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Is Mick Malthouse the man to rebuild the Blues?

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Have Carlton improved under Malthouse?

After a humiliating 81-point defeat to rivals Essendon, just where are Carlton and its coach Mick Malthouse headed? Rohan Connolly reports.

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A couple of former prime ministers have had bold declarations come back to haunt them. Bob Hawke's line about no child living in poverty and Julia Gillard's insistence about no carbon tax will continue to haunt them.

And right now a feted football coach probably knows how they feel. The following is what Mick Malthouse told Carlton supporters less than 14 months ago in a program for the Blues' second intra-club practice match under his command:

"'I want a healthy side, a good game plan and an attitude of 'we are hungry enough'. Take those ingredients, along with the stars and planets aligning, and we may very well have the makings of a premiership side."

Yep, that's the Blues he's talking about. The same side which now sits 15th 0-3 and on Sunday night at the MCG was humiliated to the tune of 81 points against a bitter rival, looking barely competitive from the first moments.

To put it in context, that's Carlton's worst losing margin for nearly seven years. It's been 142 games since the Blues were beaten by more – round 21 2007 against North Melbourne – to be precise, just weeks after they'd dispensed with their last so-called coaching saviour Denis Pagan.

This latest search for a coaching messiah hasn't yet reached the depths the Blues did in the early to mid-2000s, but it sure isn't going to plan. So much so that even a coach as confident in his methods as Malthouse continues to be taken aback by how things are working out.

Certainly, the extent to which he has changed his tune since those comments about potential flags has been remarkable.

Malthouse recently met the Carlton board and reportedly told them the list wasn't nearly good enough, that a top-four team needed eight A-grade players, but the Blues had five (not including Chris Judd, who he felt was too near the end to factor into a discussion about the longer-term future) and few B-graders capable of making the jump to the next bracket.

To be brutally frank, can Carlton even claim to have five A-graders right now? Skipper Marc Murphy at his best, sure; but then who? Even Lachie Henderson, as valuable as he's been at either end of the ground, hasn't yet earned an All-Australian nomination.

The gameplan is a big issue. It's stodgy, the Blues having seemingly forsaken much of their flair for what was supposed to be more dependability. Change it? Well, Malthouse says he already has. Midway through last season, in fact.

After another big win in round 10 of 2013 against GWS, Carlton's sixth from seven games, Malthouse said: "We've started to cut off bits and pieces that I had, and cut off bits and pieces that I perhaps didn't like ... and what's happened is that we've got a game structure that [now] meets the criteria. And as long as we don't stray from it now we can be a good football side."

It goes without saying if the Blues have strayed from it, the message isn't getting through.

But if they haven't? Well, since that moment, Carlton has won just six of 17 games, a strike rate of 35 per cent.

We continue to ask: has Carlton improved under Malthouse? And few now could realistically argue that the answer is yes. Certainly not in the most tangible ways.

Under Brett Ratten in 2012, Carlton scored an average 94.5 points a game. Under Malthouse last year, that went up by just two points, and after three games this season the average is 76.6. But was defence supposed to be the biggest improvement? The figures there are even starker.

In 2012 under Ratten, the Blues conceded 87.5 points a game. Last year, that crept up to 90.5 a game. And right now, after Sunday night's belting, they're conceding 118.7, the second-worst defensive record in the competition.

Carlton's free kick into last year's finals then its stunning elimination final win over Richmond has proved a potentially damaging mirage. This list patently isn't good enough.

But if Malthouse is now committed to rebuilding, why haven't the younger players on the list been played more?

Dylan Buckley, Troy Menzel, Nick Graham have all shown plenty of ability. Buckley is now in his third season with the Blues, and the other two their second. But all up the trio has played just 15 games.

You can't continue to talk about talent coming through without being prepared to actually have it out on the park and see what difference it makes. Carlton has been doing that for some time now, even before Malthouse's arrival. And that's another area in which little seems to have changed since.

Mixed messages have been the recurring theme over the past 18 months: in recruiting, at selection, and in the brand of football the Blues have been playing. Does Carlton itself even know just where it is at?

Sunday night's belting may have helped provide an answer. But it leads to an even more problematic question. Is the coach Carlton picked to take it the next step up the ladder still the same man it wants to oversee another climb from closer to the bottom? Because that, clearly, isn't the job Malthouse was hired to do.

32 comments

  • Brett Ratten must watch Carlton now and either laugh or cry. Malthouse was brought in to win a premiership - Kernahan said so at the time. Now they have to rebuild the list? Who made the judgement in 2012 that all they needed was an experienced coach?

    Commenter
    Stephen
    Date and time
    April 07, 2014, 5:53PM
    • And history never repeats....remember how we were sold "pagan's paddock"...

      Commenter
      Melb_bourne
      Date and time
      April 07, 2014, 7:09PM
    • I've supported the Blues since the Moscow Olympics, a very long .... time.

      Here are some home truths.

      -Marc Murphy should not be captain, he's talented, sure, but theres no charisma, theres no anger, theres clearly no fear coming from his troupe. A good captain needs to be a bit of a little unhinged, as well as a talented strategist.

      -Mick Malthouse? God help me, I'd better just shut up now.

