The Blues board has backed itself into the position where, having insisted they will not announce the findings of the review until after the season, they cannot climb down from that stance now. Not unless they believe that performances like Saturday’s, when Carlton led by 23 points and lost by 95, are doing more harm than good to the group and to the people who are working with Damocles’ sword over them. The suspicion is the board will hold their nerve, hold their nose through next week, and get through one more game.
This was a big loss that had a lot to do with uncertainty at the club. It also had a lot to do with it being one of the weakest sides Carlton has fielded in some time with no Patrick Cripps, Harry McKay, Jack Martin, Zac Williams, Liam Jones or Jack Silvagni. But the way they lost was very familiar.
Carlton being unable to stop runs of scores, lacking a defensive system to combat high-pressure teams coming at them, is not a new problem and is one that will no doubt be central to the findings of the review. In that sense the size of the loss on Saturday will reinforce what the report must have found. Change is needed to a football department and game plan that continues to tolerate these sorts of defensive failings.
In terms of critical players Tom Stewart was, along with Patrick Dangerfield and Joel Selwood, one of the players Geelong would least like to lose. Yes, Selwood still is in that bracket, especially in finals.
Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron are similarly critical but if you lose one, at least the other is there. They don’t have another Stewart, or a player to fill Stewart’s role.
Much will fall to Lachie Henderson and Jack Henry now. Mark Blicavs logically now spends more time back with Zach Guthrie, and when fit after his hamstring injury Zach Tuohy will be required to offer more rebound from defence.
More critically, the Cats have to win territory in the middle of the ground and get the ball forward to their strengths, for they don’t have the comfort of the zone-off intercept marker to redirect their attack. Encouragingly, Dangerfield has been playing as well as he ever has, with 24 contested possessions and the match-winning goal line mark.
Undeterred and undefeated
This is a reminder that the man who will be paid a million dollars to not coach Hawthorn next year remains undefeated with that club since the decision was made to part ways with the four-time premiership coach.
The last two weeks were coaching-led victories by Hawthorn with young, injury-depleted teams.
The way the Hawks have gone, and the way Alastair Clarkson has performed as coach, they may as well have flipped the photos in the boardroom like the scene from David Williamson’s The Club. The message has been just as strong.
Imperfectly perfect season
This would ordinarily be the AFL’s perfect season. But for the absence of crowds, for many home games not even being played in home states, and for the constant fiddling with the fixture, this would be the ideal season.
Melbourne and Geelong play in round 23 to decide top spot. Brisbane remains a chance to finish in the top four. Eighth place is not yet confirmed and the wooden-spooners, North Melbourne, have won four-and-a-half games and been genuinely competitive.
As it stands, Essendon should now make finals. Predictions are fraught this season, but West Coast are long odds to beat Brisbane, and the Bombers should not lose to Collingwood. Making the eight will be an astonishing achievement considering where they were coming from.
No one has been more astonishing than Jake Stringer, who has become one of the most consistently dangerous players in the game. He has always been dangerous, just never consistently dangerous.
He is playing the Dustin Martin role for the Bombers perfectly. The question now is whether he can play the Dustin Martin September, role which is to play the normal Dusty role but even better.