Melbourne would battle to beat Manangatang

If you are of the Almanac persuasion, Friday offered a stark contrast in climates of the land, and of the mind.

Lunch at the All Nations Hotel saw Manangatang lads Adam McNicol and Craig Sholl entertain with tales of their old Mallee home town. Later, it was on to a slippery MCG for a spectacle as patchy as the Mallee scrub just spoken of.

Adam was discussing his book Manangatang, the story of a small wheat growing town struggling to survive on a perpetual knife’s edge, living from one good rain to another, praying the gap between them doesn’t grow any wider. It’s a tale of survival in hard land. Of fighting big odds and making the most of what presents. It’s also about the sort of characters who persist against those odds.

Beautifully produced, with a mix of period photos and contemporary shots by Andrew Chapman, Manangatang the book is a little gem of rural Australian life, as is the town itself.

Fellow Manang local Craig Sholl then regaled us with stories of growing up the son of the town publican. He also offered a very honest and open impression of his time at North Melbourne; of premierships, ‘King’ Carey, Dennis Pagan, Glenn Archer, Anthony Stevens and all those who made a period of glorious success for an often battling club.

After the appropriate period of rehydration recommended by all sensible sports scientists, it was time to stroll down Hoddle St in the drizzling rain, leaving arid Mallee tales behind.

Waiting for my personal version of the Carlton Crew to arrive, the moment seemed opportune for some crowd watching. The atmosphere was considerably changed from the Collingwood game, when last I visited the ‘G. Teeth and tweed were substantially more in evidence. There was also an abundance of those flashing red demon horns the Melbourne merchandising department are pushing with considerable success. Many of those would later be seen run flat. An omen.

The statue commemorating the first ‘official’ game of football stood glistening in the rain, Tommy Wills in pursuit of the ball, cap firmly fitted to protect his bonce from the wet. If Tommy could stare up at the leviathan new Members’ Stand you wonder what he’d make of that which he helped set in motion. Quite likely he’d ask for directions to the bar. He was a man with more than one thirst to quench.

An elderly gent hobbled past, veteran of past battles undisclosed, wooden walking stick in his right hand, a  Carlton cap on his head. It was a good night for caps. I resisted the temptation to ask him if he was from Manangatang. Chances were he wasn’t.

I hope he didn’t hurry unduly to make the first bounce. There wasn’t much to miss.

The game began as if in tribute to that first contest between Melbourne and Scotch. Players massed around the ball. Little pattern or method to be discerned. For a while it threatened to have a similar score line – first goal wins.

It transpired that Melbourne’s approach for the evening would be a variation on that perennial tactic of teams who don’t fancy their chances – get numbers around or behind the ball and hope for a fast break. Failing that, pray that Liam Jurrah could produce a few miracles.

The problem was that the Demon zone was neither as extensive or as organised as it needed to be. When they tried to go man-on-man, too many of their players allowed Carlton opponents to get easily clear on the lead. As a result, Carlton controlled possession in their front half. When Melbourne did venture forward, their lack of structure meant the Blues’ sweepers mopped up without pressure.

Sensing no real threat from their opposition, Carlton toyed with the contest for much of the first half, content to chip away until an opening presented. The only record under threat would have been for smothered kicks.

The 16 point half time lead Carlton established felt like much more in the circumstances.

The second half was just a question of how slowly Carlton would extend its lead. The Demons never really convinced anyone that they thought themselves a chance. This attitude surprised. Last year, in the wet, the Demons had charged hard enough to require the Carlton skipper to produce one of his trademark bursts to make the game safe. There was a lot less ambition about Melbourne’s effort tonight.

They could rightly point to an extensive list of missing play makers. Jamar would certainly have taken better advantage of Carlton’s third string ruckman Shaun Hampson. Scully, Trengove, Grimes, Davey and Garland would all undoubtedly have helped.

But the circumstances of the night weren’t without opportunity. Blue Jordan Russell limped off with a hammy at ¼ time. Jeremy Laidler was finished in the third with a knee injury. Nick Duigan stood at full forward for most of the final term to make up numbers – another hamstring victim. If Melbourne had stayed in touch, played with any real belief, then chances may have presented. A bit of that Manangatang willingness to buck the odds was lacking.

Dean Bailey is currently suffering, amongst other factors, the consequence of inflated pre-season expectations. Given that many of their key players are still relative football infants, talk of finals this year was premature. But clubs need to be wary that the rebuilding mantra doesn’t become an all purpose alibi. A cop-out for mediocrity. Richmond are still ‘rebuilding’ after 30 years. The lack of purpose and spirit in the Demon effort tonight was a worry.

Carlton have learned a bit about rebuilding in recent years. The key figure in their improvement gave another master class in commitment for those willing to learn. Chris Judd probably had more excuses than most to take it easy. Preceding the game, talk abounded that he wouldn’t play due to a sore foot. But that isn’t his way. Instead, he attacked the ball with his usual fervour, laid a dozen tackles, and consistently was the player who could transform an aimless passage of play into something meaningful.

Marc Murphy matched his skipper in effectiveness. With a decent pre-season under his belt, this was another outstanding performance in what is turning into a stellar personal season. Toss a coin between he and Judd for BOG. Mitch Robinson doesn’t have the talent of those two, but he’s striving hard to build a career for himself based on commitment and hard work. Tonight was another step forward for him.

Pickings were slimmer for the Dees. Experienced hands Green and Sylvia had good spells, but were patchy. Jurrah has mercurial talents, but his work rate is still nowhere near that of the best forwards in the competition. The only Demon to apply himself all night was Jordie McKenzie. He had it tough chasing Judd and Murphy around. He was outclassed. But he never gave up.

He’d go alright in Manangatang.

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. What are we going to do about those ‘lollipop’ tops JB?

    Not a good look.

  2. John Butler says

    Wholeheartedly agree Phantom

    As do most Carlton folk my age.

    Far too reminiscent of the infamous M&M day!

  3. All that and not one ‘Tang. For shame.

  4. John Butler says



  5. JB – nice summary. Missed the lunch which was disappointing.

    The Dees needed a miracle and couldn’t find one, but this season seems to be one for miracles – Suns winning two games already, Cats beating the Pies because the umpires cheated, Daisies miracle goals from 100 metres out at the ‘G, Saints losing communication with Heaven, and the government wanting to introduce a tax on the very air we breath (or exhale in this case). Incredible really.

  6. John Butler says

    Although the Carlton players probably should have been more discreet , I find Melbourne’s outrage at the ‘bruise free’ comments highly confected.

    An attempt to save face for a pretty bloodless performance?

    Most likely ammunition to try and fire the side up for Friday v the Dons.

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