Round 11 – Sydney v Carlton: Swans show us the way


This was the game where Carlton would really find out where it stood in 2021. Having played four of the top five teams, plus the reigning premiers, the Swans looked gettable. Sydney are big improvers this season, but a team we had beaten at our previous two encounters. What transpired was variations on now familiar themes. We played periods of great footy in the first half, only to see senior players make crucial errors and our lead diminished by coughing up red-time goals in each quarter. The tide slowly turned against us in the third quarter, but we were still right in it at the final break. Then once again we were overrun, losing by a margin right in our favoured 3-4 goal deficit sweet spot.


In one sense,  we can’t accuse the team of being inconsistent.


With the club having talked up this season as the one where we would return to finals, Carlton’s supporters now look at a 4-7 record at the season’s mid-point. Softer draw or not, it is unrealistic to expect this current team will be able to win 8 of its final 11 games to claim a finals spot. Many Blues fans have already reached a similar conclusion, and are volubly expressing their opinions on where things have gone wrong. To that clamour, I’ll add some observations of my own.


Going into this season, our clearest question mark was the depth of our midfield group. Outside of Crippa, Sam Walsh and Ed Curnow we just don’t bat deep enough reliably enough through the middle.


Zac Williams was the big name trade solution to that problem. This was a gamble. Williams wasn’t a regular midfielder at GWS. One dominant finals performance was the basis of hopes he might become a midfielder. So far the gamble hasn’t paid off. After an interrupted pre-season, Williams has struggled with fitness and form. Unsurprisingly, he’s looked far more comfortable when moved to his more familiar half-back position in recent weeks. I had him in our best this game.


Williams was never going to be the whole answer to our midfield woes. Big hopes lay in the improvement of a group of players that now had several seasons under their belt. Will Setterfield, Paddy Dow, Lochie O’Brien and Sam Petrevski-Seton were all originally top ten draft pics, by us or others. David Cuningham and Liam Stocker also represented significant draft investments. Of this group, only Cuningham and Stocker could claim to have made any progress this season. Typically for Cuningham, after a few promising displays he did his ACL. He hasn’t had much luck. Stocker has at least reclaimed a place in the senior team, even if mostly playing in defence.


The bottom line to all of this is that we haven’t fixed our midfield problem, as was again highlighted against Sydney. The Swans overran us on the outside.


Perhaps the most underestimated list problem out of last season was caused by the retirement of Matthew Kreuzer. This left 24 year-old Marc Pittonet and 21 year-old Tom De Koning as our only senior list rucks. Coming into this season they had less than 30 games experience between them. TDK’s injury absence until the last two weeks left Pittonet to soldier on solo, with support from Levi Casboult. Pitto tries, but his hit outs are usually to little advantage, and he lacks any real marking presence around the ground. At his best, the Tractor was effectively an additional midfielder with his ability to contest the ball on the deck. Pitto offers no equivalent.


This deficiency has caused further selection and structural problems. Levi has been completely out of touch, but retained his place because of a perceived need for a second tall forward cum support ruckman. Though this doesn’t explain his selection against Sydney. I haven’t heard any plausible explanation of his selection for this game.


All of this raises obvious questions about our player development and list management. It is appropriate to discuss player development when playing the Swans. After a rare two seasons out of finals, Sydney are now strongly in contention once again. They are able to continually regenerate their team with new blood, having missed finals only 3 times in 18 seasons. Their famed Academy is a source of complaint for some. I just want the Blues to learn as much as they can from them and emulate it.


While Carlton’s list undoubtedly has more raw talent than it has in a long time, the aforementioned ruck and midfield problems suggest it is still unbalanced in crucial areas. And ultimately talent counts for little if you can’t develop it.


Like most Carlton supporters, as this season has progressed I have become increasingly worried at how much of our actual defending continually falls to Jacob Weitering and Liam Jones. Our midfield weakness does the defence no favours, too often conceding too many opposition inside 50’s, but our team defence as a whole has proven too vulnerable. For a team ranked 18th for clanger differential, we too often look wide open through the centre of the ground. We cough it up too much and can’t defend sufficiently when we do.


