The more things change, the more some things stay the same.
This was supposed to be the season where the Blues would come with a bolt and jump into finals contention. Instead, it would seem that we have all seen this narrative before. Two wins four losses after six rounds, the latest to the Brisbane Lions on Saturday after a second quarter capitulation which allowed the Lions to slam on eight goals and put the game to bed by half time.
The heat is rising at Princes Park.
The natives are getting restless and the excuses and in particular, the same lines trotted out at the post-game press conferences are starting to wear thin.
Not just to the rusted-on supporters and over 80,000 plus Carlton members but everyone who likes Australian Rules football and has been waiting for years for this once mighty club to put their flag in the ground and stand for something again.
Staunch Carlton man and veteran broadcaster Andy Maher said on radio this past week that he fears that for all the good Carlton is doing off the field, their inability to keep pace on the field will hold them back.
“The fear with a team like Carlton, they’ve got certain parts of the thing going okay. They’re in good hands with list management and recruiting, they’re in good hands with their front office, they’ve got their membership humming, corporate support humming, they’ve got the development of Princes Park coming along beautifully,” Maher said on SEN radio last week.
“They’re going to have a state-of-the-art facility in 18 months that will be the envy of a lot of professional clubs around Australia.
“They’ve got a lot of things going well, but what the fear is, is are they going to get everything right at the same time? And then means in the next 12 to 24 months for this part of the Carlton operation.”
Injuries are certainly playing a role in the current predicament and with 11-12 players, most of them, first choice on the injury list, selection is hamstrung at the minute.
Every club has injuries and major injuries, which can’t be used as an excuse. By the way, Carlton has built their list since the start of the “rebuild” the list is loaded with elite young talent. More than enough to suggest that despite the spate of injuries, finding depth in the list should not be an issue at this football club
Ten first-round draft picks took the field for Carlton yesterday while another four took their place in the reserves earlier in the day. Matthew Kennedy, another first-round draft pick was the medical sub and didn’t see any game time on the day.
With Carlton staring down the barrel of another wasted season and with big tests against Essendon, the Western Bulldogs, and Melbourne looming in the next three weeks, Teague’s decisions and levers to pull at the selection table need to be with his head over his heart.
Fan favourite Eddie Betts is in his farewell season and is a close ally and friend of David Teague. In four games this season Eddie Betts has kicked two goals eight behinds, and just six goal assists.
As a football community, we have spent years upon years marvelling at what he can’t do but right now, it’s what he can’t do which is hurting his football team and leaving the coach with a conundrum he is desperately trying to avoid.
It’s the same scenario with Levi Casboult. He burly forward played every game last season and has started every game so far to start this season. Unlike 2020, this season and is, according to AFL StatsPro, Casboult is having his worst start to a year in his career to date. In the selected team to take contested marks and be that secondary target in the forward 50 and relief ruck, Casboult has taken only five contested marks across six games this season for three goals.
Casboult took zero marks on the weekend against Brisbane.
Jack Newnes is another one who could find himself very much in the gun at the selection table this week. Another one who has played every game since crossing to Carlton and since Teague has taken over full time, Newnes’ spot in the 22 has never really been under any threat of losing his position. Ditto Lachie Plowman and other senior players Ed Curnow and Marc Murphy.
Granted, Murphy and Curnow were among Carlton’s best performers against the Lions but if Carlton is looking to properly make ground this season, it needs its younger players and depth to ensure that none of the four listed above are walk-up starts every week.
The Western Bulldogs for comparison, are six and zero and flying on top of the ladder and still made five changes to their lineup on the weekend just gone. Only one of those changes was forced through injury as coach Luke Beveridge demands the best and excellence from his whole list, senior players included to earn their spot in the selected AFL 22 each week.
It’s the ruthlessness and courage that Teague had as a player and now seems to be missing as a coach. Can he make the tough call and drop an under-performing senior player, or by the club stating their intentions pre-season tied his hands?
Either way, the next month will be telling to see if Teague can remove loyalty from the job at hand to meet the expectations of the club and all its members and supporters.