      -When you get rid of ...bag's like Hampson, you don't replace them with other ....bag's like Daisy. Carlton shouldn't have a revolving door policy for ...bags.

      -Sticks, we love ya. See above comment.

      -Players like Gibbs, who think they're 'too big to fail' i.e. told to sayonara, should be told to sayonara. No-ones bigger than the Club. Note again to Sticks.

      -Redundancy letters should go out to: Judd (with honours), Jamison, Bell, Walker, White, Warnock, Waite. Scorched Earth policy.

      And thats just for starters.

      Commenter
      BBagger
      Date and time
      April 07, 2014, 7:24PM
    • The Board sacked Ratten. Now it's time for the Board to be sacked by the members for incompetence. Every member I speak too has for years been complaining about our woeful recruitment.

      Commenter
      Ken
      Date and time
      April 07, 2014, 7:26PM
    • Ratts doesn't watch Carlton. He's an assistant coach at Hawthorn with his name on the coaching staff of last year's premiership team. I almost followed him, but my wife is Hawthorn & we both dont need that level of stress.
      I wish this board and this coach nothing but failure and humiliation after what they did to #7... unfortunately that means I'll be wanting my team to lose. But then again, are they really 'my' team? They certainly dont give a RATTS about club loyalty. Why should I?

      Commenter
      Laughin
      Date and time
      April 07, 2014, 7:45PM
  • Shame about attacking Labor. John Howard promised no GST and Abbott's party is back flipping like a circus troupe on many issues.

    However, I digress. Carlton is woeful. Don't argue with me. They will finish in the bottom six and Malthouse will leave next year, perhaps during the season. No point in talking about rebuilding. This IS our rebuilt list. We've 'rebuilt' under at least four coaches since our last GF appearance in 1999. It won't get any better. There is a culture of losing at Carlton. When do we win three, four games in a row? Or beat top four sides?

    The cancer set in back in 1999 when we should have been out of the finals in our elimination loss, not playing in the GF. Since then we have achieved nothing of note. Finishing eighth or seventh with eleven wins in a season only highlights the AFL's 'top eight' that is there to make money from finals, not as a yard stick for success. Generally, only top four teams win flags.

    I write what I have as a 25 year Carlton member. I've seen the highs, now I'm living the lows. The future looks dark for the old navy Blues.

    Commenter
    Feeling Blue
    Location
    Melboune
    Date and time
    April 07, 2014, 5:57PM
    • Great assessment! Even one of the greatest players and coaches of all time, a winner of 8 flags with 3 different clubs suggested on Saturday that the Blues had gone backwards! All the hype about getting Mick from Collingwoodand trying to get Cloke and then Daisy has a familiar ring to it....Tigers and Pies of the early eighties. Carlton and their supporters are the big losers. It took Mick 11 years to win a flag at Collingwood....doubt the Blues will put up with that. Great article.

      Commenter
      number7
      Date and time
      April 07, 2014, 6:04PM
      • I agree - very good article. I also think that Mick believed that, if he won a premiership at collingwood before the agreed succession plan kicked in, they would hold off Buckley and keep him at the helm. Surprisingly, Eddie and the board effectively stuck to the plan and rolled him out and rolled in Buckley. But I think Collingwood under Mick had one more premiership in them and Buckley won't get them over the line.

        Carlton needs an overhaul of the list- but as has been said, Carlton (and probably Mick) don't really want to roll out a 7 year plan now.

        By the way, I do not support Collingwood or Carlton.

        Commenter
        deeeem
        Location
        melb
        Date and time
        April 07, 2014, 6:36PM
    • So two weeks ago, they were coming to eleven o'clock on Mick's premiership clock. Now the board is told that the list isn't good enough. Welcome to the world of "Malthouse crap" Carlton. The bloke was employed to put the icing on the Ratten cake and deliver the premiership. He obviously talked up the list when he got the gig. We can now see where this is heading - a contract extension for Mick to facilitate the rebuild.

      Mick Malthouse is only coaching for two reasons:

      1. To stick it up Collingwood and Eddie Maguire; and
      2. To break Jock McHale's coaching record.

      Did you not notice that he was the oldest premiership coach ever when he finally won it in 2010 after 12 years at a very well resourced club? Did you not notice how disgraceful his coaching was in his final game at Collingwood, the 2011 grand final? Did you not notice the appalling way in which he treated his successor at Collingwood, an arrangement that he agreed to? Did you not notice he has never acknowledged the man (Nathan Buckley) that came up with the forward press that won Collingwood the 2010 grand final? Did you not notice that he joined Carlton but immediately went on a book tour for his daughter instead of getting involved in the 2012 draft? Did you not notice that he recruited Dale Thomas on a $700k per annum contract - a ludicrous amount given his recent injury history?

      You replaced a capable coach with one that is not that good. It will be interesting to see how discussions around contract extensions go. Carlton is known for its ruthlessness and I expect some on the board will see right through Mick.

      Commenter
      Brendan
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      April 07, 2014, 6:06PM
      • @ Brendan - MM is hardly going to credit Ross Lyon for inventing the press that got the Pies improved upon for the 2010 GF win now is he?

        Commenter
        GKB
        Location
        here
        Date and time
        April 07, 2014, 6:19PM

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