locals were dissecting England’s fairly tragic effort. I found myself getting buttonholed by some guy who was agonising aloud about what kind of crisps (‘chips’ to Aussies) he should buy to nibble with his pint of Bodd. He preferred steak and onion but was wondering whether he should play safe and just get plain, because he figured he had a chance with a ‘bird’ later and he didn’t want his breath to stink.

    Now this guy is actually unique. He probably doesn’t realise it, it never seemed to me he’d realise that much, he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the box (even if the only other tool in the box was a rubber mallet) and he’d probably need telling if his backside ever caught fire. But he is, literally, unique, in a club with one member.

    And why was he unique? Because whether he got to bonk somebody/something later that evening upstairs in that sad little dump in some nondescript corner of Manchester, is the ONLY issue anywhere in this world or the next that I am LESS emotionally invested in that whatever opinion Brendan Fevola may or may not have on any issue whatsoever.

  2. Oh, and if Fevola had been swapped for Wayne Schwass, it would still have been a no-brainer. Schwass played at Sydney for five years, and has been acknowledged as a huge influence in the early careers of blokes like Goodesy, Brett Kirk and Ryan O’Keeffe. At Brisbane they’re all probably thinking TF they at least got rid of Fev before he had tome to get into Tom Rockliff or Piers Hanley’s ear.

Leave a Comment