This inevitably raises the subject now continually on Bluebagger lips – David Teague and his coaching panel. In Teague’s 39 game coaching tenure the team has only once lost by more than 31 points. The problem is that it has only won 17 of those 39 games. We produce spells of attractive football in almost every game, but we can’t sustain our method long enough to win enough.


I now make a point of listening to DT’s after match press conferences. Amidst all the talk of learnings, etc. I rarely come away feeling that he has failed to identify the problems in a given performance. But identifying problems is only part of the job. Finding solutions is the much more vital part of a coach’s responsibility. It does no good to talk about ‘learning’ when the same problems recur game after game. If only we could see some learning actually happening! Ultimately, DT will have to convince he can learn sufficiently himself to find the answers he needs.


For all the litany of woes I have just outlined, the most frustrating, yet tantalising fact is the persistent feeling we aren’t that far off it. I don’t think I’m completely delusional in that hope. If you analyse us by statistical category we are a very average team, yet none of the best sides this year have beaten us by more than 28 points. We must be getting something right.


Unless we can string some wins together very soon, we will need to look to how we best approach 2022. There will be little point in not giving some younger players a run. Hopefully Charlie Curnow can get through some games. In this sixth season of our rebuild, I’m still not sure we know what our best team really looks like. I’m not even sure what that tells me.


Whatever happens over the remainder of this season, I think a comprehensive review of football operations now looks inevitable. Barring a miraculous turnaround, we will have under-achieved against the club’s own declared ambitions. That review should not ignore the fact we have come a fair way from the dark days of 2015. But it shouldn’t shirk important questions which may produce uncomfortable answers. Recent football history suggests the last few steps in a club’s rebuild are often the most difficult. There’s no reason we should have expected our rebuild to be any different.



SYDNEY      5.3    8.4    11.6    15.10 (100)

CARLTON   4.3    8.5    10.9    11.12 (78)



Sydney: Heeney 3, Franklin 3, Papley 3, Hayward 2, Kennedy 2, Parker, Wicks

Carlton: McKay 3, Cripps 3, Betts 2, Silvagni, Williams, De Koning



Sydney: Heeney, Mills, Lloyd, Kennedy, Parker, Cunnigham

Carlton: Cripps, Walsh, Weitering, McKay, Williams





For more from John, click HERE.





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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. george smith says

    Yeees. Karma comes when you mock the Showponies and then see your own team wallowing in the swamp of mediocrity. One thing I have noted is that many of the Carlton up and comers seem to be number one draft choices – Weitering, Murphy, Walsh. That is a hell of a lot of wooden spoons to endure, and it doesn’t always come off, witness the Matthew Kruser example. Carlton needs to get more active in the trash and treasure department, late draft choices, rookie lists – like Footscray and Richmond.

    The other thing is that after 30 years of playing robber baron, old habits die hard. Buying Judd was a mistake. It’s as if your mob is out of jail, trying to go straight and being sucked back in to the old life…

  2. John Butler says

    Thanks for the advice, George. :)

    And for the belated history lesson.

    Glad to bring some joy to a Magpie heart in these very difficult times.


  3. bryon issa says

    Thanks John , great article very well articulated.
    In regards to DT , not sure that he still has the trust of the faithful anymore. I like many other supporters were fully invested in coaching the team , he spoke a lot about playing a uncomplicated brand of footy and playing our young players in there rightful positions. What has transpired is in contradiction to all of this , whilst I realise that all AFL players need to have a level of adaptability maybe the more senior players can play those roles whilst the debutants and developing players play a more familiar role. Selection integrity has also been a miss under DT , which is very disappointing. The more senior players are given more chances than the more junior players , it seems that Lochie OB has been out of the side for 10 weeks for 5 minutes of poor football. Not sure that this development method is the best for our young list, which is why our development of our talent has been stunted. Would like to give DT a chance to fix his coaching issues with a new team around him , but not sure I really trust that he can get the job done. There are many things that start before match day coaching that need to be addressed. Thanks

  4. John Butler says

    Thanks for the comment, Byron.

