Carlton coach Mick Malthouse believes his side is starting to build some collective match fitness, with the Blues’ last-gasp, five-point win over Adelaide on Sunday the club’s fourth win in five rounds after a rough start to the season hit by post-season surgeries.
Malthouse said recruit Dale Thomas was one player starting to build towards full match fitness having arrived at the club after a major ankle injury meant to keep him out for the first six weeks of the season.
The Blues lost the lead, regained it and denied the Crows a number of final-quarter chances to hold on and win, with Dale Thomas playing perhaps his best game for the club and another import, Andrejs Everitt, stripping Rory Sloane of the ball as he kicked towards goal in the last 20 seconds.
As Adelaide coach Brenton Sanderson bemoaned his side’s bad start, inconsistency and poor kicking, Malthouse was pleased with the way his players were able to hang on under huge pressure.
He said the Blues had needed to play players before they were ready, and try to work them towards full game fitness when they perhaps would have been better off regaining it in the VFL.
“One of the things we try not to do is harp on injuries because injuries are part of the game, but we did have a lot of players coming off surgery, to the point where we had three, maybe four in January. It’s very difficult to master the intensity, and you have to build into that,” Malthouse said.
“What we had to do early in the season was play players who were compromised and work them through the games to get match fitness. So you’re always vulnerable, particularly at the end of each quarter and particularly at the end of the game.
“Thomas is a classic. It’s a 12-month reconstruction, it takes 12 months. He’s six weeks in front of what anyone thought, we didn’t expect him to play the first six games because we were building him up to play.
“It will take him time. He’s going to step up and there’s others who have come off long-term injuries, they will step up. We’d prefer a lot of them to be out in the middle in the seconds, but we just can’t afford that at this stage.”
Sanderson said the Crows needed to start games better - having won just two of nine first quarters so far - and said the players needed to even out what was proving a topsy-turvy season.
“I’ve said to the players, we’ve got to get off this roller coaster we’re on. We’ve got to get some consistent play for four quarters. When we get an even contribution from 22 players over four quarters, we’re really hard to beat,” he said.
“We need to beat the clubs that are around us on the ladder, too. They’re really important games. Today’s a significant missed opportunity for us.”