Round 17 – Carlton v West Coast: Overrated Over Here

America’s army took possession of the MCG during the Second World War, when the ground served as  Camp Murphy from 1942 to 1945. In time, a portion of the local populace famously came to regard the US forces as “over-sexed, overpaid and over here”. Your correspondent can’t speak to the peccadilloes or pay check of the current US Vice President, but it was impossible to miss the fact that Joe Biden was ‘over here’ for Sunday’s game.

As a representative of a once mighty power that may have seen its best days pass, Mr  Biden’s attendance at a Carlton game was entirely appropriate.  Given that many regard the role of Vice President as the most celebrated position of impotence in the western world, it’s possible that Mr Biden would feel at home in the Blues’ current forward line. What the numerous Secret Service agents made of the respective cheer squads, as Biden strolled the ground pre-game, has not been recorded. The use of the Stones’ Gimme Shelter (“Rape, Murder! It’s just a shot away..”) as soundtrack to the stroll seemed rather impolitic.

The West Coast Eagles may have been hoping for a similarly gratuitous display of power, given that their two previous  visits to the ‘G had been underwhelming, to say the least. There was no Hawthorn this time, just last year’s wooden spooners. For a team still harbouring top four hopes, this seemed the day for a statement to be made.

The basis of the Eagles’ success last season was their ability to reduce the playing arena to the 70 metres immediately surrounding the ball. Under Adam Simpson’s guidance, their defensive set up has baffled many opponents. So it proved for Carlton in the early stages of this encounter. The Blues had the majority of early possession, but spent most of it doing circuits of their own half back line, reluctant to take on the eyrie of Eagles confronting them. With the minority of possession, West Coast engineered more scoring chances, though they squandered many of them.

This pattern was sustained through the first half. Jeremy McGovern called the game’s tune across half back, ably assisted by impressive youngster Barrass. A combination of suspension, injury and poor form had forced Carlton to field a neophyte forward line, and only Jack Silvagni’s willingness to work created any first half impression on the Eagle defence.

Even in the blandest of overall patterns, details of interest can be discerned. As Carlton’s performance has deteriorated in recent weeks, Ed Curnow has notably sustained his output. His task today was to shadow Matt Priddis. Priddis showed his craft and nous by constantly altering his positioning at stoppages: often setting up outside the pack, then resuming his preferred in and under spot. By keeping Curnow off-balance and uncertain, Priddis claimed the honours. It was an intriguing contest between two men who have maximised their talents through a consummately professional approach to their trade.

Just as Carlton threatened during the third term to make West Coast pay for wasted opportunities, the Blues managed to turn the ball over thrice in quick succession, gifting the Eagles rebound goals. By the final break the margin was a seemingly comfortable 27 points.

Suddenly, at Brendan Bolton’s urging, the Blues tapped into the spirit they’d possessed back in round 10. Subdued in the first half, Gibbs and Cripps had worked their way back into the game through the third term. Now they took over. Playing on at all costs, the Blues belatedly found the keys to unlock the Eagle defence. Had Patrick Cripps been able to nail a set shot with five minutes to go, Carlton may just have stolen another game from the West. Despite that miss, Cripps’ was a titanic last term effort. It is easy to forget he has just played his 40th game.

It was pleasing to see the Blues will themselves out of their recent funk, if even only briefly. At this stage of the year, wins become somewhat academic, but the habits of pursuing them are important. Equally telling are signs from our rookies. Jacob Weitering backed himself into Jack Darling’s path early, and came off the worst for it. Obviously sore, he could have called it a day. That he returned to the forward line to kick his first two career goals was a show of character. Pack marks at crucial moments from Charlie Curnow, Phillips and Plowman were further hints. In four games, SOSOS has shown the desire and work rate to suggest he’ll uphold family tradition just fine.

Of the Eagles, it must be said they failed to convince under pressure. The current distance between their aspiration and performance might be summed up in the large frame of Jack Darling. Darling isn’t adverse to throwing his considerable weight around, though he usually chooses circumstances involving minimal physical risk to himself. He had plenty of scoring opportunities in this game, often finding himself on physically mismatched opponents. When he wasn’t wasting those chances, he expended much effort staging for free kicks.

