The Blues now need to win their remaining three games to better last year. If they don't do that with a list that's been healthier than last year, who's accountable?
The Carlton board needs to come clean. It needs to let the supporters know in what direction the club is going. Twelve months ago, the president considered the Blues a premiership chance. Now, the CEO and coach are talking about mass changes through delistings and trades. Is a premiership a possibility, or has that plan been scrapped?
The fans have a right to know. And if it is a rebuild, did sacked coach Brett Ratten actually overachieve by getting the team into three finals series with players who are now considered not up to it?
It was exactly 12 months ago that Ratten's Blues hammered the Bombers at the MCG to win by 96 points. It was their 11th win of the season. But it didn't matter. The powers that be at Carlton had made up their minds to sack the coach and replace him with Mick Malthouse.
It suited the Blues board to lose the next week to Gold Coast, because they felt they could justify the job they did on Ratten just days after that loss.
The man who had lifted them from bottom of the ladder to three successive finals series did not have a unified club supporting him, so the final year of his contract was not honoured. So much for standing by your man.
At the time, president Stephen Kernahan stated that "if we are going to strike, we need to do it in the next couple of years, because our best players are running out of time". The fans were told Malthouse would improve the team defensively. Under Ratten, the average score against in 2011 was 78 points. Last year it was 87. This year it is 90. So much for that theory.
The Blues now need to win their remaining three games to better last year. If they don't do that with a list that's been healthier than last year, who's accountable? And please don’t say it takes a year to learn a new coach’s game plan. Professional players and coaches should nut that out over a summer; Ken Hinkley did with Port Adelaide. Carlton has always demanded success. It certainly demanded it of Ratten. Do the same standards apply to Malthouse?
After losing their first three games, the Blues won six of seven to sit 6-4. There was optimism in the camp. The team was crashing in, they were working hard on defence and the little fellows up forward looked dangerous.
But since then, there have been three wins and six losses, and last week's loss to a much younger Western Bulldogs made plenty of Blues supporters cringe. There are questions being asked. And one is, does the coaching panel stack up? Is the leading coaching pairing of Malthouse, who turns 60 on Saturday, and his right-hand man Robert Wiley, at 58, past it?
How good is forwards coach John Barker, having had brief stints at St Kilda and Hawthorn? How much can Brad Green help the Carlton midfielders after spending much of his career as a forward in lowly Melbourne teams? Why was Alan Richardson let go? He is a fine development coach who is now doing a terrific job with Port Adelaide.
Then there's the captain. Was the handover done a year too early? Chris Judd has been the obvious leader at the club since he arrived in 2008. Marc Murphy is a fine player but injuries and criticism have made his first year as skipper tough indeed. First he was exposed as not having enough defence in his game and then his coach put the acid on him about not being able to break tags. That's fine to do privately, but publicly? Some old Carlton players didn't like that. We will never know whether Judd was encouraged to continue on as captain. If he wasn't, he should have been.
Supporters are also sick of hearing Malthouse each week talk up the opposition’s strengths. It’s as if excuses are being put out early.
It's also time the focus went on to the players. Over the past 12 months, which players have improved? There's no doubt Lachie Henderson and Zac Tuohy have continued their development. Kade Simpson and Andrew Walker have had good seasons and Jeff Garlett has been valuable with his nine goals. After that, there are lots of question marks. Matthew Kreuzer was coasting until some external criticism jolted him. Now the Blues have settled on Kreuzer as their No.1 ruckman he has to play with more grunt and purpose. He is into his sixth season and has played more than 100 games. He should never be out of his team’s top five players.
Jarrad Waite continues to frustrate. In the past five seasons he has missed half the games due to injury or suspension. He turns 31 early next year. Time is running out fast. No longer can he be relied on.
Levi Casboult should be played full forward/ruck ahead of Sam Rowe. He is younger, bigger and a much better mark. Where to for Chris Yarran? Back, forward, midfield or out completely? His skills are high but his confidence low. With the CEO and coach forecasting trades and changes at season's end, he probably thinks he is on skid row.
The coach has told the world Bryce Gibbs will definitely not be traded. That's nice for Bryce. Comfortable, too. I've supported Gibbs over the years but, at 24 and with 150 games under the belt, what about some mad-dog urgency? Plenty think he doesn't spend the lot.
Eddie Betts put a $600,000 price tag on his head. Forget it, Eddie. You are losing currency with each game. And it's a shame the skills of Mitch Robinson and Dennis Armfield don't match their grunt. Michael Jamison has chalked up 100 games but he is still a low-possession defender who bombs the ball anywhere.
It appears the coach decided early that Nick Duigan and Jeremy Laidler were not part of his back-line plans. That means Walker, Gibbs and Simpson have had to play back. They would be of real support to a lacklustre, shallow midfield. With Jaryd Cachia and Ed Curnow doing weekly tagging assignments and Armfield often doing a lockdown job, there’s not much creativity in the midfield. Malthouse had success at Collingwood running the ball wide out of defence. That style doesn’t work as well at Carlton, because there are not enough creative mids.
The supporters are keen to see young blood. So far this season, there have been just four debutants. Two of them, Rowe, 25, and Cachia, 22, are mature-age recruits, while Troy Menzel has played just three games and Dylan Buckley got just a few minutes in his only game.
Had the Carlton money men shown more patience and faith and let Ratten coach out his contract, the Blues would have been in a better position going into season 2014. Malthouse would still have been available. Paul Roos is now more likely to coach than he was 12 months ago, and had Ratten taken the team to another finals series, an extension of contract would have had to have been considered.