Pre-season cup a good formguide
Collingwood after the NAB Cup grand final in 2011. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
CARLTON is a favourite target of football ire, much of it based on little other than the club's historical success. But if the Blues are to get a justified whack over the head, it should be for ruining the NAB Cup.
Well, not really. But if the pre-season competition seems to have become, in terms of public perception, less important by the year, those couple of night ''flags'' Carlton won in the middle of last decade have played more than a sizeable part.
Since Carlton won the 2005 pre-season competition and subsequently finished the season proper with a wooden spoon, then in 2007, repeated the March triumph only to finish 15th, there's been little popular regard for the NAB Cup as a regular-season formguide.
Funny, really. Because before then, and particularly since, the pre-season grand final has been a very good indicator of the six months ahead.
And on that score, if you haven't already done your predicted ladder for 2012, and a top eight, here's a tip. Get West Coast and Adelaide in there.
The last four night grand finals have featured eight teams who have all gone on to play a part in September. Most of them a major part. Three have ended up reaching the ''real'' grand final. Five of the eight have at least reached a preliminary final.
Of the 24 teams to have contested the pre-season grand final since the turn of the millennium, no fewer than 19 have gone on to be part of September finals action.
Prior to that Carlton blip, the form line was very consistent. Essendon's 2000 pre-season competition win was merely the first leg of a flag double. The Brisbane Lions were a pre-season grand finalist in 2001, a position from which they launched its famous three-peat. Collingwood made both grand finals in 2003.
And 2004 provided a particularly cogent example of the power of a good pre-season competition performance to launch something far more significant.
St Kilda and Geelong had finished 11th and 12th respectively in 2003, and even when they played off in the then Wizard Cup, no one was expecting much of them between March and September.
Instead, St Kilda would win its first 10 games and go within a kick of reaching the grand final. And Geelong came within nine points of preventing the colossus that was the Lions from reaching a fourth grand final in a row.
We've become more accustomed in recent years to the vastly different agendas that can drive clubs' NAB Cup campaigns, with Carlton and Geelong this year's most obvious examples of the lower priority philosophy.
Not that a few big boys (Geelong in 2009, Collingwood last year, and now West Coast) have minded turning it on in March as well.
Then there's the surprises. Essendon needed to make an early statement last year after an appalling and demoralising finish to 2010. It did so by reaching the night grand final against Collingwood and launching into the season proper with five wins and a draw from its first eight games, the buffer that eventually landed it a spot in the eight.
It looks like Adelaide, under new coach Brenton Sanderson, is this year's version of the Dons. The Crows, too, had a stinker last year, ending up with a tribe of underperforming and stale-looking players, most of whom appear to have been buoyed by a change of mentor and a fresh approach both on the track and on game day.
Read into that what you will when they take on the Eagles at AAMI Stadium on Saturday night. But forget all about the Carlton aberration of a few years ago. And think instead of Adelaide as a very serious finals prospect six months from now. While popular opinion mightn't be on the Crows' side in that regard, recent history certainly is.
Follow Rohan Connolly on Twitter @rohan_connolly