Carlton players leave the ground after being beaten by the Western Bulldogs. Photo: Justin McManus
Carlton coach Mick Malthouse has vehemently denied the Blues are rebuilding and dismissed criticism from premiership coach Robert Walls, describing him as a negative person wallowing in ''his own misery''.
Walls, in his column for The Age, said Carlton had stagnated under Malthouse and called on the board to come clean about whether the club had abandoned its plans for short-term flag success in favour of regenerating the list.
When this question was put to Malthouse on Friday, he denied that the introduction of five debutants this season (including Morrish medallist Nick Graham who is picked to play against Richmond on Saturday), or forecast changes to the list, amounted to a rebuild.
''How is this a rebuild? We've brought in [Jaryd] Cachia, [Troy] Menzel, [Sam] Rowe, who would have come in earlier had he not had cancer, and Graham. I hardly suspect that is what you call a rebuild. That is just bringing in players who are in form and they take over from players who are not in form or injured. You use this word, rebuild. Every side builds on a yearly basis to be better. Sydney built their side this year on the basis of being better than last year, the premiers … West Coast have just had two retirees. Is that a rebuild? No, it's just natural attrition.
''We will make changes like every other club,'' Malthouse added. ''I'll make a bet now that we are far from the most picks in the draft. Other clubs will go deeper than us … How far we cut depends on how well we go for the rest of this year.''
Malthouse said he had taken a gentle approach to correcting the deficiencies exposed in last weekend's dispiriting defeat to the Western Bulldogs - ''we don't whack people in here'' - before taking a whack at Walls. ''I am so used to Robbie Walls being a critic. Fair dinkum, I've had Robbie Walls for - how long have I coached? - long enough to know that he is a very negative person so I take absolutely nothing in what Robert says. He lives in his own misery and so be it.''
The Blues are on nine wins and 10 losses with three games remaining. Their best hope of finals action, however remote, is to finish ninth and be on standby if Essendon is ejected by the AFL Commission.
On that topic, Malthouse, alone among coaches and officials from rival clubs, has been outspoken in his view that the league must not go soft on the Bombers. However, he clammed up on Friday except to say he had no regrets about airing his views, including fears that the supplements scandal could turn the finals into a shambles.
Malthouse also leapt to the defence of captain Marc Murphy after Walls claimed Carlton had made the handover from Chris Judd one year too soon. ''It's a learning process for him as much as anyone because he has come out of the shadows of a very, very talented, domineering player, one of the greats of the AFL,'' he said, reminding critics that Murphy had come off a short pre-season because of surgery. ''Murphy is made for captaincy but it will take some time, it's a learning process.''
Judd said this week he had not given up on returning from a knee injury, and would play on in 2014. Even so, Malthouse said, the dual Brownlow medallist could not be the explosive, magnetic figure he once was.
''Chris Judd is not Benjamin Button. The role he played in this organisation was to draw people to him, opposition players, and that allows others to escape a lot of scrutiny.''