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Deep, dark, navy Blues

Date

Rohan Connolly

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FOUR losses from four NAB Cup games and on Saturday smashed by 64 points, and held scoreless for the entire second half against the Brisbane Lions. At face value, it's been a pretty ordinary pre-season for Carlton.

That's the superficial view, anyway. Very superficial. Even a couple of years ago, it would have been enough to spark a whole new wave of hand-wringing and whispering about Carlton coach Brett Ratten's future.

That it hasn't this time is perhaps a measure of a greater maturity about the different pre-season agendas at play for different clubs. But it's also a comment on the position to which the Blues have meticulously built their list since those dark days of seven or eight years ago.

First came the arrival of a potential saviour in Chris Judd. Then the building around him of a quality midfield spearheaded by some precocious talent in Marc Murphy and Bryce Gibbs, the continued improvement of Kade Simpson, Heath Scotland and Andrew Carrazzo and, more recently, the blooming of Mitch Robinson.

For awhile, it seemed Carlton had deposited nearly all its riches in the centre square while remaining too thin at either end, but then Michael Jamison emerged as a quality key defender and the zippy likes of Eddie Betts and Jeff Garlett began to rack up some goals in attack.

Last year was another significant step forward, not only because Carlton won a final after a couple of near-misses, but because it seemed to get the balance of its best 22 just about right, the recruitment of Nick Duigan and Jeremy Laidler significantly stiffening the back line, Chris Yarran adding plenty of run, and even the untimely loss of Jamison through injury producing an unexpected plus in Lachie Henderson's forced but successful shift from attack to defence.

There was another unexpected bonus when struggling key defender Bret Thornton was shifted forward with surprising effect.

Which is all aptly symbolic of the next step Carlton can take in its bid to return to the top four this season, and why the Blues won't be biting too many fingernails over a March pasting in sunny Maroochydore.

If last season was about structure, this season for Carlton might well be about flexibility. In that regard, the Blues look pretty impressive - and ominous.

That versatility used to be just about Jarrad Waite swinging between attack and defence. Then Andrew Walker joined the club, a one-time midfielder or defender last year combining with Betts and Garlett for more than 150 goals. Now, Carlton seems to have options all over the place in all parts of the ground.

Even conservatively, there are about 20 Carlton players who can be used with effect in a range of positions and on a range of different opponents. Waite, whose first hit-out of the year on Saturday showed encouraging signs, Henderson and Thornton are just the tip of a very large iceberg.

Take the ruck, for example. Matthew Kreuzer looms as an obvious No. 1. But he's also a more than capable key forward option if Robbie Warnock hits his straps at the tap-outs. Ditto Shaun Hampson.

That's handy flexibility. And even handier if, as Carlton football manager Andy McKay points out, the substitute rule does end up going from three interchange and one sub to a 2-2 arrangement, forcing ruckmen to rest up forward rather than risk becoming redundant.

That's not even counting greenhorns such as Levi Casboult, Matthew Watson or Luke Mitchell. "Our list is actually reasonably tall now," says McKay. Indeed, there are only three clubs that average more height across the senior list.

"Three or four of them are young and still developing, and obviously people haven't seen much of them, so they instantly think we need some height down back and up forward, but I think that perception is changing now."

It's at least moved on from that obsession only a couple of seasons ago with the "three amigos" of Betts, Garlett and Yarran.

But Carlton's impressive flexibility isn't only about height.

Carrazzo and Robinson can play either as midfielders or defensive forwards. Aaron Joseph as a midfield tagger or an old-fashioned, negating back pocket. Gibbs has proved equally adept midfield or as a defensive sweeper. Murphy can go forward as well as rack up the touches in the pivot.

All of which should make it a lot more possible for Judd - still the key man - to drift forward a bit more, where he's done his share of damage on the few occasions he has been allowed that luxury, as well as give that battered body a breather.

There's even enough cover for the more one-dimensional types. Laidler's loss for the first month or so of the season is a blow, but not a catastrophic one with Paul Bower capable of filling the same role.

Flexibility and versatility will become even more important this year, not only with another looming tightening of the interchange bench, but as clubs look for every possible structural and tactical edge over each other.

On that score, Carlton looks well-placed regardless of what its score in the NAB Cup may suggest.

