Round 17- Carlton v Hawthorn: Hiatus Interruptus


Having resolved to sack the game’s longest serving coach, then a fortnight later losing its only champion player of the last decade, a beleaguered Carlton has looked to buy itself time in subsequent weeks. This is in keeping with recent history at Princes Park. If an interim president can last six years, then why not a fill-in coach for 14 rounds? If ‘process’ was suddenly the word of the moment, then what’s the rush? After a long history as a club often ahead of the pack, Carlton has become the club that’s not sure what it should do, where it should go. This is what happens when your identity becomes too tied to the past.


For once, the hesitation is justified. The decision to hire Mick Malthouse was so hastily conceived, and its consequent legacy so bereft of enduring substance, that its aftermath demanded serious reflection, even for an organisation not noted for introspection. The problem was that nearly two-thirds of a season remained.


With so many established players having displayed career-worst form through the season’s opening two months, a return to a more natural equilibrium was probably inevitable once John Barker took the reins. An improved effort against Adelaide led into the bye, which was followed by the season’s clear highlight to date – the win over Port. The most striking feature of that day was the calm resolve of the team in the dying minutes. It is years since a Carlton side has looked truly convincing in a tight finish. As Port pressed for the winning goal that afternoon, Carlton showed a demeanour and intent that seemed a revelation. For once, the opposition would need to seize the win. We weren’t going to concede it.


Perhaps the more telling revelation is that this resolve hasn’t reappeared since.


A win was achieved the next week against the Suns, but it was in the manner and method that drunken 5am bar-room fights are resolved, where the last man capable of standing triumphs.


Any Blues fans with remaining delusions of a Risorgimento probably needed to spend a drizzly July 4th afternoon on the wing at the Western Oval. Carlton’s VFL team had thumped strugglers Frankston by 157 points the previous week, but was meeting Footscray minus a handful of players, who were covering senior injuries. The Northern Blues proceeded to lose by 103 points in a spiritless, skill-free rout that had nothing to commend it. No clearer evidence of the paper-thin state of our playing list was required.


The ensuing weeks saw successive losses against top eight teams, where margins generally flattered Carlton. It wasn’t the most auspicious lead-in to an encounter with the Hawthorn juggernaut. It proved to be the rudest of awakenings. The fact that the Blues conceded their largest losing margin out of the 2419 games they have contested as a VFL/AFL club should be a statistic that concentrates minds. But in which direction should they concentrate?


The headlines will inevitably focus on the new coach. I believe the choice of coach is not an end in itself, but should be a by-product. Yes, we desperately need to make a good appointment. But if there’s one thing the procession from Pagan to Ratten to Malthouse to Barker should have established, it is that the problems run deeper than any given coach. The club leadership claims to have finally got that message. If so, then plans to revamp recruiting, list management, and especially player development, should already be in place. They had better be good ones. The choice of coach needs to fit with those plans. He will be an vital part of implementing them. He will need to set standards. But he needs to be part of an improving whole, not having to carry the whole load.


If the Malthouse Distraction achieves only one result, let him be the messiah who’s failure demolished the messiah fetish.


And if Friday night’s humiliation at the hands of Hawthorn serves any positive purpose, let it be a crystal clear demonstration of the skill, discipline, and decision-making to which Carlton players must aspire. Let that example reinforce what we currently lack, and inform the search for what is required.  Some Carlton players may only have six games left of their  AFL career. There is no time to waste.


All this talk of process and rebuilding is fine, and a necessary start, but ultimately proves nothing. All the hard decisions lie ahead. Until plans are acted upon all is conjecture. If Blues fans didn’t like Friday night, then just brace yourself for what awaits. Even a well-executed recovery will take years, given our starting point. No club has pulled itself up without encountering speed bumps along the way. Considering Carlton’s recent history, some of those bumps are likely to be Himalayan. Do we have the will to see it through? Can we find the smarts? The patience? This applies to fans as much as administrators, coaches  and board members. Our answers to those questions will determine Carlton’s future credibility as an organisation, and as a football family.



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

    Very well put JB.
    It was terrible, it was spiritless and summed up wholly by Chris Yarran’s attitude and zero endeavor on Friday. Hawthorn looked bored senseless. The bloke who has dodged any flack is the Vet. McKay has been operations manager for what’ 6 years? How is his position tenable. Salvani wont have 13 first round draft picks to play with. How is that a club such as Geelong can lure Dangerfield and we don’t have a sniff. All the trade talk involves other clubs and never any mention of Carlton. They all should hanging outside very ground in the country with sandwich boards.

  2. John Butler says

    G’day TR,

    Yarran looks to me like someone who thinks he’ll be elsewhere next year. As does Henderson.

    McKay looked stunned after the game. Like so much under his watch, he didn’t see that coming.

    Silvagni’s problems will be numerous, and made worse by our trading last summer – Tutt and Jones on 3 year deals!!! Might be time to reconsider my attitude to the death penalty.

  3. Very well summed up John. I hope the don’t try and rush a decision in the wake of this. We need a very strong football department, which we have really lacked for a while. Agree with Tony on McKay – loved it when he joined, but he doesn’t have much to stand on so many years later.

  4. E.regnans says

    Reads well JB. Reasoned.
    The trouble with “process” for those seeking gratification, is that it can be hard to define when you’ve succeeded.
    What does it look like?
    How do you know if you’re doing it right?
    I’m with you. But it could be a hard sell to the Board.

    I’m impressed with all at Collingwood in this regard.

    By the way- you seem to have ruled out half the population in your comments about a potential future coach.
    “He,” “his.”
    Perhaps Carlton could become first club to employ a female senior coach..?

  5. John Butler says

    DJL, patience is a word Carlton folk are going to need to reach a new understanding about. Let’s try and think of it as a growing experience. :)

    E Reg, you point out our current predicament with unnecessary acuity. Melbourne had a process to hire Mark Neeld. Likewise St Kilda with Scott Watters. No guarantees in any of this, no matter how good the intentions. We can only watch and assess. And if it’s deemed necessary, provide ourselves with another option. Palace revolution is hardly unknown at Royal Pde, but would probably only delay progress further.


  6. John Butler says

    PS: as for a female coach? Seeing as we have only just brought ourselves to the point where the right people can mouth the words ‘rebuild’ and ‘process’, you are definitely expecting too much of them in that regard.

    I happened to work with Peta Searle in a past life,, and will happily attest to her capabilities. But I wouldn’t wish Princes Park on her under current circumstances.

Leave a Comment