Eyes on the ball: Jeff Garlett at training on Friday. Photo: Getty Images
Banished to the reserves last week for an off-field misdemeanour, speedy forward Jeff Garlett will return against Port Adelaide on Saturday with the Blues' finals "destiny" still in their own hands.
Garlett, the Blues' leading goalkicker this season, was sidelined a fortnight ago with a sore glute but was still expected to attend the round-21 clash against Richmond. But he was a no-show.
Ahead of Carlton's departure for Adelaide on Friday, coach Mick Malthouse said Garlett, having recovered from his injury, was then made to return through the VFL last weekend to prove "he is back in touch with reality".
"He went back and played a very significant game," Malthouse said.
The Blues, no doubt, had wished he instead could have played a significant role in what was to prove a loss to an emotional Essendon.
"The facts are out there and they're right that it was a disciplinary issue. I never ever let the tail wag the dog," Malthouse said.
"So it was a recommendation from the playing group, from the leaders that they spoke about the issue. We had already spoken about it as a match committee and our best advice to the playing group and to Jeff was that he played in the reserves and proves that he is back in touch with reality.
"He went back and played a very significant game.
"I'm not about to go through the pros and cons of what did take place – let's just leave it at that. He's a very valued person, a very valued player. The playing group were very aware of it and it's been resolved."
While Carlton's primary aim against the Power at AAMI Stadium will be to win, and take Essendon's spot in the finals, there is also more at stake.
The decision by the AFL Commission to ban the Bombers from this year's finals campaign as part of their punishment for a shambolic supplements program has elevated the Blues into eighth spot, but they must defeat the Power if they are to hold on to that.
If the Blues lose the twilight clash, Brisbane Lions, North Melbourne, Adelaide and even West Coast can leap into September.
The Blues sit eight points behind the Power and would not be playing in the finals had it not been for the AFL Commission. Now, the players must feel and act like they belong. Asked if he felt the Blues belonged in the top eight, Malthouse was quick to the point.
"I don't make the rules," he said. "We are in a different type of year than we have been in the past. Nonetheless, when they [AFL] – being the rule-maker – say that's your final eight, and you happen to be in it, then you are in the finals."
As Malthouse observed, the clash against the Power is a "mini-final". And it's in games like these where he and his selection committee really judge the players. He has embraced this ethos through his distinguished coaching career.
Malthouse dismissed suggestions some players would be fighting for their careers against the Power, as the Blues are expected to make deep cuts to their list as soon as their season is over. But as they are playing a top-eight side, it's clear what is on the line.
"They are not going to be judged on one game, albeit I do value the big stage," Malthouse said.
"If there is a regular repeat offender, who can't measure up, logic says you have to make a pretty firm decision on that.
"This might be one of many. But this is a mini-final for us, of course it is, and we will be judging players, but not on one game. I like to judge it on who played well against top sides this year.
"We have a capacity to do that because we know who we have played, we keep their votes. We keep an assessment of those players."
The Blues have made four changes, including axing Nick Duigan and Aaron Joseph, two players unlikely to be at the club next season. Andrew Walker, David Ellard, Matthew Kreuzer and Garlett return.