Almanac Season Review (and Round 23 report): Carlton – A flat end to a fresh start


With delayed gratification a concept attracting fewer fans in broader society, it’s intriguing that the rebuild narrative remains such a popular option for football clubs. Pay now, enjoy later: not traditionally considered an appealing sales pitch. Yet the rebuild remains the bail-out option for any club finding its premiership window bricked in.

Does the hope implicit in the very act of following a club pre-dispose us to tolerance? Sitting in the outer most weeks, you wouldn’t usually conclude so. Perhaps, like superannuation,  it’s less a question of choosing patience, than having patience thrust upon us. That’s certainly been the case for Blues and Bomber fans, given the recent disasters befallen both clubs.

Anyone who has ever been in a tipping competition will testify to the volatility of final rounds. Unless careers are at stake, individual motivation can be problematic for tired bodies. Multitudes of injured are already shipped off to rehab. The AFL’s devotion to staggered fixtures (or should that read TV ratings?) ensures team incentive fluctuates as each preceding result is confirmed. If finals are out of the equation, these effects are further exaggerated.

It became evident early in this final round contest that Essendon was up for it, while Carlton had Mad Monday on their minds. Rather than the defensive pressure that had unravelled Melbourne the previous week, we spent significant parts of the first three quarters running around like headless chooks. To capitalise on their opportunities, the Bombers had a focal point in Joe Daniher. When we attempted a belated rally, we had Liam Jones. End of story.

In a broader sense, that was the on-field tale of Carlton’s season. Generally improved defensive method has been hamstrung by a forward line with the potency of skim milk.  We could never afford to be off. When we were, we got punished, as we did today.

There have been few easy paths to goal for the Blues this season. In scrounging 3 goals today, Matty Wright confirmed himself our season-high scorer, with a princely tally of 22. This might have been a competitive number in 1897, but sadly not today. Having only reached 100 points twice through the season, we have ultimately done well to fashion seven wins.

Our midfield depth was again shown up. Murphy, Gibbs, Cripps and Ed Curnow are our best by a long way. Murphy’s absence since the Geelong win is not incidental to our struggles in the last eleven rounds. When Ed joined the missing for this last round, too much was left to Cripps and Gibbs, as mighty as they’ve been this season.

Though they ended on a downer, our defence has generally been the good news story of the season. Sam Docherty and Kade Simpson capped outstanding seasons with strong finishing performances. Their rebounding has often compensated for midfield deficiencies. Simmo remains as reliable as the Energiser Bunny. ‘Doc’ might be the season’s revelation, growing hugely in confidence and stature. Sam Rowe didn’t have his best day, but he’s been a dependable stopper through the year. Jacob Weitering again showed calm and poise belying his age. He has done all that could be expected of him in his debut season.

So how to assess Carlton’s Rebuild 1.0?

With the possible exception of 2011, this is the first season this century that the Carlton Football Club has delivered as promised. That is a hardly unrelated consequence of the club reacquainting itself with reality for the first time since the Elliott era went south. Of course, a sure way to deliver as promised is to promise little, but there are reliable signs at Royal Parade that ego-driven delusion no longer runs the agenda. It may have finally sunk in that the mere fact of being Carlton means little in the modern AFL world.

Much credit for this season’s improvement must be accorded to Brendon Bolton. From round one, the new coach had his team playing with clear method and structure. In the face of major list upheaval, he has developed a unified team discipline. This is still a playing list with major deficiencies, but it is a team that Carlton fans can now trust to play near its capacity most weeks. As importantly, Bolton has been unwaveringly clear in his message to the Carlton community.  This remained so even during our purple patch of six wins in seven weeks, as external hype briefly bubbled. Consistency reinforced belief, for players and supporters.

It helped that the club as a whole spoke as one. Mark LoGiudice and Steven Trigg had their dramas staring down Mick Malthouse last year, but they’ve stayed resolutely on message since. Trigg may have an attachment to manager-speak, but a sense of process, rigour and accountability seems to have been restored, for which he deserves much credit. LoGiudice threatens to be that rarest of beasts, an understated Carlton president. Nary a whisper was heard from our board, a blessed relief in itself. On field actions were allowed to speak for themselves this season.