Elsewhere, they seem overly dependent on Priddis’ ball winning, Shuey’s ability to break lines, Gaff’s outside run, and Yeo’s versatility. The rest of their running brigade is nondescript. Reddan and Jetta were obviously recruited with a view to lifting this department, but both have thus far underwhelmed. Nic Nat is sorely missed. Much relies on that defensive structure.

West Coast face stiff competition for a top four spot this season. Should they fail to secure a home final, you’d be confident on current form to rule a line through their name when it comes to consideration of serious flag contenders.

As Mr Biden would have discovered, Carlton games are unlikely to be that easy on the eye for the duration of this season. Though our form has tapered, our defensive structures are holding reasonably firm. We are still proving a challenge to play against, even if we can’t offer much scoring threat ourselves. But when you’re clawing your way up from the bottom, aesthetics are a minor consideration.

 

CARLTON         1.2   3.3   6.5   11.9 (75)
WEST COAST   2.4   5.7  10.8  12.10 (82)

GOALS
Carlton:
 Weitering 2, Gibbs 2, E.Curnow, Silvagni, Buckley, C.Curnow, Wright, Cripps, Kerridge
West Coast: Cripps 3, LeCras 2, Yeo 2, Kennedy 2, Hill, Schofield, Shuey

BEST 
Carlton:
 Docherty, Cripps, Simpson, Gibbs, Kerridge, White
West Coast: Cripps, Shuey, Gaff, Priddis, McGovern, Barrass

Official crowd: 26,389 at the MCG

 

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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 been a Carlton member for more than 30 years.

Comments

  1. Cruel but fair, JB. The game felt like a Carlton win, despite the scoreboard. BBolton was very impressive on “On the Couch” last night.
    The catch with any rebuild is that the smartest coach and teaching strategies can only do so much. Eventually you bump up against the physical capacities of the players and the limits of “teaching old dogs new tricks.”
    Last year my Eagles got lucky with injuries to Sydney and Fremantle, and a new game plan that other sides hadn’t adapted to. We are a one trick pony unless Kennedy and Darling have a day on, rather than the ‘mare both had on Sunday.
    Darling is infuriating because he thinks he is Wayne Carey, but is 5cm shorter, 5kg lighter and 50% less talented. He refuses to adapt – which is the underlying problem with most of our players.
    Jetta must get a game, just because he offers attacking flair and something different. His refusal to chase and man space is infuriating, but Redden and McGinnity show the threadbare alternatives.
    Adam Simpson is playing the long game – hence Barrass over 2014 B&F MacKenzie. If we get NicNait and Sheed back, I suspect he will play MacKenzie and throw McGovern forward or on the ball.
    Roll the dice in the last few rounds when we have the Giants, Hawks and Crows. Hope something clicks. Funnier things have happened. But as you rightly say, the Eagles and Kangas are just making up the numbers on current form.

  2. John Butler says:

    PB, over the last few weeks we’ve become acutely aware of the limitations of certain Carlton players. The good news is, they’re mostly the old dogs. We have a lot of work ahead of us.

    I think a lot of the Eagles issues revolve around midfield depth. A few ordinary kicks and pedestrian types beyond the top few I mentioned. And Darling should be a better player than he is.

    But you’re a lot closer to the mark than we are presently. I think Simpson is a smart coach..

  3. Tony Robb says:

    JB I thought Weitering looked great down forward. His marking is sorely needed if Carlton are going to persist with kicking to packs, which defies logic given the lack of big bodies and the reluctance of the small forwards to lead. I think Buckley must turns himself into a crumbing forward as he is too small to play anywhere else. SOSOS was good in the second half and has a lot of upside as a tall marking forward but runs like his old man. A good second half against aside going nowhere in September.
    Cheers
    TR

  4. John Butler says:

    Weitering – need him at both ends TR.

    Buckley has great enthusiasm and effort, but decision making and disposal are big questions. Will be interesting to see if he survives.

    Curnow C shows flashes too.

    By next season, the forward line will have McKay, C Curnow and Silvagni as likely regulars. Casboult probably in the mix as well. It will be young, but we don’t have many choices.

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