    You raise a few very pertinent points here. Selection has definitely favoured the experienced players since Teague took over. He has coached to win now, not later, unlike Bolton. That was understandable in 2019 – he was auditioning for the job. Last year they had aspirations that weren’t met. This likewise, so far.

    Is this a reaction to the club’s messaging, both internal and external? Has the club overestimated where we are at?

    I also wonder whether the aggressive game style we are striving for is just beyond the playing personnel?

    Having said that, I think it’s right to try and play to score. The careful ball control teams are finding it harder. But our inability to defend reliably has become chronic.

    I look at the Swans coaching box. A coach as experienced as Longmire has been given someone like Don Pike as an assistant. What’s our equivalent?

    It’s easy to call for sackings, but you need a plan to replace the sacked. I’d rather start with a review of the whole picture.


  5. That is a decent summary, JB.
    Hope you don’t mind me adding my two bobs’ worth….
    Casboult should not be playing in any AFL team – full stop.
    Given the stories I heard about Worsfold in his time at Essendon, I can’t believe Carlton thought he would be of any assistance.
    I agree with your points about the midfield: today’s contenders all need midfields which bat deep and very well.
    That McKay boy looks alright.

  6. And by the way, the Melbourne footy media mafia’s focus on the Swans academy ignores just how good that club is at identifying and developing talent.

  7. John Butler says

    Smokie, your thoughts are always welcome. All opinions welcome. :)

    Word is that Levi has been playing with knee problems. It certainly looks like he has some problem. He’s stopped clunking his marks. Without that ability, he isn’t AFL standard any more. I have no idea why he was put back in for this game. I don’t know any Blues supporter who understands it.

    Fair call re Worsfold. It hasn’t been made exactly clear what nature of advice he will be offering. My impression is that is more in the area of managing resources/assistants, not so much tactics. But the fact he had a pre-existing relationship with Teague can be read a couple of ways. Too cosy? Not likely to challenge?

    That’s why I’d like to see a more comprehensive review of things.

    Re the Swans’ Academy – the Victorian clubs should all spend less time complaining, more time emulating. They develop talent as well as anyone.


  8. Very comprehensive and well thought out analysis, John. Good luck with your hopes for the future.
    And, of course, I agree with your Swans sentiments!

  9. John Butler says

    Thanks Jan.

    There was no argument who the better side was last Sunday.

    The Swans look like bouncing back into finals once again. We have a lot to learn from them.

  10. Things are looking up JB. Simmo rang today and I’m on the plane as an Emergency for Sunday. One more injury and the half forward flank is mine. He will try to turn the game into a defensive scrap with the side available. 10 goals to 7 your way.
    I’m hardly Woosha’s greatest coaching fan but the Woosha/Rutten experiment looks good with hindsight. Seems to me that he served as front man copping the flak while young players developed and Rutten could work on player development and game plan behind the scenes. Reckon he would be an outstanding Manager of Football Operations (a poor man’s Neil Balme).

  11. John Butler says

    PB, I look forward to your debut. Do your shorts still fit?

    Interesting psyche for this coming contest. Given your outs, a lot of Blues supporters have declared this a must win. I wonder if they’ve really been paying attention.

    Re Worsfold – he’s certainly been the fireman of choice in recent years. I wonder if he holds a hose?

    I seem to be wondering about a lot of things these days.

    In victory, malice. In defeat, spite. I look forward to the repartee either way. :)

  12. Keiran Croker says

    Hi John, great summary. It must be hard as a Blues fan when you are so far in to a rebuild and seemingly not making substantial progress. I agree it’s a mix of list management and player development hence a review is needed. You have some terrific young talent and that next step might just be made with some fresh approaches. Ironically your recruiting man Michael Agresta was with the Swans for awhile.
    As a Swans fan I’m very proud of my Club and how we have bounced back so far. I agree that the question of the Academy is a red herring. Sure we’ve got about five top notch Academy players in ten years, the rest are fringe players. I think our depth has come from shrewd draft choices and great development of rookies like Rampe, Cunningham and Lloyd to name a few. We don’t always get it right, though have a great stick rate overall.
    Good luck for the rest of the year. Surely Dow and O’Brien in particular just need to be played.

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