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RoCo’s Wrap: The honeymoon is over, baby

Black night: Carlton leaves Blundstone Arena after its 86-point thrashing at the hands of North Melbourne on Saturday night. Photo: AFL MEDIA

RoCo’s Wrap: The honeymoon is over, baby

Rohan Connolly    

It’s been 25 years since The Cruel Sea released an Australian rock classic in “The Honeymoon Is Over”, but I found myself humming it repeatedly throughout much of round four of the AFL season.

This was the weekend those balmy early-season days, fast football, higher scores and the odd surprise gave way to the harsh realities of an AFL season, and not just because several games were played in cold, wet and windy conditions.

It was certainly a lopsided weekend, with six of nine games decided by 47 points or more and seven teams unable to manage any more than nine goals.

Particularly rude awakenings were handed Queensland pair Brisbane and Gold Coast. Adelaide, Port Adelaide and Melbourne got a couple of salient reminders of their mortality. And for Carlton and St Kilda supporters, the honeymoon isn’t just over, but some serious marriage counselling perhaps required.

Indeed, the fact St Kilda was able to limit the damage inflicted by Geelong even to a 47-point defeat says a bit about how quickly the Saints’ sights have lowered.

It was another miserable afternoon for the club, its forward set-up threadbare without key targets in Tim Membrey and Josh Bruce, and the Saints who did take the field having to regain their composure after the disturbing and upsetting image of defender Dylan Roberton collapsing on the turf having lost consciousness, kept in hospital overnight with a suspected irregular heartbeat.

The Saints, a popular tip for finals last season, now sit above only the winless Carlton and Brisbane on the ladder, and face top team Greater Western Sydney next weekend, and a resurgent-looking Hawthorn and Fremantle in Perth over the next month.

Of those still to even break the ice, Brisbane turned in a stinker against Richmond after three weeks of very competitive football, its 2.5 the lowest score the Lions have recorded in their 22-season history.

And Carlton? Well, to say the long-suffering Blues’ fans are having their patience tested would be an understatement.

The lack of depth at Ikon Park was underlined starkly on Saturday night by the loss of skipper Marc Murphy on top of the absence of Caleb Marchbank, and Sam Docherty’s removal from the equation for the season more telling by the week.

That said, the general malaise that seemed to grip the Blues the moment they took the field in Hobart against North Melbourne was more reminiscent of the end days of the coaching regimes of Denis Pagan or Mick Malthouse than what they’ve generally offered under Brendon Bolton.

The focus on a greater attacking sensibility this season made sense. But right now Carlton looks confused, unable to score and now also unable to prevent being scored against.

In year three under Bolton, the list has been almost totally turned over but the gains seemingly minimal. Some of the younger faces who emerged last season are, temporarily at least, treading water, and confidence since that reasonably promising season-opener against Richmond has vanished alarmingly quickly.

Bolton’s first year delivered seven wins, which became six in 2017. Right now, only the bravest of Blues would believe this year will yield more. To date under Bolton, an army of patient Carlton supporters have largely stayed the course. But the angst currently is palpable, the coach’s honeymoon also over it seems.

Not that some of those teams at the other end of the ladder had any easier a time of it on the weekend, particularly the couple from South Australia.

Adelaide’s failure to cope with the intensity Collingwood brought to the table on Friday night was somewhat reminiscent of last grand final day against Richmond, and not just because of the similar margin, the Crows down by 30 contested possessions to the Tigers then, 36 against the Magpies this time.

While Bryce Gibbs has clearly added something to the mix, the loss of both Crouch brothers coupled with a Rory Sloane clearly under the weather is looming as a critical time for the Crows. As is the poor form to date and now apparent hamstring injury to Eddie Betts, who Adelaide needed in last year’s touch, particularly after the departure of Charlie Cameron.

The Power, meanwhile, lost their status as the AFL’s only unbeaten team up against an Essendon almost unrecognisable from the lack-lustre Bombers who took the field last week.

Far from last week’s narrow escape against Brisbane proving Port’s downer, it served only as a prelude to an even more lethargic effort against the Bombers.

Even the obvious forward flexibility at coach Ken Hinkley’s disposal couldn’t manufacture a result this time, Essendon’s defensive set-up featuring Cale Hooker restored to more familiar territory right on top, perhaps only Robbie Gray operating at his absolute best for the visitors.

Port did at least, though, stay competitive. Which was more than Melbourne could claim after booting three of the first four goals against Hawthorn. From there it was a demolition, the Hawks banging on 17 goals to just three.

Again the Demons have been handed a test and again fluffed it. I’d preferred the glass half-full approach to their first three rounds, having hauled back a five-goal deficit against Geelong to almost pinch victory, recovering to win pulling away after having let slip a seven-goal lead in Brisbane, and shrugging aside a sustained challenge from North Melbourne.

Hawthorn in its current state is a step up on those challenges, however, and one with which Melbourne seemed unable to cope. An even more sizeable one awaits on Anzac Day eve against Richmond, the still-considerable army of Demon sceptics emboldened by Sunday’s effective waving of the white flag.

“The honeymoon is over, baby, it’s never gonna be that way again,” growled frontman Tex Perkins in that 1993 Oz rock standard.

And it certainly won’t be that way again for the likes of Melbourne, or for that matter some of the other big disappointments of round four, until they can prove they have what it takes when the glamour of the early-season fades, and the longer, tougher grind which is by far the bulk of the football year takes over.

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