Follow Rohan Connolly on Twitter @rohan_connolly

28 comments

  • They are also flexible about payments. In addition to payments from the club, Judd gets payments from Visy (remember the company whose chief signed an affidavit confessing to a range of price fixing and market maniuplation offences?) that are not included in the salary cap under a one off deal with the AFL that no other club gets. Now THATS flexible

    Commenter
    hey
    Date and time
    March 12, 2012, 8:27AM
    • I would still consider Carlton a bit weak at the bookends. Jamison cannot seem to stay on the park and a key marking target up forward has yet to come to fruition. It is Carlton's pace that has it ahead of opposition and it's abiltiy to move the ball quickly.

      Commenter
      Guru Josh
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      March 12, 2012, 9:16AM
      • Hi Josh,

        Fair enough points. Jamison's availability is obviously going to have a big say in how they hold up defensively. As you say, pace is a big asset for them, and they do have a cracking midfield.

        Commenter
        Rohan Connolly
        Date and time
        March 12, 2012, 10:17AM
    • Soft draw, soft players, soft club, with nowhere near the supporter base claimed by them and the media. 10 million in debt but still allowed to spend outrageous amounts of money as well as cry to the governments for our tax money, what a farce, no other club would be allowed to do this by any sporting governing body anywhere else in the world and the afl and media wonder why supporters from all clubs are always calling them corrupt!
      If Nth were 10 million in debt how quick would the afl get rid of them, but the media can never see a conflict of interest or corruption when it's carltank or essendon or collywobbles or richmond.

      It is a fact the bias bunch in the media protect this criminal afl commission are brought and paid for, no body who doesn't have an "afl journo licence" can comment on the afl!
      What is that called again, when you own and control everybody who makes a comment on or about your origination?
      And it is only getting more omnipotent, which can only be good for the game, can't it!

      Commenter
      Rossco
      Date and time
      March 12, 2012, 9:54AM
      • Rossco, plenty of us have time for the other clubs. If you missed it, we went into bat pretty solidly for North Melbourne in The Sunday Age yesterday.

        Commenter
        Rohan Connolly
        Date and time
        March 12, 2012, 10:27AM
    • It's hard to judge on NAB cup form as some teams take it a lot more seriously than others. To me Carlton is playing like a team that expects to win rather than a team that is hungry to go and get a win. Whether that will continue in the regular season is anyone's guess.

      Commenter
      Aaron
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      March 12, 2012, 10:12AM
      • Aaron, a lot of guesswork goes on in March! I reckon it usually takes five to six rounds at least to begin to sort the wheat from the chaff!

        Commenter
        Rohan Connolly
        Date and time
        March 12, 2012, 10:19AM
    • I just think you're only as good as your last season, and the Blues beat no one above them for the whole season - had a soft middle part of the year (with their draw) and a brilliant run with injuries. I hear the Blue faithful cry out in horror (what about Jamison, Waite and Kruezer?) - yes, so what? - they all still played over half a season each - but the core playmakers (Judd, Murphy, Scotland, Garlett, Betts, Simpson, Walker, Yarran and Gibbs) - missed just 2 games combined for the season!!! No other club had so many of their A-listers play so many games last year. That will not happen for the Blues in 2012.

      For me - 4th. There are 3 or 4 much better sides out there, and until the Blues start beating them, they aren't a legitimate contender.....time will tell.

      Commenter
      DJCJ
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      March 12, 2012, 11:08AM
      • DJCJ, very good points, and you hit on a hobby horse of mine. For all the science, often the top few teams are so close that it can essentially just come down to luck factor with injuries, draw etc. I dont want to pre-empt our Footy 2012 magazine which comes out on Sunday, but I'm not tipping them to win it. Doesn't mean I don't think they're capable of it, though!

        Commenter
        Rohan Connolly
        Date and time
        March 12, 2012, 1:05PM
    • I'm actually very curious about this Visy deal. Rohan, to the best of your knowledge is Judd paid a retainer by Visy? If so what is exactly is this for officially? Was this sanctioned in a one off arrangement by the AFL? If Martin or Cotchin were given any extra money by Jeep or Bingle I'm sure there would be a lot of noise made about it. Outrageous if true.

      Commenter
      Tiger Tom
      Date and time
      March 12, 2012, 11:21AM

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