We have the game covered.

Blues would be bonkers to get rid of Brendon Bolton


Carlton coach Brendon Bolton rallies the troops during last Saturday’s 57-point defeat against Fremantle at Etihad Stadium. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Blues would be bonkers to get rid of Brendon Bolton

Rohan Connolly    

We focus a lot these days on the evenness of the AFL competition, and to an extent it’s true. Richmond won a premiership last year after not having even made finals the season before. The Western Bulldogs climbed from 14th to a flag in just two seasons.

But not every case is the same. And for a club like Carlton, the simplistic belief that anyone can do similarly has made life, particularly for coach Brendon Bolton, even tougher.

It’s fair to say the natives are increasingly restless at Princes Park, and you can understand why after an insipid and goalless first half at home against Fremantle last Saturday.

Blues fans have been asked to show more patience than any set of supporters in the competition, and largely, have done so, an achievement of sorts in itself given the weight of expectation that hovered over a traditionally successful club for so long.

The KPIs for Carlton have lowered significantly over the past 15 or so years, to the point where barely a Blues fan wouldn’t have considered last season an improvement on 2016 even despite the fact their team won one less game.

Rightly so, too, given Carlton was able to at least largely remain competitive, 11 of its 16 losses by 30 points or less, and via the emergence of a clutch of talented youngsters, five of whom won Rising Star nominations, engendering some genuine hope among the fan base.

That was optimism which, for now at least, appears to have been extinguished under the weight of a series of lack-lustre efforts, the Fremantle thrashing following similar spiritless beltings at the hands of North Melbourne and Melbourne earlier in the season.

Effort is supposed to be a non-negotiable in AFL football, even when the talent isn’t sufficient, and Carlton palpably lacked it in the first half against the Dockers, Freo scoring several of their dozen first-half goals against remarkably little opposition.

It looked hideous. And the predictable upshot has been the questioning of the Blues’ entire rebuilding strategy and, perhaps for the first time in his third season at the helm, the coach.

That’s par for the course with any club struggling and continuing to lose these days, and a burden which, were it not for St Kilda’s big last quarter up on the Gold Coast, Bolton would be sharing this week with his coaching rival Alan Richardson. But it doesn’t make holding the fort any easier.

When Luke Beveridge took over the Western Bulldogs, he picked up a team which had won seven and eight games the two previous years and had a core of developing players all with some senior football under their belts. Richmond, meanwhile, had made finals three years in a row under Damien Hardwick before the annus horribilis which was 2016.

No recent coach has inherited the extent of rubble Bolton did at the end of 2015, so much that 42 players, an entire senior list’s worth, has been turned over in just three pre-season since he began in the job. And in many ways, Bolton is still paying the price.

Several years in a row of unsuccessful drafting left Carlton with a big gap in the age group which should now be providing most of the on-field leadership. Incoming list manager Stephen Silvagni has attempted to fill it with a band of ring-ins from other clubs, mainly his old stamping ground Greater Western Sydney.

Some, like Caleb Marchbank, have done it well. More have proved to be merely gap-fillers until Carlton can draft or trade-in sufficiently talented longer-term replacements.

Bolton has attempted to bring together a large group not only of talented kids, but senior players who have grown up largely in an unsuccessful culture, combined with “second-chancers” and willing but limited role players.

Whatever youthful promise there is on the Carlton list, given those qualifications, it remains an extremely fragile entity. Setbacks like injuries which for clubs that had laid stronger foundations years earlier would be merely obstacles, are for the Blues fatal wounds.

The top four in Carlton’s best and fairest last year read Marc Murphy, Sam Docherty, Matthew Kreuzer and Bryce Gibbs. The latter is now at Adelaide, Docherty is out for the season, Murphy has played just four games, and Kreuzer is struggling for form.

The bottom line remains that while in an era of generally smarter list and recruiting decisions, when most of what we still call “rebuilds” are more honestly merely “top-ups” or “makeovers”, what Carlton is attempting really is genuinely starting from scratch.

And from that base, to achieving a premiership, is a process which took even a bona fide success story in Geelong around seven years.

Football being the fickle, impatient business it is, and the vultures circling ever more hungrily over the softer targets, perhaps Bolton may have tried to expedite the process a little too quickly this year.

The Blues have attempted to trade in a little of last year’s ultra-defensiveness for a little more attack, the result being that they’re being blown away more frequently without any obvious gain offensively.

Carlton this season is attempting to play on more. But lacking the skills to hit targets frequently enough, it consistently turns the ball over, then can’t regroup quickly enough to get organised defensively, the Blues having a higher percentage of those turnovers scored from than any other side.

But would a tweak here or there, a different game plan or different coach, even Alastair Clarkson, be achieving that much more right now with the same group? I very much doubt it.

None of which is much comfort for long-suffering Carlton fans of course. But the absolute worst thing anyone associated with the club, be it officials or supporters, could do at the moment is to join the lynch mob after another coach’s head in the misguided belief their club is yet capable of what the Tigers and Bulldogs have done.

The Blues have already gone down that path to enormous cost twice in the largely miserable last couple of decades. Staying the course carefully set these past few years might be getting more frustrating, but it won’t kill the club. Whereas a vain and delusional search for a quicker fix actually just might.

*This article first appeared at SPORTING NEWS.

365 Shares

Leave a Reply

*