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.PT3M34S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-368fn 620 349 April 7, 2014
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.