Carlton needs serious rebuild to rediscover AFL glory

As David Parkin tells it, when John Elliott interviewed him about a return to the Carlton coaching job in late 1990, an appraisal of the playing list was sought. Parkin, well beyond currying favour by telling a president what he wanted to hear, said it needed a re-build.

True to form, Elliott growled: “We don't rebuild at Carlton.” He added though: “But we could do with a bloody good renovation.”

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Carlton in crisis after losing to Melbourne

Melbourne ended a 12 match losing streak to record a 23 point victory over Carlton, their first under Paul Roos.

That was then.

Nearly a quarter of a century later, it's not putting too fine a point on it to say the whole of the Carlton Football Club is due for a rebuild. An institution which has fallen painfully from grace since the end of the last century is facing perhaps its darkest hour. In recent years there has been hope, and, as has been said before, it's the hope that kills you.

The horror of the century's first decade might have passed for the once-mighty Blues, but its painfully earned drafting opportunities haven't brought the anticipated transfiguration. Now the club appears to be back at square one.

The trio of No. 1 draft picks from the age of darkness are simultaneously facing uncertainty: Bryce Gibbs questioning his future, Matthew Kreuzer again seriously injured, and Marc Murphy struggling with the game's rigours against taller, heavier, stronger midfielders. Other high picks Andrew Walker and Chris Yarran have tended to be more icing than cake.


Carlton has 13 players originally drafted at No. 12 or higher, six of whom were selected by other clubs and taken by the Blues in trades. By comparison, Hawthorn has seven top-12 selections, including three trades. Geelong has five top-twelves with two trades.

No wonder Carlton fans are frustrated. The relativity is damning. To find itself a middling club, possibly trending south, is an awful reality.

Through the dark years Carlton has moved on three coaches and now there is impatience about Mick Malthouse. Yet Malthouse, like Parkin on his second coming, shouldn't be held responsible for what was in the cupboard when he took over.

Coincidentally, both men were three-club, three-premiership coaching veterans when they arrived. The difference is that Parkin was 48. A premiership took five seasons and ultimately he would spend a decade in the job.

Malthouse, by comparison, already is the oldest premiership coach in VFL/AFL history, an accolade achieved four seasons ago. He may have five years in him at Carlton, but even that is to defy gravity. With George Clooney and Sandra Bullock sitting alongside him he would struggle to repeat his decade-long stints at West Coast and Collingwood.

The Blues have now won six of their last 18 games. Their only 2013 wins over subsequent finalists were against Port Adelaide and Richmond, and already this season those results have been reversed.

As has Carlton's recent ascendancy over Essendon. From late in 2010 until the end of 2012 Carlton won four out of six against the Bombers by margins above 10 goals. One of the other two games was drawn. Essendon's only win, in early 2012, came as such a surprise it reportedly had the Blues asking questions about what might be going on in the murky world of “player conditioning”.

Last year, though, the Bombers twice turned the tables. And based on the first three weeks of this season the respective team graphs are diverging fast. That it would now be the Bombers dishing out the nasty medicine is a dramatic reversal of fortune and distasteful reality.

People have questioned Malthouse's influence as coach. Until recently he had the team playing high-energy, earnest football – so much so I'd wondered whether they could keep it up. In the first half of last season they lost six games by a total of just 67 points. But in the first three rounds of Mick's second season they've suffered two defeats of significant magnitude.

And that is perhaps the scariest part for Blues' fans because, for all Malthouse's proven wherewithal, his team is regressing on the scoreboard. Yesterday it hit rock bottom.

Certainly the return of Judd in the next week or two will raise the output, but he turns 31 in September and doesn't see himself as a Craig Bradley or Dustin Fletcher. The Judd-factor is now for the short term.

Which means another attempt by Carlton to build a revival on one man's back almost certainly will have failed to take the club to glory. There has been too much hope invested in this dated method.

Since Ron Barassi transformed the place, there has been a string of new messiahs. But one-man revival bands are false gods. Glitzy extensions and renovations are no longer the way of modern football. Serious rebuilding, overseen by panels of experts, has become the way of the modern game.

Carlton must face the harsh realities and build slowly, and patiently, towards the summit. Otherwise, the excruciating pain of Saturday will only be repeated.


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