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Carlton's issues run deeper than poor skills

What went wrong? Carlton players after losing to the Greater Western Sydney Giants on Sunday.

What went wrong? Carlton players after losing to the Greater Western Sydney Giants on Sunday. Photo: Getty Images

COMMENT

Relatively content after a fortnight of encouraging performances, but not wins, against Geelong and Hawthorn, Carlton coach Mick Malthouse said on Friday the Blues were playing their best football in the 18 months since he joined the club.

That argument had merit, for Chris Judd was back, Bryce Gibbs was having a strong year after learning to assert himself in more contests, Levi Casboult was on the march, Dale Thomas had started to find his groove and Sam Rowe had emerged as a key defender.

But 48 hours later, and angered by a sobering eight-point loss to Greater Western Sydney, Malthouse gave one of the more damning assessments a coach can give.

"Unfortunately, when we needed things to take place on the ground, they weren't taking place, and that gets down to people taking charge," he said.

"The players need to take charge and be responsible for set-ups, the ability to will yourself to win a game. The players that willed the victory, unfortunately for us, were all Greater Western Sydney players. We had no one there that stood up and took control."

So much for the Blues enjoying their best form in 18 months.

While he may also have bemoaned a lack of skill and decision-making - the Blues have had the second-worst defence in the past four rounds and conceded the second-most points from turnovers - that Malthouse took aim at his players' competitiveness, even heart, suggests there are more underlying issues than recruiting and development.

It also shows the magnitude of Malthouse's frustration, for he has traditionally been able to extract maximum effort from any team he has led.

It's no excuse that skipper Marc Murphy (hamstring tightness) pulled out during the warm-ups on Sunday, leaving the side without its best player and key leader.

Malthouse suggested last year that the Blues had forgotten what it took to be a ferocious, consistent side. That's undoubtedly the case this season, with unnerving losses to Melbourne, the Brisbane Lions, Richmond and the Giants.

Clearly, Malthouse is fighting a mental battle with this side, particularly the senior players who are expected to take charge.

"We have got to figure out what's going wrong and, hopefully, we are all in this together,'' Thomas said on Monday. "Hopefully we can come out on the other side better for it.''

Malthouse also said last week the Blues would not make as many as the 10 changes it made after last season. That remains debatable, but it's clear the Blues are hurting from their poor draft hauls in 2009 and 2010 -  talent that, by now, should be the backbone of the side.

This, arguably, is the club's biggest problem, and the one that has sparked great consternation and led to changes in the recruiting department and even an audacious bid by new president Mark LoGiudice to poach Hawthorn's list and recruiting manager, Graham Wright.

Carlton's top draft selections in 2009 were the speedy Kane Lucas, taken 12th overall, midfielder-defender Marcus Davies (43) and half-forward Rohan Kerr (59).

Only Lucas remains, and he has managed just five matches this season, and none since round seven. He is every chance to not be around next season.

In 2010, and with the Blues looking to improve their spine, prospective key defenders Matthew Watson (18) and Patrick McCarthy (34) and key forward Luke Mitchell (42) came on board.

Only Watson remains, and he seemed extremely uncomfortable in his two senior games this season. He, too, may not be back.

In 2011, Josh Bootsma, another key defensive prospect, was taken by the Blues with their first pick (22). He was recently sacked because of off-field issues without playing a senior game this season. Although Sam Rowe (44) appears to be a good find.

That's a dispiriting record and one a club desperate, as Malthouse says, to regain its "identity" of an on-field power cannot afford.

In Carlton's favour, Malthouse knows how to rebuild teams, and the drafting last year of midfielder Patrick Cripps (returning soon from a broken leg) and trades for Sam Docherty, Andrejs Everitt and Thomas have been a success, although Thomas' price tag was questionable.

They will have more room in the salary cap this season, particularly if Judd retires. Should the Blues make a bold pitch for Fremantle's Nat Fyfe?

In the short term, Carlton has the chance to show its pride in the guernsey against Collingwood on Sunday night. If the Blues cannot do that against their arch-rival, and during prime-time on TV, then LoGiudice's declared ambition of returning the club to its glory days is further away than he hopes, particularly with Greater Western Sydney and Gold Coast on their way towards what appears to be a dominant era.

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