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Blues home is their hassle

Illustration: Mick Connolly

Illustration: Mick Connolly

LARRY has a penchant for protest. He opposed the war in Vietnam, grew his hair into an unruly Afro and evaded the draft with the artful dexterity of Chris Judd beating a tackler.

When Carlton opted to play the majority of its home games at what became Etihad Stadium, two of Larry's passions - protest and Carlton - came into conflict. If the club was to ditch Princes Park, which he considered unnecessary, he felt the MCG would be preferable to the indoor stadium, a stance held by most of the then Carlton board.

But the Blues were broke and the upfront dollars dangled by the AFL and the Docklands stadium - headed by Carlton president Ian Collins, who removed himself from Carlton's deliberations - saw the club accept a 6-5 split between the Dome and the 'G, in favour of the former.

Larry was outraged, vowing that he ''would never go'' to the indoor place. As an MCC member, his position was similar to many Demons fans, who find Etihad as geographically and culturally remote as the Whitten Oval, despite its short distance from the 'G.

But Larry has largely stuck by his pledge, barring the odd lapse when corporate hospitality is on offer. His stance on Etihad might seem irrational, or pig-headed, except on the football front. ''We go like a busted arse there,'' Larry noted of Carlton's struggles under the roof.

Carlton's record at the ground where it plays the majority of its home games is surprisingly poor. Since 2010, the Blues have won only 10 out of 21 matches at Etihad; in two of those victories last year, against today's opponent Adelaide and last week's conqueror, St Kilda, Carlton won by under a goal despite domination of the key performance indicators, such as contested ball and forward 50-metre entries.

When the Saints gave Carlton a blue Monday six days ago, discussion of Carlton's capitulation centred on the template for beating the Blues that had been established by Essendon and reinforced by the well-executed plan of the Saints.

The Etihad factor was ignored. It shouldn't be. Carlton is unlikely to make the top four, its stated mission for 2012, unless it comes to grips with the different dimensions of its ''home''.

The Blues have seven of their 15 remaining games at Etihad. In addition to the Crows, they have to play North Melbourne, Geelong, Sydney, the Western Bulldogs and St Kilda again. These are dangerous matches in which they would be more confident in the open air and spaces of the MCG. The Dogs upset Carlton at Etihad last year, as did North on the back of Lindsay Thomas' uncharacteristic seven goals in 2010.

The perception, fuelled by this column, that the Blues have a ''soft'' draw is contradicted by the Docklands fixturing. Their recent record at Subiaco ( Pattersons Stadium, for the corporately correct), for instance, is better than at Etihad.

How does one explain the apparent Docklands blues? The obvious reason is that the ground has less space than the MCG (or Subiaco) and their high-grade uncontested game, which the Saints attacked, is easier to shut down on the smaller field.

''The MCG is a much bigger ground. There's a lot more space to spread and use the ball,'' said an opposition-focused coach from another club. ''The game can be bottled up.''

The Etihad problem, in short, is an acute version of what happens when Carlton doesn't perform. The positive is that if the Blues can make it at Etihad, they'll make it anywhere.

St Kilda's successful invasion of Carlton space also underscored what a massive loss Andrew Carrazzo has been since the Essendon game. Carrazzo provided grunt around the ball, a defensive element to the midfield, and selfless blocking for Marc Murphy and Judd.

Forthcoming opponents can be expected to follow the St Kilda/Essendon script, to crowd the Blues around the ball while assigning tags to Kade Simpson and Murphy. It follows that Brett Ratten and his lieutenants might need to emphasise different ways of moving the ball and/or defending.

While they like to move the ball quickly and give Jarrad Waite and their small forwards the best chance, the price of playing fast is that it is harder to set up defensively and leaves them exposed when the ball is turned over.

Carlton's football operations head, ex-captain Andrew McKay, felt that Etihad was tougher on teams that turned the ball over because the stadium demanded precision.

''It's harder to defend if you don't hit the target.'' It was imprecise disposal, more than lack of space, that had hurt the Blues under the roof in McKay's view.

The other explanation is that there are key Carlton players who just don't perform as well at Etihad for whatever reason. Jeff Garlett likes spaces. Waite, who is absent today, is an athletic runner and jumper rather than a wrestling ''power forward''. He, too, needs living room.

If the Blues aren't confident in using Waite for the ''bailout'' kick to a contest, they might need to send Matthew Kreuzer forward to provide that down-the-line target, despite Kreuzer's preference for the ruck.

Whatever the answer to the riddle of the roof, the Blues have to find a way to win at Docklands, starting today against the Crows.

While premierships are won at the old coliseum, they won't win enough games to contend without overcoming their Etihad blues.

1 comment

  • As a Carlton Supporter I agree with Larry 100%. We always play woeful footy at Docklands, and I try to avoid going to games there. Sadly President Collins negotiated a deal with CEO Collins at a low point in the club history and now we are stuck with it.

    Date and time
    May 20, 2012, 2:36PM
    Comments are now closed

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