Stephen Silvagni squared up to many a formidable forward in his day, but the task of repairing our busted-arse playing list must still feel like a big ask. Step one of his grand plan was somewhat thwarted by injury and illness, preventing our top three draftees from displaying much of their wares. To compensate, the ex-Giants and Crows acquired in the off-season all paid their way. Unsurprisingly, his cherry-picked Giants look riper than the ones plucked under Malthouse. Western Sydney may be a paddock we revisit. But so much remains to be done. SOS won’t be retiring the pruning shears anytime soon.

The trick of a rebuild is to ensure improvement remains constant. The narrative must never become a cover story for stagnation. A grasp on reality is your best friend. Far be it for Carlton people to point fingers at the irrationally exuberant, but our Bomber friends might want to put the Kool Aid down and take note. Having just claimed their first spoon in eight decades, they’re already talking finals. It suggests they’ve had better luck with their spin than they’ve had with sports scientists or courtrooms.

That advice holds true for Carlton as well. All we have achieved is a start. Don’t expect Bolts to stop mentioning the ‘journey’ anytime soon. Nothing done so far can claim to be revolutionary of itself, but given our particular circumstance, it feels like a gale force wind has blown through some of the mustier corridors of Princes Park. Could the Carlton of Jack Elliott have credibly bid to field a women’s’ team, let alone succeed? In Brendon Bolton and Steve Silvagni, in Patrick Cripps and Jacob Weitering, in Jack Silvagni and Charlie Curnow, in Darcy Vescio and Bri Davey, there is finally tangible evidence of a new Carlton being born.

It’s not before time.


ESSENDON    3.4   8.9    14.11    15.13 (103)
CARLTON      2.6    5.8    6.12      10.19 (79)

Daniher 5, McDonald-Tipungwuti 4, Langford 3, Laverde, McKernan, Dempsey
Carlton: Wright 3, Armfield 2, Kreuzer, Kerridge, Casboult, Docherty, Buckley

Daniher, Z Merrett, Dea, Langford, McDonald-Tipungwuti, Goddard
Carlton: , Cripps ,Simpson, Docherty, Gibbs, Kreuzer

Votes:  3- Daniher (Ess)   2- Z Merrett (Ess)  1- Cripps (Car)

Official crowd: 46,566 at MCG

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. Great wrap of the season John. It was a flat end to what was otherwise an exciting year. Not sure how we managed to lose to the Lions and Bombers but beat Melbourne in between. Will be watching with interest the moves made during the off season.

  2. John Butler says

    DJL, I think the ‘journey’ narrative has certainly got to me. I can’t remember ever caring less about a game against Essendon. Ii looked like the players concurred.

  3. Measured. Statesmanlike. Churchillian almost. Not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning?
    I enjoy your pieces on footy or cricket because they are a passionate supporter taking a dispassionate view.
    Carlton’s best list looks pretty good to me. Just how to keep them all on the park and find a marking forward? There is a full forward in Perth that you gave away who goes alright. No matter it won you a Brownlow.
    Do you reckon Judd the Messiah fed Carlton’s delusions of adequacy, and in the end forestalled the long postponed root and branch restructuring that is now underway? An alkies last binge before rehab?

  4. John Butler says

    PB, Judd was never a problem. He busted his arse playing for us. And his example of professionalism probably lifted a few of his colleagues. Sadly, not enough.

    The real problem was a dumb club who just thought Judd, 3 No 1 picks and Fev would be enough. It was expected Kennedy would be a loss, but where was the plan to replace him? Where was any plan, period?

    The Judd deal can’t be said to have held us up, because we doubled down with Malthouse. Exactly the same cargo cult mentality. No due diligence. Hired him to fulfill a brief that was more fantasy then reality. Let him hire or draft whomever he wanted without sufficient critical evaluation.

    I think I’m having one of your Grrrr moments.

    BTW, who put the rocket under your blokes? They’re transformed from the meandering herd that played us a few weeks ago.

  5. The drugs have kicked in. We didn’t want to go too early with all the testers and Lachie Whitfield’s ex-missus around.
    If we get found out and the AFL investigates that will cruel our chances of winning the 2023 Flag when they finish their investigation, and Neville in the Copy Room remembers to mail the results to those WASADA blokes (West Australian Substance Abuse Denial and Avoidance).
    Thanks for your concern.

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