Demons give the Blues too much of a start (again)

What gives a football club its identity?

This is a question that could easily occupy a book. It is certainly beyond the proper scope of a match report. But it’s a question that comes to me when I ponder Melbourne’s current predicament.

In the range of footy stereotypes, both Carlton and Melbourne are establishment clubs. But this immediately highlights the limitations of stereotypes, for if the Demons are a club of the establishment, they’ve notably failed to take advantage of the fact in recent decades. For all the jokes about supporters’ Range Rovers and ski weekends, the club has teetered through a long period of financial instability, with its very existence being regularly debated.

During the trauma of the mooted merger with the Hawks, it was the Dees who actually voted in favour of it, so even the faithful were obviously struggling to believe. Unlike Hawthorn, when the merger fell through, Melbourne failed to take the opportunity to mobilise support to ensure their future. In truth, after a long period with little success, the supporters probably weren’t there to mobilise.

In a sense, it was the Blues who inherited the mantle of the Demons glory days under Norm Smith. By  luring Smith’s most famous protégée, Ron Barassi, Carlton began its emergence from a long period in the doldrums. Despite their own recent struggles, the Blues have generally maintained a head start ever since.

So it is with the current state of both teams. Melbourne’s inclusion of the rested Trengove and Scully meant half a dozen recent top 2 draftees were on the park. A testament to recent lean times for both clubs. Crucially for the Blues, their young hopes are several seasons advanced on their Demon counterparts.

Melbourne strived early to account for any deficiencies in experience, but their efforts were ill directed. After a pointless fairy tap to Setanta’s chin gifted the Blues first shot, the Dees continued to show poor discipline, particularly around centre bounces. Carlton was thus gifted a five goal start as frees flowed and Melbourne ceded possession too easily when they did win it.

The return of Waite and Houlihan proved particularly valuable to the Carlton cause. Houlihan kicked 3 goals in the opening stanza; the highlight being his 2nd, a brilliant twisting, spinning move in the middle of a pack preceding a lovely left foot snap. Waite ranged far and wide, and generally reminded Jared Rivers, his opponent for the afternoon, that it was a long time since he’d won that Rising Star award.

Kreuzer and the improved Jamar were keenly contesting the ruck stakes- when the umpires weren’t interrupting them with the whistle. Jamar gave some deft taps to advantage, whereas Kreuzer’s ability to give 2nd and 3rd efforts gave him the edge around the ground.

At ¼ time it was 7-4 to 2-2. 32 points is a fair head start.

The one bright early light for Melbourne was Brad Green, who has previous form in giving the Blues some grief. Surprisingly matched up with Bryce Gibbs deep in the Demon forward line, he handed Gibbs a rare beating, clearly outpointing him in marking contests. But that was the extent of Demon joy, as too much sloppy play and thinking undermined their efforts.

Waite continued to dominate, but had his afternoon marred by another report. In this instance, he had launched for a mark when Bate bravely came back with the tide, and was collected when Waite’s hip contacted his head. The umpire didn’t hesitate to reach for the book, though exactly how Waite was supposed to change direction in mid air will be a point of discussion to come.

Though I speak with a Carlton bias, the outcome of this case will be another indicator of directions in the game. Interpretations and rule changes are incrementally working to produce the kind of game the AFL bureaucracy obviously prefers. But is this a game that rewards risk takers?

The desperate act of winning the ball- traditionally a sacred tenant- now risks ready punishment, with reward going to those who chose to react rather than initiate. If you want to fly for a mark, under no circumstances use your hands to balance yourself in mid air. And it is clear you now bump at your peril.

There is nothing wrong with protecting players heads, but do you need to do that at the expense of inhibiting the natural instincts that had made the game great? If tackling is to be so highly valued, it is little wonder NRL recruits are all the rage.

At half time, Carlton still led comfortably, 9-6 to 3-4.

The long break saw the rain set in, and the pigeon plague give way to a seagull tsunami. As the wildlife changed, so did the game.

After Mitch Robinson continued a fine afternoon with a spectacular volley goal, it was the Demons who got their wet weather basics right, as they’d done a few weeks ago against the Bulldogs. Getting their bodies behind the ball, forcing the ball forward at every opportunity, Melbourne were finally channelling their efforts productively. Sylvia, Moloney, Grimes, Morton and the scrawny youngster Gysberts lifted in the middle, and Bate and Jetta were proving elusive up forward.  After Waite managed to skid one through from long range, the margin closed quick enough to cause concern in the Carlton coaching box. At ¾ time, it was only 19 points the difference, with momentum decidedly the Dees’ way.

Chris Judd and James McDonald make an interesting contrast in club captains; one as lauded as they come, the other much more the unobtrusive club servant. In their respective ways, they’ve both been having stellar seasons. In their individual contest this day, the Demon man had done well to limit the Carlton skipper’s influence. But Judd was to demonstrate yet again why he’s the money man. He launched a withering 10 minute burst to start the final term, and largely wrested control back for his team.

Once Judd had kicked a steadier, and Houlihan followed with his 4th, the margin had stretched beyond the realistic in the conditions. The Demons persisted, but real belief in a win had dissipated. Betts scavenged a couple of goals to remove all doubt, despite Moloney kicking a fabulous long goal in the driving rain.

When big Sauce Jacobs bafflingly held the ball aloft in the universal “slow it down” signal, he could have been speaking for spectators who where now thinking of warm, dry places with the result beyond dispute.

The final margin of 41 points reflected the price the Demons paid for their poor early discipline.

Melbourne are a work in the very early stages of progress. They’ve fallen away somewhat after a good early spell, but you would be confident they’ll give better performances again before season’s end.

In the quest to give their club new identity and vigour, the Dees could hardly hope for a better figurehead than President Jimmy Stynes. His unfailingly positive attitude in the face of personal duress should provide inspiration for whatever lies ahead. Combined with the promise of youth, it’s a decent start on the re-building project.

Carlton face Friday night against the Roos. They are in the middle of a series of games they need to win if they’re entertaining any top four hopes. So far, they’ve been getting the job done in slightly patchy fashion. Tougher challenges await.

Carlton     7.4   9.6   11.7   15.11 (101)
Melbourne     2.2   3.4   8.6   9.6 (60)

Houlihan 4, Waite 3, Thornton 2, Betts 2, Simpson, Carrazzo, Robinson, Judd
Melbourne: Green 3, Watts, Sylvia, Bate, Jetta, Jones, Moloney

Votes: 3- Waite, 2- Robinson, 1- Houlihan ( Melbourne players only managed bursts)

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 John, Good wrap. I was in Albury on the weekend and for the third weekend in a row suffered the indignity of a delayed telecast of the Carlton game so it was the ABC on the radio and watched the delayed pictures a bit later. As you’ve stated the game was gone by quarter time and the conditions, plus a bitmore of a dip from the Dees, got them into by 3 quarter time. However, the messiah and Mrs Robinson’s little boy Mitch really lifted in the last term. Begs the question but. Does the 10 minute burst from Judd out weigh the 45 touches that Bryce amassed last week. Any one can pick up a lot of touches playing a kick behind the ball with no opponent. Kane Cornes has made a career out it. For mine the match winning burst gets the votes every time but umpire like stats. Hence Carey never won a Brownlow while winning countless matches off his own boot. Looking forward to attending the game on Friday and trust the boys will put in that little extra for the Canberra visitors

  2. Tony Robb says

    that should be Chad Cornes. I can never remember which as they annoy me equally

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